Tradition, Temples Meet Trade
Posted February 8, 1998
NAGANO, JAPAN — For all its involvement in 20th century technology and innovation, Japan still reveres its centuries old traditions and rituals. It is a dedication that brings seven million Japanese a year to Nagano for a visit to the non-denominational Zenkoji Temple, a very sacred site that was built in the 600s.
Performers on booming tiko drums send the sound of old world Japan thundering down the central street of today's Nagano. The drums are key to an elaborate ceremony called rudiko, which once could be performed only by religious men. Today, even children learn to play these drums.
But listen carefully to the pounding drums and you will hear the counter-point of cash registers.
This is because for two weeks, another kind of pilgrim is finding the way to Nagano -- fans of the Olympics. Established merchants and enterprising street vendors alike are catering to their interests and needs.
Proprietors wearing obis and robes are ready to wait on customers in traditional stores. At the close of any inquiry or sale, traditional bowing on each side marks the completion of the transaction.
Out on the sidewalks, yen, dollars and credit cards appear in exchange for a wide variety of Olympics-related goods. Souvenir hunters scout out memorabilia marking countries, individual sporting events, and the Olympic festival itself. Word is out that a clutch of street vendors has set up their goods on trays near the Zenkoji temple.
One pursuit new to Japan is the buying and selling of small souvenir pins. A street dealer noted that the Japanese seem fascinated by the pins' shapes and colors.
Another hot-ticket item is, indeed, a ticket. Most events are sold out, so to get into a venue it's necessary to do some dealing.
Theresa Gallus-Gurien, a US visitor, is ready with options. She said she wants a ticket to figure skating. If she can't get that, she'll seek a ticket for ski jumping.
Failing that, she says she will take anything.