Awaodori festival season has started and one of the bigger festivals of the summer is the Shimokitzawa Awaodori festival. It’s a two day event, on the 9th and 10th of August, from 18:30 to 20:30. The narrow streets of Shimokitazawa makes for a very intimate and friendly festival where the audience is very close to the dancers. The drummers especially can be dangerous so it is usually best to stand back a little.
I saw the Yattokoren at last year’s festival, one of the local Shimokitazawa teams. The shotengai, or shopping street, where the festival takes place is called Ichibangai which has been place of commerce since the 1920s and really grew big after the second world war as most if survived the bombings and many merchants from other areas flocked to Shimokitazawa. The Awaodori festival was started in 1966 and this year’s festival will be the 49th.
Shimokitazawa is a great place to hang out and there’s plenty of shops and unique little restaurants and alleys to explore, so if you have time in August this year, make sure to visit!
The festival has an English homepage here.
Last month’s Yoshiwara Gionsai was just as exciting and fun as usual. I could only make it there for the second day, missing the huge tree procession of the day before. One of the peculiar things about this local festival is the omikoshi which is covered in bamboo grass and moved in a way that is different from most other omikoshi. It is take around the parish districts by teams divided by neighborhood and at each handover an ceremony where a bottle of sea water is emptied over the head of the headsman of the omikoshi team. Although many omikoshi teams are now unisex this one is still only open to males, for at least one obvious reason I would only discover when actually trying to lift the omikoshi: it is incredibly physically demanding and space is very limited, so you need as many of the strongest people you can fit, and preferably all of the same height! There is even several points in the procession where the omikoshi stops and is jumped up and down. I don’t know if the sense of fear is stronger than the sense of pain and exhaustion, but failure is not an option!
It is great fun to follow the omikoshi careening through the streets. In the old days it used to be even wilder and different neighborhoods would wrestle for control of it – in mid procession! But a few years ago a straying omikoshi took out a whole stand of festival food and it was decided to calm things down a bit. The women of the neighborhood are kept busy – preparing and handling the hand over ceremonies, following the omikoshi around cooling it off with water and making sure not too many innocent bystanders are caught in the procession!
All in all great fun and if you are in Shizuoka (or in Tokyo and don’t mind the train travel) I can really recommend this festival for next year!
If you are in Tokyo on the 9th and 10th of August, I recommend visiting the Shimokitazawa Awaodori festival for some fantastic Awaodori fun! OI visited on the Saturday event of last year’s festival and got these two groups, the Toshusai (東洲斎) and the Showashinyoginkoren (昭和信用金庫連) which is a team made up of people working in a shinkin bank, a sort of cooperative credit union).
Shimokitazawa is easy to reach on the Odakyu line or on the Keio Inokashira line. The station was recently rebuilt and is now quite a maze and much in contrast with the surrounding area of funky little shops, narrow back streets and cool clubs and bars, good old Shimokita remains the same though! Try to be there early and if you find it crowded try to move away from the station area to find the spots with fewer spectators!
At the Yoshiwara Gionsai in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Fuji City last month I saw the local firefighters perform their traditional ladder acrobatics. I am sucker for these performances and never miss one if I am in the general area. This ladder team was very talented and it was a pleasure seeing some new faces (for me). They also performed one of the very rare three person acrobatics!
I have blogged a lot about this kind of traditional Japanese culture before, so if you want to read more about this, just use the tags at the end of the post!