A stiff breeze stirs the carp streamers for Children’s Day, May 5, at Higashi Shirahige park. They wallow and whip like the real things. Kouya Sakai rigs them across long ropes more or less singlehandedly, spanning the vast stretch of asphalt at the public housing estate. Sakai is 73 years old and this is his 20th year hanging the carp.
It’s a service, says his apparently eternally patient wife, Natsue. The couple don’t get any public funding for this.
Today Sakai is talking to a local politician. The two men sit on low stools. Natsue says he brings his kids here to play. When you ask Sakai if you can photograph him against his flying carp, he thinks you want a photo together. The politician offers to take the picture. Sakai grasps your hand like a diplomat and you mug for the camera. Sakai says, International exchange!
Sakai grasps your hand like a diplomat and you mug for the camera. Sakai says, International exchange!
Tomorrow the mayor of Sumida Ward will come. The municipality is lucky to have this installation. It brings people together. Residents run a flea market; Natsue sells food and drink from a stall. There is another family member, the 16-year-old cat Sakai-Katherine-Mii-chan.
This year has been gruelling — typhoon-strength winds at the end of April wreaked ruin. There are dozens of streamers that haven’t been rigged, and the repairs are hard work. Natsue says, The wind split the carp right open, or tore them from their mouths. After you repair them, you can’t pull them up on their rope if the wind is strong.
She says to come again after May 10. That’s when they will rig a couple of 10-meter-long “maguro nobori”, flying tuna. The streamers will be sent from Oma, the northern town famous for Japan’s best tuna, in Sakai’s home prefecture of Aomori. Since they are on loan we have to really look after them, she says. We will take them down every night and put them back up in the mornings.
The installation lasts until May 20th