Tokyobling's Blog

Narita Gionsai – Dashi Uphill Dash

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on July 28, 2014

Of the many things to see at the Narita Gionsai held in Chiba Prefecture’s Narita City is the mad dash of the dashi (山車). Dashi are generally huge wooden wheeled platforms large enough to house a band of traditional musicians and often even a little stage for dancers or performers. These are pulled around town by teams of people from the neighborhoods they represent and are common in many Japanese festivals. The thing that makes Narita different is the many hills these wagons have to go up and down! Each these wagons weigh several tons and to pull one up a steep hill or slope is just unthinkable, instead the locals have developed a technique where they will dash up the hill with the ropes and sort of yanking the wagon up after them. With hundreds of dedicated townspeople, scores of captains overseeing the effort and a concentrated effort even these heavy wagons can be successfully pulled up. It is great fun to see the preparations and the teams of leaders running up and down to make sure everyone is prepared and ready for the signal. When the signal comes the townspeople start running and naturally the audience cheers them on. As the wagon crests the hill and it is clear that the pull was successful there is always a huge cheer and lot of smiles – what would happen if the pull failed halfway is just unthinkable!

Naturally going downhill is also a difficult task but much less dramatic.

If you visit the Narita Gionsai make sure to position yourself at the top of a hill to see this dash for yourself. It is quite exciting and a great show of the importance of cooperation!

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Ometaisai People – Western Tokyo

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 29, 2014

The more isolated the town is, in general the more local the festival gets. The grand Ometaisai in the little city of Ome in western Tokyo is a good example of a festival that is for and by the local people living in the community.

One a little peculiar thing with this festival is the massively oversized pair of hyoshigi (拍子木), two wooden blocks tied together with a rope. The blocks are banged together to make a simple and effective signal able to carry over the noise of the festival. Usually they are much smaller, but in Ome the ones used are positively huge. There are a few festivals in central Tokyo that also uses these kind of large hyoshigi. The head of the neighborhood has to be really careful not to catch his finger while clapping!

Each neighborhood team fields a slightly different troupe, some of them have groups of young girls and sometimes boys dressed as little geisha, and they all wear differently colored happi, the short colorful coat worn by all participants in a festival. I especially liked the yellow happi of the people of Hinatawada (日向和田) a few kilometers down the road from Ome Station. Their happi features a matoi, one of my favorite Japanese objects! It is a tasseled pole used traditionally by firefighters from all over the country.

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Battling Dashi – Ometaisai

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 26, 2014

In Japan there are many kinds of festivals and there a dozens of ways to celebrate them. One of the more common ways is by having individual neighborhoods in the city or the parish to field their own dashi (山車), which are mobile, often huge, mini-shrines. Some are small hand pulled affairs barely large enough to contain a couple of kids on drums while others are massive things wheels that are almost two meters tall, engines, and place for a full traditional orchestra! The musicians are part of hayashi-troupes, with percussion, flutes and dancers they entertain the audience and please both Gods and spirits with their loud and lively music. The dashi are often involved in “battles” when they pass other dash on a parade, and even when they pass special mini stages or shrine they will offer battle with them, trying to throw the others off their rhythm or style.

I took these photos of the festival and the dashi at the annual Ometaisai, Ome Grand Festival, in early May. Another fun detail most people tend to notice is the traditional play with masks that in this ago mass consumerism takes the form of neat little plastic masks for kids and youngsters. There are lots of characters to chose from, traditional to new!

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Yoshiwara Gion – Shizuoka Prefecture

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 15, 2014

Today is the grande finale of the lovely Yoshiwara Gion Matsuri in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Fuji City. On the final day the main omikoshi of the local shrine will be handed over from neighborhood to neighborhood and afterwards the dashi parade starts up on the Yoshiwara main street as the different neighborhoods does their best to outperform the other’s in a friendly battle!

If you are in Shizuoka Prefecture today there really is no excuse to miss this once in a year event!

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