Unbridled Joy

1 Comment » Written on August 19th, 2014     
Filed under: missions, reflections
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Now that we’re living at Akagi Bible Camp and since we’re in the middle of the summer camping season, I’ve been spending more time posting updates on the camp’s site. But last Saturday we went down the mountain and spent the evening with friends watching the Shibukawa Dashi Matsuri. It’s a bi-annual festival that features large floats that are pulled thru the streets of Shibukawa city.


Each float represents one of the neighborhoods in the city and local residents are responsible for pulling it. Each float has an image of a deity on the very top. A few guys ride up top to keep an eye on things.


Then inside the float is a group of musicians, consisting of one or two flute players and several drummers and other percussionists.


The main drummer stands on the side of the float, held by a large belt and leans out to the side while playing a drum attached to the side of the float.





Then there are all the folks on the street; some pulling, others directing and lots of others doing who knows what. The float is pulled by two parallel ropes.

Pulling a Dashi float thru the streets

Every minute or two the float comes to a stop and after some feverish whistling and chanting the two groups of pullers rush toward the center line of road, happily smashing into each other in a sort of mosh-line frenzy. After a minute or two they separate and start pulling again.










If the float is stopped for a few minutes waiting for another float to pass, spontaneous circle dances emerge.


Throughout the entire process the people never stopped chanting the universal Japanese festival chant; “Wasshoi, wasshoi!” which doesn’t mean much of anything in particular.

So here’s the deal… Japanese people are often characterized as being emotionally reserved and not prone to acting out in public. Hmmm…

Japanese society is often described as being conformist. Well, I’ll grant you that one. After all, the folks pulling the floats are all dressed in the same style, although each group outfit is unique and different from the rest. Who knows, maybe it’s the comfort of being dressed like everyone else in your neighborhood that gives people a sense of permission to get seriously crazy in the streets… But if you think, even for a minute, that this festival is about everyone looking and acting alike you are sorely mistaken! Just look around and you’ll see some seriously unique looking folks.








I’m no expert in sociology but I find it fascinating that this festival (and countless others like it around the country) successfully tap into something pretty basic and universal among the residents. And the result is unbridled and uninhibited expression of joy! This among a people who are categorized as not being emotionally expressive. Sure it’s a nominally religious festival with lots of spiritual overtones, but I don’t consider it to be competition in any way at all and I would never try to stop Japanese Christians or anyone else from participating. Nevertheless, I must confess to a bit of jealousy… How cool would it be if the church could figure out how to tap into the hearts of the people and get them to cut loose on a level like we saw at this festival? Not that this is our primary goal in any sense of the word. But when I see people joyously dancing in the streets just because its fun, when I walk thru the sea of smiles and laughter and hear the pure energy of the wasshoi chant, I just can’t help myself. I long for this level of frivolity in the context of the church. Can that be such a bad thing?


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One Response to “Unbridled Joy”

Thank you so much, I needed some joy and also needed to enlarge my understanding of the Japanese. I agree about wouldn’t be nice to see joy in the church. I had that experience this last weekend at an all church retreat. The worship leaders were from our youth group and they were wonderful. One of the young men stood in the front to lead us in movements. During one of the songs, you could see him so caught up in worshiping God that it brought my worship to a higher level. Then one women in our congregation showed us how to worship with dance, what an experience.
Still praying for you as you minister.

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