This weekend marked the 22nd annual Pumpkin Festival here in Saroma. It’s by far the biggest event of the year, with the whole town coming out for a weekend of festivities revolving around the famous local pumpkins.
The Pumpkin Festival weekend kicks off every year on Saturday night at 6 pm. As it gets dark, the Cinderella “Dream” Parade begins at the Town Hall and ends about two hours later at the Citizen’s Center where there are fireworks, vendors, and a band. That’s right, the parade lasts two hours, enough time to allow each group in the parade to do a performance at several locations throughout the route. These are elaborate performances, with costumes, choreography and fantastic floats. People spend weeks preparing for the parade and it’s definitely the main event of the festival.
While I was present for last year’s festival, I had only just arrived a few days before into Saroma, so I didn’t know anyone or have any idea of the work involved. This year, I helped out a lot more and had a much better time. I had hopes that a high school exchange group from Palmer would be in Saroma for the festival as well, but that didn’t work out. So, in lieu of those fellow northerners, I was happy to play host to another, Petri from Finland. Petri visited Saroma last year through couchsurfing, and liked it so much he decided to come back.
On Friday night, we went to the snow removal center after dinner. The Town Hall Social Club of which I am a default member creates a theme-based parade performance every year. This year’s was Yatterman, a children’s superhero cartoon from the 1970’s. A group of men hang out in the snow removal center – basically a giant garage – every night for about two weeks making costumes and building two floats, one representing the theme, and another themed float to carry costumed preschoolers. That night Petri and I were able to help with a few small things, but in order to match the level of productivity in the work area, it was necessary to consume quite a few beers in the process. Here I am helping the Deputy Mayor visualize the color pattern on the front of the main float:
The main float, the giant robotic dog Yatter-wan, was something else. In the end it was at least 15 feet tall. It was constructed of painted papier mâché on a custom built metal frame, hydraulically rigged to rock back and forth on a hinge. There was even a tree-climbing pig that went up and down. It was so large the head had to be built separately, and then moved outside with the float platform and lifted up on top with a big front-end loader.
The characters and the costumes rivaled the float for creativity and humor, though. There were the good guys, consisting of Gan-chan and Ai-chan, and the bad guys, consisting of the evil yet sexy Doronjo, and her hapless goons Boyacky and Tonzra. Here we have Gan-chan, Boyacky, and Doronjo preparing for the parade. Yes, Doronjo is played by a man.
And I should mention that Petri and I played no characters in particular, just some dudes in black jumpsuits, which we’re wearing in the picture further above.
As the sun began to set, we all pulled the floats over to the Town Hall, where everyone in town was assembled to begin the parade. It was a nice feeling to see all of the students I teach, the teachers I work with and the people I’ve met assembled in one place for such a fun event, to hear their kind greetings and get high-fives from super-genki children (who may then decide to poke you in the crotch). The sun sinking further, the lights on the main float came on. Shortly thereafter, we hit the street, broke out in dance, and finished off our portable keg of beer along the way.
As soon as we (the last float) arrived at the town center and completed our performance, a fireworks show began over the river. It was really fantastic, with several fake finales, and a surprise final finale that caught everyone off guard. Then the night continued with food, drink, cigars, and music. I even introduced my girlfriend Yoshie to my co-workers, something which felt slightly awkward, but which was unavoidable – they’re nice people and I’m tired of being protective about my private life.
The next day was the real festival, with the pumpkin contest and weighing, lots of vendors, a big bingo game, and more food and beer. I put on my funny hat and sandals and went out with Yoshie and Petri and some other ALTs who came in from their party out at Kimuaneppu Point on the lake.
We stuck around for long enough to get some free meat and beer from the snow removal center, have some ice cream, and see the weighing of this year’s record pumpkin, which came in at 363kg (800lbs)!
It was a really great festival, and although I managed to become more involved, I want to be even more involved next year, especially in the construction of the float. I’m also really thankful to Petri, who made it a blast of a time by coming all the way from Finland! It brings me to ask: Who’s coming next year???
All photos are courtesy of Petri Kauritsalo.