If you’re in Tokyo today I and have a free evening I recommend heading to Hibiya to join in the huge bonodori dance festival happening there. Now, bonodori is probably as complicated as a dance can get while stile being invitingly simple. It takes a lot of self control and a sharp eye to learn the dances, and there are many of them, but once you do you’ll get a lot of respect! I saw a few foreigners being really good at it, and even one (or two) of the main performers where a Canadian woman who sang perfectly in a special Canadian bonodori dance. This weekend there are many bondodri festivals in Japan but this one is special because it has a lot of live singing instead of just a tape recorder. There’s also taiko drummers and beautifully dressed semi-professional dancers there to help out. Well worth visiting for a quick and intense shot of Japanese culture!
In July last year during the strict electricity savings I took these photos at a bondori festival in Zoshigaya near Ikebukuro in central Tokyo. Bonodori festivals are always in the summer, hot, sticky and very intense, one of the classic Japanese summer festivals. It is usually difficult to take photos in the lights from the bonodori lantern decorations, but this summer the festivals were even darker than usual, just as dark as in these pictures, and the only light being a bright red. This particular festival is usually visited by a group of young and very talented taiko drummers. Just editing these pictures I really started to long for summer, before spring has barely started!
Back in August I visited the huge bonodori dance festival held yearly in Hibiya Park (日比谷公園)、which is probably one of the biggest bonodori dance gatherings in the world with over 40 000 dancers. Most of the dancing took place around the huge fountain in the center of the park, to prerecorded music, but the rhythm section was a live performance, courtesy of the United Kingdom Embassy Daiko club (英国大使館太鼓会). They had even set up a little “try it out” stage below the main stage where kids could bang away as best as they could on the smaller drums, a hit with both kids and parents! How about that wonderfully cute boy in the first two photos? What a fantastic hairstyle!
My favorite activity above all in Tokyo during the summer and early autumn is to just randomly visit minor festival and local celebrations. Last night I visited Kagurazaka in central Tokyo and found out that there was a small festival right next doors in Sekiguchicho. A short walk and I am rewarded by a complete first for me, a corporate Bonodori dancing team! Bondori is the most traditional of Japanese summer dancers and I have blogged about it several times before but usually the dancers are volunteer instructors or locals! This time however, a dancing team from Tokyo Shinyo Kinko (東京信用金庫) served as instructors for this local festival.
When I first arrived in Japan I noticed that there were two different kinds of banks here, the normal huge corporate banks that you’ll find in any country, and a different kind of bank called Shinyo Kinko that operates like a credit union. These banks are owned by the members as a cooperative and although they need to generate a small surplus to stay solvent they do not operate for profit. All fees and interest rates are set at the lowest possible level. Recently you might have heard of the term “microfinancing” – well, Shinyo Kinko work just the same but instead of relying on volunteer work the generate enough income to be operationably independent. The boards are elected by the members from the members and function democratically. Shinyo Kinko started in 1951 as a way for local businesses and people to get small scale loans without the strict terms of the larger banks, just after the war. Cash was hard to come by and the Shinyo Kinko helped ordinary people take out small loans to start businesses or rebuild their homes destroyed by bombing. A sort of bootstrap banking, if you will. These days the same principle is being used by for example Kiva, to help raise small income families in third world countries from poverty.
It’s nice for a change, to see a bank that helps local communities to rise out of poverty instead of plunging them into it, put on a dance show. Usually it’s the other way around.
The two on-duty drummers did really well, one of them operating the main drum while the other beat out the higher staccato rhythms on the side of the drum, taking turns and being quite flamboyant about it! It was still early evening and most locals were busy eating from the local food stalls but I soon discovered at least one source to their good mood! Notice the 33cl beer can in the lower left of the pictures? Some drummers drink Asahi Beer!
I took these photos of the cool drummers and the gorgeous dancers (aren’t they just too beautiful?) with my 85mm lens. I haven’t used that one for a while so I felt a little guilty. The light was also absolutely red but a little bit of work in Photoshop fixed the worst of it. All in all, a great Saturday.