Work in Japan Advice Board
The character for festival (祭 matsuri) is based on an ideograph showing hands placing meat on an altar in celebration or sacrifice, and festivals have traditionally been holy days, which we now call holidays.
Japan celebrates local and nationwide festivals, some lasting for several days, and they celebrate anything from harvests, to cherry blossoms, to Jazz. As in many cultures, festivals mark seasons in time, and passages in life. They add character to the passing of the seasons.
While the practice of many festivals today may resemble more that of a neighborhood party, whose to say that there hasn’t always been some of this spirit in the celebration? In celebration we beat the drums and raise spirits, our own or those ancestral or otherwise. There are festivals to celebrate culture, dolls, flower viewing, ancestors, fertility, all and sorts of local traditions.
Festivals always involve music and dance, helping people to remember and to forget. Which is the better attitude? Festivals make room for both, giving you an opportunity to take something back and to leave something behind. In either case, the end result is renewal.
There are public holidays dictated by law, a day for the New Years, for the Equinoxes, for the Emperor’s birthday, a day to celebrate children, coming of age, the elderly, even the ocean and the environment! For many people these days are just lucky days off work or out of school, but they also serve as reminders of things that we might otherwise forget.
What interests me about the matsuri phenomena is not so much the tourist side of watching Japanese cultural events. What interests me more is the role that matsuri and ritual play in so many areas of Japanese life. Not that they always get it right. You see lots of people in service businesses bowing in a mechanical way without a hint of humility or respect. Just going through the motions.
I know from training in Aikido that bowing itself is an important part of practice.
A Japanese proverb says that the mature rice grain bends it head.
The impact of that image is very powerful when you meet a person who has that maturity through training, as well as when you meet a person whose pride stands tall and empty as a shell.
Bowing is one aspect of ritual tradition that is worth keeping. Calligraphy is another. If you are accustomed to writing with a hard tipped pencil or pen, or to tapping your fingers on a keyboard, the first time you try to paint with a calligraphy brush can be a shock. The brush is soft and and difficult to control. Like a wild horse, it seems to have a mind of its own, and takes years to tame. The part that needs taming is actually inside you, your impatience, your lack of awareness, your tendency to rush things.
A calligraphy proverb says that the painted character mirrors your mind.
Once you realize how true this is, you approach your practice in an entirely different way. You focus on connecting your movements and your mind. You concentrate your energy in a way that it leaves tangible traces on the paper. You put real feeling in what you do, and never just go through the motions.
I’m convinced that this is the true original spirit of the matsuri, which is often associated with Shinto shrines, and connected to the meaningful aspects of life, the harvest, the transitions, the renewals. Once you get the spirit of practice, then you really have something to celebrate.
Considering that many matsuri are also the focus for community prosperity, perhaps you can find ways to celebrate your holidays as time on, rather than time off.
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William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.