May 1, 2005 pt 1 – Communists and carp banners

Carp banners along the Kano river in Numazu

Carp banners along the Kano river in Numazu

Today I went out with The Penpal and her parents. The plan for the day was to see some of the impressive carp banners along the river, and then to go to a historical site in Izu.

Children’s day is a holiday in Japan to celebrate the happiness of children and to express appreciation to mothers. Families with young boys hang decorative carp banners outside. The holiday used to be known as “Boy’s day”, and even after it changed to “Children’s day”, there are still carp banners for boys only.

The Penpal and her parents picked me up at my apartment, and then drove us to the nearby Kano river. We parked and walked along the riverbank to see some of the impressive banners on display. As we approached a bridge, we came across a large gathering of people who were all listening to someone on a small stage (almost a literal soap box) talking through a megaphone. The small crowd was listening enthusiastically to the energetic speaker. This was a bit unusual for me to see in Japan.

I asked the Penpal what we were watching. She wanted to explain, but didn’t know the correct word in English. As she started to look for her electronic dictionary, I used my observation skills to try to find some context to the situation.

  • Everyone in the crowd was wearing red armbands
  • The speaker was talking in unfavourable terms about American President George W. Bush and nuclear weapons
  • Today is May 1

I realized we were watching a May Day communist rally at about the exact time that The Penpal had located the word “communism” in her electronic dictionary. Score one for observation skills! The rally was organized by the Japanese Communist Party.

A few minutes later, the communists began marching towards the bridge playing some folky sounding music (which I assume was about workers) through a loudspeaker. Right at the same time, the right wing Uyoku showed up in one of their trademark black vans to annoy the communists.

Uyoku dantai means “right wing groups”. They usually drive around in black vans with giant Blues Brothers style loudspeakers on the roof. The speakers either feature someone loudly complaining about all of the usual things that ultra-nationalist groups complain about, or they blast dramatic sounding music about how great the Emperor is.

For the record, I probably have a lot more in common with the Communist rally than the ultra right wing Uyoku groups, but the Uyoku have WAY cooler music.

We went to the river to see some carp banners, but ended up seeing a rare open expression of politics outside of an election campaign. It was a great experience to learn more about Japanese culture.

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