Thicker walls may be the case in a lot of the city center, but last week I took a walk through an old neighborhood with many wooden houses, and I froze in my tracks when I heard the clear sound of someone practicing shamisen leaking out into the street. Truly one of those “ah, Japan~” moments.

It’s not on a Tuesday, and it’s not in the usual season, and it’s not in New Orleans… but that’s not been stopping everyone in Matsue from having a good time and celebrating the culture of New Orleans every October for the past four years.

The Matsue New Orleans Club started as a social club for people with similar interests in New Orleans, especially jazz. In addition to other jazz events throughout the year, they started putting on Little Mardi Gras to do out-reach to children. The city has been very supportive of this, especially since New Orleans has been Matsue’s Friendship City for over 21 years now. Likewise, the City of New Orleans has also been very supportive, as well as very impressed. School bands, as well as other interested community members, learn to perform jazz numbers and parade through the streets and hand out not-so-easily-attained-in-large-quantities Mardi Gras beads to the spectators who come to watch in the castle town’s shopping streets.

This year, the parade went from near Matsue Castle down to the Ohashi Bridge and then back to the Shimane Civic Center for ongoing live performances. Although the layout of the city has largely remained unchanged since it was planned over 400 years ago, you’d almost think this city was built for parades, especially since the Ohashi Bridge provides such a picturesque spot for both spectating and showing off.

After a number of the elementary through high school bands paraded through, members of our regular visitors and assisting organizers, the Khachaturian Band, walked in ahead of the Shimane University brass band.

Once everyone made it to the bridge, we all squished there under the radiant blue skies for the battle of the bands, heading it off in a medley of practiced “When the Saints go Marching In” renditions. Although the San’in region is known for shadow more so than for sunshine, this was the second time we’ve hosted delegations from New Orleans in conjuction with Little Mardi Gras, and both times the visitors have brought us amazing weather.

The blue sky over Ohashikan, a ryokan that overlooks the Ohashi Bridge and Ohashi River.

On the flip side, Mardi Gras 2014 was rained out in both New Orleans and Matsue, with some sort of shared fate. However, the cycle of luck goes on–on both our sunny 2013 and 2015 parades, the Saints won both weekends (and as of when I’m writing this, so far this season that is the only game the Saints have won. Looks like we better hold more parades).

While there is some Saints influence seen throughout the parade, music remains the focus, and while each band shows off, the others duck down low for everyone to take their spotlight, which they pop up ready for the moment their name is announced. It all builds up to everyone performing unison, everyone from elementary school students to traveling professionals.


After that, and a few comments from our visitors to rile everyone up for more celebration, it’s time to turn the parade back around for a second go, this time back towards the castle.


One of the biggest differences between Matsue’s Little Mardi Gras and the big carnival that goes on for weeks in New Orleans, besides the obvious lack of floats, is that Japan isn’t so keen on throwing prizes (unless you’re throwing stone-hard mochi and shooting arrows in shrines, yeah, that’s perfectly acceptable). Therefore, instead of “throws” they’re more like “hand-outs.” Although the organizers always make sure to prepare beads, this year the delegates from New Orleans went all out with specialized Krewe beads, vintage doubloons, King Cake babies, cups, scarves, and then some.

The parade keeps growing every year, but looks like the bar just got set higher! Hopefully we’ll have some more visitors from New Orleans next year to ensure more good weather.

Many people across Japan are familiar with the basics of the tennyo (heavenly maiden) legend, and there are a lot of fun ways to read into it, and compare or combine it with the legend of the star-crossed lovers–including another heavenly maiden–who meet on Tanabata. Although commercially celebrated on July 7, the celestial activity it actually celebrates was on August 2 this year. Next year (2015), it will be on August 20.

This particular version of a well-known legend takes place in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture. The kids of Kurayoshi still keep the associated drum and flute traditional alive, as you can see on their blog.

Click for source

A very, very long time ago, in the land of Hoki, a young woodcutter was going about his usual work when he discovered something hanging on a boulder which he had never seen before. It was a beautiful, pure white and transparent folded cloth. Something like this must belong to a heavenly maiden, he thought, and then took the garment home.

That evening, as he was eating dinner, there was a knock at the door. There, he found a frantic but very beautiful maiden. “I cannot return home. Please allow me to stay,” she said sorrowfully.

“Not to worry, come on in.”

The maiden went on to explain, “I am a heavenly maiden. The gods sent me on an errand to the land of Izumo, and on the way back I stopped to bathe. I lost my heavenly robes,” her voice began to waver as she succumbed to tears, “Now I can never return to the heavens.”

Upon hearing this, the young woodcutter decided to hide the robes and never tell her that he stole them.

The heavenly maiden remained at his house, and at some point she became his bride. She gave birth to two sons, and when they grew older, she taught them to play the drums and flute*, and the sounds reminded her of her time in the heavens.

The years passed, and one summer night her sons went out to the mountain to gather bamboo for Tanabata decorations. In light of the holiday, she decided to prepare a feast, and starting pulling out all of the dishes she would need from the cupboard. While searching for some misplaced dishes, she discovered a dark corner of the cupboard where there was a wrapped package.

Finding it curious, she opened it and was shocked. “Why, it’s my heavenly robes!”

Nostalgic over seeing her garment again, she immediately put it on, and her body became light and fluttered off the ground, lightly rising toward the sky.

Her sons returned from gathered bamboo and noticed her up above them. “Ma!” they shouted. “Where are you going? Ma!!”

They called and called, but her form grew further and further away and then disappeared from sight, and she never returned to them.

Since then, it has been said that you can hear the sound of drums and flutes coming from the mountain. This is the voice of the two children calling out to their mother in the heavens. At some point, they started calling the mountain Utsubukiyama* because of this. How pitiful! Even today, you can sometimes hear the sounds of the drums and flutes riding on the wind.

Click for source

*The name “Utsubukiyama” can be broken down as follows:
The verb for beating a drum is 打つ (utsu)
The verb for blowing a flute is 吹き (fuki)
The word for mountain is 山 (yama)
Utsubukiyama: 打吹山

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!


The school bands and bands throughout the community, in addition to their impressive performance in the parade, also played at Karakoro Square, Karakoro Art Studio, and a little further north towards the Shimance Civic Center. The music lingered through the streets hours after the parade had ended.

Regular entries will resume shortly!

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!

Music has no borders, but jazz has a special way of bringing people together across across linguistic borders. With no advance preparation togther, Sasha’s band and the Khacha Band were able to seemlessly start performing New Orleans’ classic together as if they had always performed together.

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!

In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Friendship City ties, Sasha Masakowski and her quartet visited to perform at the anniversary ceremony and for Little Mardi Gras in Matsue.

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!

The parade lead to Karakoro Square in the Kyomise shopping district, where more of the crowd was waiting to watch the successive performances.

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!

Haruka Kikuchi has recently moved to New Orleans to pursue a jazz career. We’ll miss her visits to Matsue!

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!

The Khachaturian Band has been very helpful in setting up Matsue a center for New Orleans culture in Japan, and in addition to setting the tone for the parade, they’ve performed in a number of places around Matsue. The Matsue New Orleans Club also brings in jazz artists from abroad.

Thanks to a shared connection through writer Lafcadio Hearn, water cities Matsue and New Orleans began a Friendship City Relationship in March, 1994. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, a delegation and ceremony was held here in Matsue last October, followed by Little Mardi Gras in Matsue, which is what it sounds like. This event–with a special focus on including children in the local community–takes place in October, so you can get your Mardi Gras fix in Japan between Carnival seasons.

I am busy right now with a group from Matsue on an exchange program in New Orleans thanks to the Japan Society of New Orleans and a TOMODACHI Exchange grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative. Click here and here to see the play-by-play on that exchange on Facebook, and in the meantime on this blog, enjoy a few photos from last year’s Little Mardi Gras in Matsue!

The parade was a good chance for the general public to interact with the official delegates from New Orleans. You can read a report on the delegation’s experience here.