The remainder of the parade was nothing short of hilarious. We weren’t really given any direction on how to stand or what to do during the procession, so the group ended up walking however they wanted. The parade participants were taking pictures en route, having a great, casual time—very different from the slow, formal structure of the parade in Japan. As we got closer to larger crowds on Post Street, the organizing coordinator encouraged us to wave at people. My samurai walking partner, a Japanese lady who walked beside me, and I were instructed to keep a steady, slow pace since we were the two designated samurai to walk in front of the daimyo. Every so often, my walking partner would stop and pretend to draw her samurai sword in front of children. She was quite the entertainer—I had nothing on her.
One interesting contrast I found between Yakage’s procession and the San Francisco parade is that in Yakage, it’s customary to have an audio version of the chant shita ni shita ni, or “down down” blared over the town’s speakers during the procession. In San Francisco, there were no town speakers along the route, so we had a designated man who wore a speaker on his back that blared shita ni shita ni while he walked alongside us. By the second half of the parade, the audio started to weaken to the point where we only heard the ni—we were all chuckling out loud. Before we knew it, we passed Japantown and the parade was over. We all raised our arms and cheered at the great time we just had. Otsukaresamadeshita!
It’s been over 4 years since I left Japan, and this event brought back some really fond memories. It reminded me a lot of what I love about Japanese culture and my life abroad there—the camaraderie, the mannerisms, the traditions. And, though Yakage wasn’t the little town I lived in, it still fills my heart with pride to know that Okayama is recognized in a global way and I was honored to be part of this experience.