Four Wishes at Dusk

On the weekend just been, regular commenter and past player of mine, Paul, and his wife The Indomitable G came to my sleepy resort town at the tale end of a two week tour of Japan. We had heard tell of a minor festival of bamboo lanterns in distant Hita Town, so decided to visit. We rented a car and headed to Hita Town via the excellent Ebisu Hot Spring, where we stopped for an hour long soak and a lunch of delicious noodles and fried chicken. We arrived at Hita itself at about 3pm, to find the town overrun by police, who were directing traffic very officiously. Ominously, when we stopped to ask a uniformed chap the way to the nearest car park, he told us he didn’t know because he was from out of town.

Out of town police? What could possibly be going on? Upon inquiring at a convenience store we discovered that Crown Prince Naruhito would be passing through Hita Town on his way to an international wheelchair marathon in a nearby town[1]. By the time we found this out, groups of Japanese spectators with Rising Sun flags were gathering at suitably spaced cordons, guarded by police (including some – universally very handsome and quite macho – wearing caps emblazoned with a riot police logo). These police were giving instructions in an extremely polite tone to the gathered crowds, such as “please do not press beyond this rope barrier, as cars are coming through here – thank you very much for your cooperation” and “papa! Papa! Please step down from that wall!” (to the giggles of everyone in the crowd). So we decided to join the crowds and wait for the Crown Prince to pass.

After 10 minutes or so our responsible cop told us that two cars would pass us by, one with a “3” written on the side and one with a “1” on it. These would indicate that the Crown Prince was 3 and then 1 minute away from us, so we could prepare our waves. One policeman had his batch of crowd practice their waves, but we weren’t so lucky as to receive drill training. In fact, I think the two cars were not two minutes apart as promised, and then were followed by a big black saloon car which didn’t, in fact, contain the crown prince – it contained two of his household staff, who were grinning inside the car and madly pointing to the car behind them. Everyone had been waving at this saloon car, but when they saw the pointing staffers they immediately turned to the following car and there inside was the Crown Prince himself, waving happily to the crowd. He was gone in a moment, and followed by two buses full of police.

Satisfied with our glimpse of royalty, we traipsed off with everyone else towards the suburb called “Beanfield Town” (Mameda Town) where the lantern festival was being held. On the way a group of 3 schoolgirls walking behind us interrupted our conversation with gentle hellos, and there proceeded a hilarious conversation in which they tried to practice their English, and misdirected us towards the “big river” where we could see the lanterns. In fact, they later found us at the big river, and declared in unison “Big River!!!” with great satisfaction. A very cute moment of international exchange indeed…

The Moon Princess wishes for a day job

First though we found Beanfield Town, a section of old buildings in the Edo style, full of cute shops (all selling the same stuff) and some quaint little streams, winding between rice paddies and walled compounds, and lined with bamboo or paper lanterns hanging from poles. These being not yet lit, we wandered the town a little in search of the aforementioned “Big River,” which we finally found. This river was lined with serried ranks of white paper lanterns, such as the one shown here, all decorated with the wishes of the people who placed them. The pictured lantern is by a schoolchild, who wishes to become a nurse. Other wishes included “I want to be a medal-winning olympic volleyballer,” “I want to read 10 books,” and “I want to be proficient with my abacus.” As the sun set these lanterns were lit, and the river was lined with patterns formed from lines and clusters of candles. Even the stepping stones across the river were graced with clusters of bamboo lamps, and furthermore every shop and shrine in town had placed their own small collection of lanterns by the street, sometimes in elaborate displays (one small temple had a buddha amongst the candles). There were also some stages for musical performances set about the town, lined and surmounted with bamboo lanterns in intricate patterns, and the grounds of the main shrine in the town were full of intricate patterns and tall multi-candle bamboo poles, carved with bats and cat footprints that the candles shone through.

As full night overcame the town we had to return to our car park, but on the way we passed back through the main town, where the musicians were warming up and the local school was selling burgers made of noodles (?). Many residents were carrying pretty red lanterns on poles, and wandering about looking in the shop windows. There is a legend in Japan concerning a princess from the moon who lives in a bamboo stalk, and was found there by an old man. Both Paul and I looked in many bamboo lanterns, but we found no moon princess. Despite this, the day was very successful and the evening festival enchanting. Next year I hope to come back to this town and stay the night, so that I can enjoy the festival until late in the evening, and I recommend it to anyone travelling Kyushu in mid-November.



fn1: which explains the wheelchair-bound athletes I saw gathering for dinner in Oita on Wednesday night