Last Saturday saw the one day only, once a year Kitamachi Awaodori Festival in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, just next to Tobu-Nerima Station. Kitamachi is the original heart of the modern day Nerima Ward and it was one of the biggest way stations on the Edo period highway between Edo (ancient Tokyo) and Kawagoe to the north in Saitama prefecture. At these way stations transports of goods, people and information was made easier by the reserves of men and horses standing by and the way station in Kitamachi was famous for being able to provide a full compliment of horses unlike other way stations that often had to call for help from neighboring villages when large groups or big transports came through. This pride in their horses and the local people’s skill in taming them became the base for the modern name of the ward, Nerima (練馬).
The old highway is perfectly suitable for festivals and parades like the Awaodori summer festivals being organized every year around Tokyo. I saw many teams, some new, some familiar, some famous and some peculiar ones. One of the most famous must be the Shinoburen who did a great performance despite the weather. The end of July is usually one of the hottest periods of the year in Tokyo and temperatures stay in the mid thirties well in to the night making the three hours of dancing extremely hard on the performers. I have even seen members of the audience drop down from the heat and all they did was sitting down and enjoying the show! Despite Kitamachi being one of the physically most demanding Awaodori festivals in Tokyo it remains popular with especially the locals.
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!
A few weeks ago I visited the fantastic Narita Gionsai in neighboring Chiba Prefecture’s Narita City, famous for hosting Japan’s biggest international airport as well as the grand Naritasan temple. The street from Narita station to the temple itself is wonderfully quaint and old fashioned, and I managed to catch the omikoshi procession as it made its way to and from the temple. The main attraction of this festival however, is the massive festival wagons, hence the rather low key omikoshi ceremonies!
I will post more about the grand Narita Gionsai later in the week!
Last night saw the start of the fantastic Kagurazaka Awaodori Festival, the third day in four day Kagurazaka Matsuri. The last day is tonight with the kid’s teams performing from 1800 to 1900 and then the adult’s teams from 1900 to 2100. You can get to Kagurazaka from either Iidabashi station, Ushigome Kagurazaka or Kagurazaka stations. The further up you go on the street the fewer people you are likely to have to fight for a good spot with, so if it seems to crowded down hill just keep walking to the second area of the festival!
Last night I took these photos of the always fantastic Tenguren and their little Kotenguren kids. I can’t get enough of this team! Even though Awaodori dance is traditionally from Tokushima Prefecture there are dozens of great teams here in Tokyo!