A Chinese New Year In Yokohama


This story/photos were written/taken a couple years ago. At the time I was irking out a living in the earthquake-laden land of Japan, teaching English in two countryside public middle schools. Re-reading this now, I’m quite embarrassed to see that my writing skills haven’t really improved. Hopefully, though, the photos are at least worth a gander:


I met Harry at one of our regular meet up train stations deep within the countryside of Japan. We were off to take in the frivolities of the Lunar New Year in Yokohama’s China town. We might have taken the bullet train, yet we decided on the much slower local train for its frugality. Stopping at every bumble-fuck station along the way, we plodded along towards the colossal municipality.

I had vague ideas of what a Chinese New Year parade entailed, thanks in part to a hazy childhood memory of Big Trouble in Little China (Well, I knew there would be Dragons). Yet more importantly, I was more concerned with when we were going to eat. I was starving, cold and slightly hungover from the Saturday night before.

We eventually arrived some two hours later, at the enormous Yokohama train station. Harry and I chose different exits in order to play our usual scam: Making out we’d lost our tickets, like the stupid foreigners we were, from two stops prior. I’m not exactly proud of this scam, but it did save us a lot of money. Anyways, after that brief deception we braved the burrows of the spaghettified metro and headed for China Town.

Topside, people scurried about every which way. The parade’s upcoming path, cordoned off with ropes, had bodies lined along it. It seemed everyone in Japan had made it out. A phrase my Korean girlfriend often repeated upon her visit to Tokyo a few months earlier rotated in my mind: “중국인것같아” (It’s like China). She was commenting on the number of people in Tokyo being comparable to the whole population of China. While not exactly correct – and slightly hypocritical seeing that she hails from a city of about 4 million, herself – the comment would have been more apt today. Once upon a time there had actually been a stretch of countryside lying between Yokohama and its sister city Tokyo. Since the end of war and the Godzilla-like rise of Japan’s economy, the two have since congealed in to one fuck-off city with about 35 million people. “중국인것같아,” indeed!


Using the ajuma powers we’d gained in South Korea, we crammed ourselves into the small gaps between people like naturals, making a way to the middle of a crowd at the parade’s starting point. People were squeezed in everywhere and so my crotch had gotten rather too familiar with the arse in front of me. If I hadn’t spent so much time in East Asia, then I would have felt mightily perturbed.


Fireworks announced the start of the proceedings. Through the engulfing smoke emerged two dragons, held by what I assumed to be a small posse of teenagers. The Dragons snaked on over the tops of the heads in front of us. Following them the parade began to parade on, yet all I could see over the hoards of heads were the business end of spears, swords and other implements of pain. The feeling of claustrophobia got too much, and so we took a gamble on finding another spot. Elbows raided, we made our way out of there and eventually found an empty enough place with a great view.


I was mesmerised by the lifelike movements of the dragons, and by how tired the people steering them were. It obviously looked like a lot of work, but the smiles on their faces gave away the fun they were having. After the Dragons came the Emperor of Heaven with his plentiful wives and eunuchs. An assortment of beguiling gods, beautiful dancers, and smaller serpentine dragons came in their wake.


At the end of the parade was a collection of smaller dragons, manned by two gymnastics. One would control the head of the dragon, opening it mouth and winking its eyes, while the guy at the back controlled its arse. This guy definitely had the worse end of the deal, because every now and then, the dragons would stop and the guy in front would leap onto his shoulders, elevating the Dragon into an upright position. They’d then pick someone in the crowd and act as if to bite their head off. Far from an act of mutilation, this is seen as a bestowing of good luck.


When the parade came to an end and the vast HOARDS eventually began to disperse.  We left the streets and attended to our empty stomachs in an all you can eat place. I won’t go on about how great the food was, but it was, and that’s all you need to know. After an hour of filling our faces we started back on our epic journey home to get ready for Monday and being back in “teacher mode.”

Some more photos:






All photos by Ben Cowles


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