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 heard 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!
Most, but not all Awaodori festivals (yes, I know, it’s my favorite subject again!), end in wonderful set performance, and usually that set performance ends with the audience being invited to join in the dance. At the Kyodo matsuri the other week I saw one of my favorite awaodori teams, the Tokyo Ebisuren, and their final set performance. Two little girls next to me were overjoyed to be invited in the dance and at the end they were actually jumping around with joy! Having many nieces I know how important it is for most little girls to play with older girl, especially if they are as beautiful and fun as the girls in the Tokyo Ebisuren!
It’s been far too long I had the chance to see one of my all time favorite awaodori teams – the wonderfully weird and wonky, avant-garde almost, Takarabune, native of Tokyo. I went to see the festival at Kyodo in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and didn’t know that they would be performing but they were as fantastic as ever. I have no idea how they manage to perform with the level of intensity they do, surely they have never heard of pacing themselves or preserving their energy, at any point in the parade they seem to be 30 seconds from the ending. Their style is about as far as it is possible to get in from true awaodori, they have more in common with a burlesque dance show on stage or even miming! If you’re in Tokyo on the 28th this month you can see them live at the Kitamachi Awaodori at Nerima Station.
They move so fast I totally missed to change my camera settings and these were the best photos I managed to get of them, there’s always a fine line between getting caught in the show and actually trying to get good photos. This time I must have enjoyed them too much. Sorry for all the blur! You might remember them from another blog post a couple of years back with much better (sharper) photos.