Samurai swordfights, strutting Geishas and the Seven Gods of Fortune were images conjured up when I first read that Sakura, the Japanese town where I lived and taught English, would hold its twelfth annual Jidai Matsuri: Festival of the Ages. The advertisement appeared and zipped by in the local English language newsletter for about thirty seconds and I gave it no more thought, as the clock rolled over to 2:00 pm and I was due for my next lesson.
The students, Yukie and Kanako, were two lively retired ladies with a high English level from years of working in the tourism industry. Incidentally Kanako brought along a Japanese newspaper bearing the same advertisement for the Jidai Matsuri. She regaled me with tales of festivals past and asked if I would be joining the parade.
Letting out a high pitched laugh, I was baffled by her question. For someone with her speaking ability, linguistic error was an unlikely explanation.
“Our other teacher Molly wore the princess costume.” gushed Yukie.
“Oh really?” I replied, my curiosity piqued. A princess in a parade? In Japan? I certainly never got to play a Japanese princess in my native Canada. It seemed that one of my predecessors had pulled it off, so why not?
However as I inquired further, the crushing blow was delivered. Although anyone was able to participate, you needed the lined pockets of a princess to pay the costume rental fee. Donning the princess crown and kimono would set you back 40,000 yen (approximately $500 US).
Molly must have been on a much higher salary than me if she were able to pay the dosh for the posh princess outfit. The other -- cheaper -- choices consisted of a servant and lady-in-waiting, but these were still out of reach for me. I sighed and let my mind wander back to mingling with the spectator commoners on the day in question.
Yukie and Kanako were determined not to let my royal hopes fade. Yukie contacted someone on the organizing committee and learned that the year Molly joined she received a 50% discount on the costume rental for being a foreigner. I did a double-take as normally that price discrimination worked the other way around.