I totally missed this year’s martial arts festival at the grand Meiji Shrine but I had lots of fun at last year’s festival. Aikido was well represented with dozens of practitioners from several countries. When we think of Aikido we don’t imagine the use of deadly blades but sword art is also a central part of Aikido.
Every time I visit a festival in Kawagoe City just north of Tokyo I make a point of seeing the ladder acrobatics performance by the local firefighters, one of my favorite teams. This year’s Kawagoe Matsuri had perfect weather for ladder acrobatics, not windy at all and no rain at all. Thanks to that they put on a great show with even the most difficult of positions. The stark difference between the firefighters lit by other people’s camera flashes and ambient street lighting contrasted with the pictch black night sky was pretty effective!
At the Sanja Matsuri this year I was in time to catch a performance by the Furisodesan, a group of performers in the style of geisha, dancing and entertaining at the kagura (shrine stage) of the Asakusa Shrine just next to the famous Sensoji temple. The beautiful young women visit restaurants and entertainment houses to perform for the clients but sometimes they also give performances for the public, like on this festival. They were certainly hugely popular with the crowds at this sunny festival day!
At the Shinagawa Shukuba Festival a couple of months ago I saw a mobile rakugo performance, right in the middle of the shopping street. Rakugo is an old Japanese tradition of professional storytellers that amuse their fans by telling humorous stories while seated on a pillow in the traditional Japanese seize position (try it for a few minutes and then imagine that these guys do it professionally for hours at a time). These days rakugo is getting rarer and rarer so if people won’t come to the rakugo performances you will simply have to bring the rakugo perfumers to the people, hence this mobile storytelling platform being wheeled out into the street!
Rakugo is fun to watch not least for the audience participation. There is a tradition that when a rakugo storyteller is particularly good audience or other rakugo performers will yield their seating cushions to the champion and he will thus sit more comfortably and higher. The opposite is also true, if the artist tells are very bad joke or a groan inducing pun his pillow or pillows can be removed. This kind of comedic competition makes for surprisingly good television as well. Sometime Japanese you might here Japanese people telling each other that they deserve another pillow for telling a good joke or you might see someone at a party mimicking the pulling of a pillow from underneath someone who just made a bad pun – this is the tradition they allude to.
This performer, knows as Kairakutei Burabo (快楽亭ブラ坊) is a disciple of the famous rakugo artist Kairakutei Burakku who is a half American rakugo artist well known for his “not always safe for broadcasting” style of humor.
Rakugo is probably not very interesting if you are not very proficient in Japanaese, but it is still fun to watch and enjoy the laughter of the audience.