Izzy Bird, waiting out the flood
Izzy Bird, black teeth

Izzy Bird, a sight to behold

27

After an extra day in Ikarigaseki, Isabella is on the move again.

She, Ito, and four hired men traveled 15 miles to Kuroishi. They had to ford the river frequently because bridges were washed out, where, as Isabella says, “I and the baggage got very wet.”

They saw great devastation, lost crops, and downed trees. In one of the villages they traveled through, “the water had risen to a height of four feet, and had washed the lower part of the mud walls away. The people were busy drying their tatami, futons, and clothing, reconstructing their dykes and small bridges, and fishing for logs which were still coming down in large quantities.”

Currently, she is in Kuroishi, famous at the time for making clogs and combs, and is in a lovely room, with a “good view over the surrounding country and of the doings of my neighbors in their back rooms and gardens.” Because it is so pleasant — and because information about the state of the roads further on — she an Ito plan to stay a couple of days to dry out and rest up.

One night, she is kept awake by the sound of many, many drums. Ito tells her she should see it, so she stumbled down the stairs in a kimono, without her hat, and into the dark streets.

It’s a parade. It passes through the streets each night during the first week of August.* At the head of the procession is an ark, into which people put wishes that have been written slips of paper. In the morning, these wishes are tipped into the river to float away.

But she is most taken with the drums and the lanterns. Three “monster drums nearly the height of a man’s body, are strapped to the drummers, ends upward, and 30 small drums, all beaten rub-a-dub-dub without ceasing. There were hundreds of paper lanterns carried on long poles of various lengths around a central lantern, 20 feet high, itself an oblong 6 feet long, with a front and wings, and all kinds of mythical and mystical creatures painted in bright colors on it — a transparency more than a lantern.

“I never saw anything more completely like a fairy scene, the undulating waves of lanterns as they swayed along, the soft lights and soft tints moving aloft in the darkness, the lantern-bearers being in deep shadow.”

 

* This festival still takes place. You can read about it here.

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