Being the Awaodori idiot I am I can’t really stop blogging about the subject! At last weekends Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward, in Kyodo, I saw this great team, the Tenshoren (天翔連). Kyodo is one of the trickier festivals to dance in and also one of the trickiest to enjoy as a spectator, still this great team managed to put on fantastic smiles throughout the two hours of non stop dancing in the sweltering heat. The more you learn about Awaodori, the traditional folk dance from Tokushima Prefecture in southern Japan, the more you understand that the single most important ability is the ability to smile, and this team has it down almost perfect. Smiling is really contagious, and after seeing Tenshoren perform it is really hard not to be infected by their happiness!
Last weekend was packed with events, exhibitions, festival, dances and music all over Japan and certainly all over Tokyo! I spent Saturday making sure I got the most the Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s Kyodo district, where the annual dance festial took place along the main shoutengai (shopping street) of the area. It’s a little peculiar awaodori festival and I had a really hard time getting any kind of decent colors for my photos. At night you have to make do with what little light there is and most of it comes from all sorts of street lights, shop windows, electric signs and so on, all with a different color profile. Still, I did my best to get good shots of one of Tokyo’s better known teams, the Edokkoren (江戸っ子連), founded in 1970 in Koenji. They are excellent at all parts, with some very energetic men and exceptionally steely nerved shamisen players!
The Kyodo Matsuri is a cool festival with part of the first day devoted to both Awaodori and Okinawan dance, and the second day to Samba! If you are in town next year, I suggest you go enjoy the music, the people and the food!
In a photoblog like this it is really difficult to convey sounds and music, even though you lose 90% of the atmosphere by not being able to hear the sounds of the festival photos I put up on this blog I try to do my best with colors and images instead. There is one particular sound you do not hear very often anymore in Japanese festivals, even though it used to be a common part of folk culture back in the Edo period of pre-modern Japan (roughly from the start of the 17th to the mid 19th centuries), the Jinku singing (甚句). This is a kind of very slow rhythmic singing that is easy to pick up and requires the audience or the chorus to respond with a few set phrases or words. Different regions, cities or even streets have their own traditional jinku lyrics with small variations to the melody, often at the whim of the main singer. There are a few well known widely used jinku songs but sometimes a singer will compose his or her own lyrics about whatever is on the minds of the people taking part in the song. I have heard lyrics about the seasons, lost love, the joys of drinking, the sweet sadness of graduating school and even songs about how hard it is to get laid! Some of the songs are very poetic but some of the songs are extremely funny, especially when singer is having fun on behalf of the community or group of people making up the chorus. Sumo wrestlers have their own kind jinku and you can also hear it on some wedding ceremonies when friends of the groom will perform at the celebrations to honer the couple. But the best way to hear jinku is to at the festivals, if you are really lucky you will catch a group of omikoshi carriers giving their best with one of these songs, and if the singer is talented and not too drunk, the suggestive melody and sweetness will give you proper goose bumps! I was lucky enough to run right into a group with a talented jinku singer and a megaphone at the Kogashi Matsuri in Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture last month.
If you do not mind, please go to this page, click a song title and then click play on the inbuilt media player on the page and listen to a typical (but very low quality recording of a) jinku song. Unfortunately I could not find the lyrics to the song she was singing here in Atami. This group is called Yuwadoushikai (勇和同志會). I know next to nothing about jinku, so if you know more or can correct me, please feel free to lecture us all in the comments! I am dying to learn more about this wonderful form of singing.
Last weekend I was rushing to be in time for the Kitamachi Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s northern Nerima Ward and managed to get a good spot right in front of the famous Aoishinren (葵新連) awaodori dance team. It must have been some sort of delay because they teams all spent quite a lot of time waiting to start the show and since I had nothing better to do I tried to take some (for me anyway) unusual snapshots of awaodori dancers warming up. I don’t know if they were nervous or not, I know I would have been, but this team at least is very experienced so maybe they were very cool about it. I tend to remember the performances by this team due to the many unusually talented younger dancers.
We’re right in the middle of the peak of the Awaodori season and it seems like there’s a handful of different festivals going on every weekend in the greater Tokyo area. It’s really tough on the awaodori maniacs, like me. I don’t know what it is, but the sound of the flute and the drums just trigger something inside me that makes me smile! Is Awaodori addictive? I think it is, at least for me!