A few years ago, when a good friend was writing his first book, I chided him gently for the section (he had me reading the drafts) he had penned on matsuri (festivals). From what little training I had had in the social sciences, I knew that festivals were much more than just displays of colored lights, children running about with the gifts and treats they had just received, neighbors greeting neighbors, truly awful food and reaffirmations of local and national traditions. They were about power: who in my neighborhood clung to it, who wielded it and who would never have it. From the lists of the donors to who was pouring sake from the big bottle, the matsuri was a palimpsest of the writhing vines of power binding the neighborhood together in a way that mocked the constitutional equality of all attending.
Due to my own ignorance, I did not point out the most significant oversight: the lack of a mention of the presence of organized crime. As the Lawyer has explained to me since, "Where there are matsuri, there are yakuza.
So I should not have been surprised to see while on a January 1 hastumode at X Hachimangu a tall, heavy-set man in a black suit, short-cropped hair and a gold watch on his wrist matter-of-factly taking a fan of thousand-yen bills from the hands of a food vendor, not three meters away from where I was standing in line.
"Look," I said, "a member of the local criminal element taking his cut."
"Not necessarily," countered my companion. "He could be just a member of the organizing committee."
It was 6 degrees out; we were in the shade of a grove of trees. Everyone else was in winter wear, stamping his or her feet from the cold. This guy was in a suit, no coat...and he walked over to another guy, short-set, punch-permed hair, in black suit, no coat, smoking a cigarette outside a closed tent marked "RESERVED SEATING."
The only such tent on the grounds.
The ousting of gangsters from the Kitazawa Hachimangu's autumn festival was national news (E) last year, making the evening news broadcasts on NHK. The Kitazawa Hachimangu is a tiny little place. I know; I have been there. That the National Police Agency should make such a hullabaloo about kicking the gangsters out of a postage-stamp sized shrine and its festival is indicative of a serious national problem.
In December, the city of Yaizu pulped its official 2012 calendars after a known yakuza was spotted in a photo of the city's summer festival. Please take a look at the size of the crowd in the photo. How in Amaterasu's name could there not be a yakuza in the picture?
I had my camera with me in line on Sunday. However, as I was going to pray for peace and good fortune in the new year, it is probably a good thing I did not surrender to the temptation to take the shot.