If you are around in Tokyo or Saitama at the end of the month I recommend you visit the grand Kawagoe Haru Matsuri, the spring festival held in old Kawagoe town every year (well, for the last 24 years anyway). There’s a parade of musketmen firing real muskets (absolutely the loudest noise you will ever hear), ladder acrobatics, and traditional dances and performances by local kids, like these two young taiko drummers performing in the rain at last year’s festival. They were a huge hit with the older ladies performing a traditional dance around them! It’s great to see that the younger generations are picking up on the old traditions. These photos are from last year’s spring festival but I am sure this one will be similar (there isn’t much official information online yet, but the opening event will be held on the 29th of March and then there will be something every weekend until the beginning of May).
I am extremely fortunate in that I am born a walker. I love walking. Can’t get enough of it. And few cities are so perfectly walkable as Tokyo. I often get off trains a couple off stations early just to get the pleasure of walking the final part of my journey, and I seldom use connecting trains, preferring to get somewhat in the right direction and then walk the last bit. Yesterday I lucked out again as I walking to a place two stations Shinagawa, and halfway there I lucked out and happened to find myself at a street performance by one of Tokyo’s most famous taiko drumming groups, the Daigen group, who has won several top awards both nationally and internationally. Even their junior members looked tougher than most grown up men in the audience! Their manager kept asking us to get closer but from where I was at front every beat of the drums brought sharp pain to my ears so I can understand the audience for keeping their distance!
One of the most spectacular aspects of the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s western Fuchu City is the huge drum. There are six of these massive beasts that can carry four men and are drawn by up to two dozen others. Instead of normal drumsticks they use two thick and stubby baseball bats, one in each hand. There is a certain rhythm, three quick strokes, followed by a slow draw during which the overseer standing on top of the drum lowers his paper lantern while chanting a single drawn out word. Two drummer per drum, and six to a festival, spread out over a square kilometer, creates a sound almost like a scene from a war movie. It’s an almost hypnotic thing to see! In the old days only the strongest men were allowed but these days women and kids take part in the drumming as well and I caught one young man eagerly awaiting his turn at the drum. The most enthusiastic drummers who manage to combine massive strength with a decorum fitting the occasion usually draws a lot of applause and the appreciative nods from the more experienced old men in the crowd. One day I wouldn’t mind having a go at them.
In January I visited the furusato matsuri at Tokyo Dome and saw, among many other things, these Okinawan drummers perform! I have been twice to Okinawa but never seen anything cultural so this was a treat. Scores of drummers and dancers showing us their traditional high stepping dance complete with a very un-japanese drum rhythm, slow and methodical, with high pitched singing voices and the almost drone like string instruments they use. Almost hypnotic. Any man looks better with a drum but I guess these handsome men wouldn’t look bad even without their drums.
I’m posting quite a few photos to give you a sense of how the movement looks like, not sure if it works! The performance took place on a massive stage and I was nowhere near the dancers, luckily though I had my Bigma with me (a Sigma 50-500mm 3.5-6.3 super tele), also known as “Dr. Backercracker” and the “Widow Maker”. A huge lens I bought second hand that I almost never have the energy to carry around with me. My back is thankful to me for not using it too often. It was dark and with a dark lens like this I had to crank the ISO up to almost unacceptable levels to bring the shutter speeds up and above 1/500 (for handheld photography). Enjoy!