By Ben Mirin, CIR
As seen in the Concord Journal bi-monthly column, “The Japan Connection.”
May 22nd, 2011
Any crowd of foreigners in Hakodate is usually very conspicuous, but in my search for the starting point of this year’s Goryokaku Festival, I knew I had no way of asking for directions. Asking passersby downtown where I could find a crowd of foreigners in 19th century military garb surely would have drawn blank stares.
Now in its 42nd year, the Goryokaku Festival is never complete without foreign volunteers. Festival organizers use word of mouth to recruit them to march as soldiers and flag bearers in the Meiji Restoration Parade. Every year on the Sunday after the third Saturday in May, this huge event commemorates the end of Japan’s Boshin War period with reenactments of the Battle of Hakodate in Goryokaku Square.
Hearing my name with perfect American pronunciation catches me off guard nowadays. My friend Bill Bowman, a 10-year veteran flag-bearer for the Parade, was waving to me from across the street.
“Let’s go get you into costume,” he said. For the first time, I noticed his mid-western accent, or what was left of it after 16 years of living in Hakodate.
We walked together for a mere five minutes before the clang of Japanese katana and synchronized shouts from reenactment volunteers were clearly audible in the Sunday morning stillness. I passed through crowds of Japanese high school students dressed in the colors of the Meiji and the Tokugawa shogunate armies and ascended the stairs to the costume room.
Upstairs, a man in a shogunate uniform greeted me and gestured to a group of boldly dressed men at the far end of a large tatami room.