A car went through the lane, and a flag came into view. A shop was surrounded by private houses. I opened the door, the shop was jammed with big flags. Wherever I looked, there were big flags. Many famous characters which figure in history or are popular among children and adults were painted on these flags.
“I’m happy that you came, though it’s rainy today.”
A woman was coming through the noren (shop curtain). She was not dressed up, in an apron and looked to be 70 or 80 years old.
In May, in Kochi, the sky is different from other prefectures. Usually Japanese people hang out the koinobori (a kind of flag, shaped like carp which is made from paper or cloth －koi means carp in English) in the sky on May 5, “Children’s Day”. That day is especially for boys.
Koi are said to be a strong fish because they can live not only in clear streams but also in ponds and swamps. Hanging up koinobori began as a wish for children’s success. In Chinese legends, koi go up rapid streams and waterfalls called “Ryuumon” ,then they become dragon, so they go to heaven. They swim in the sky with people’s wishes, hoping their children grow up and be success like powerful koi.
Kochi people do the same thing but in a little bit different way in May. A big flag with beautiful painting, furafu might catch your eye. Furafu are one of the unique things in Kochi. People who live in Kochi hang out koinobori with furafu or nobori. In the Western part of Kochi, they display nobori, on the other hand, furafu are displayed in the Eastern part of Kochi.
Where I visited was a furafu shop. It looks not so old because they moved from an old shop to a new shop in Otsu, Kochi city. But the shop has a long history. The shop “Fukunaga dye-works” has been making flags for generations, since the Houei era, more than 300years ago. The shop started dyeing furafu first in Kochi. The woman was a craftsman of the furafu maker. She happily showed me a lot of furafu.
“My grand father began to call the flag, “furafu“. It originated from “flag” in English. And he also started to paint the characters.” In the past, a family crest were painted in the past. That was the old style. He made a new style of furafu. She continued talking, “his master of traditional Japanese style painting gave him an advice which changed that new style. The first new style furafu was gave to his acquaintance for a celebration of childbirth. Orders flooded into the shop from many people who had watched that furafu was displayed. It is very famous now.”
The biggest furafu in the shop is 4.4 meters long and 7 meters wide. 1.1 meters and 1.8 meters wide is the smallest one. Each characters or historical people, examples are Ryoma Sakamoto who was born in Kochi and had made revolution in Japan , Songoku, famous character in the animation of Dragon ball and Pocket monster’s characters, which is painted on the flag might be known by all Japanese people. Songoku is very famous even in foreign countries.
“Many customers sent photos to us in which they displayed the furafu.”, said the woman while she showed me these photos. They are send not only from Kochi but even from Sapporo or Kyushu. Actually the shop gets orders for furafu from people far away from Kochi.
“A person in Sapporo who ordered the biggest furafu on which was painted Draemon (very popular character in Japan) told me a pretty story. When they hung out it, many children came to see Doraemon with a lunch box. furafu is not famous for people who live in Sapporo and the pretty character are attracting them! Finally the owner decided to hold on the four corners of it in order to visitors can take photos easily.” , she was laughing.
Unfortunately, the number of people who keep Kochi’s unique custom has been decreasing. They don’t have enough space to hung out it because of they live in apartments.
“The orders get fewer as time goes on.” she said. I felt it true due to the fact that some of my friends who have lived in Kochi since they were born don’t know about furafu at all. Many younger people are losing out.
But now she is working busily due to Yosakoi festival (the big traditional dance festival in Kochi) in August. Dancers wave it to show their energy or power. She might be looking forward to seeing the flags waved in the festival more than anyone else.
“Here is yours. Thank you for coming!” she said after I interviewed.
Surprisingly, she gave me furafu. Two samurai, one on horseback, a sword raised over his head and the other in armor ready to do battle were painted on it. That was the historic battle of Shingen Takeda and Kenshin Uesugi (Sengoku era, 1460s-1570s). Never had my family had the furafu because I am a woman and have two sisters, May 5 is for boys!
As I was seen off by the characters in furafu, I went back to the lane again with my new, own furafu
2201-1Otsu Otu Kochi-shi Kochi-ken