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.
The second night of the huge Kurayami Matsuri in Fuchu City, Tokyo, had some very handsome dashi (山車) or festival wagons. These wagons are all fielded by neighborhood organizations and funded by private donations. I once met a group who had just gotten a new one built and they had spent over 30 million yen on it. This one is an unsualy brightly lit one, and it had a special trick up its sleeve, tilting! When a dashi meets another dashi it is customary to “do battle” to see which one will give right of way to the other, and I have never seen a dashi tilt like this before. Even the teenagers playing the traditional music in the front were surprised when it first happened. There are a total of 21 of these taking part in the festival, criss crossing the streets around the shrine for hours. This one belongs to Kotobukicho, a few square blocks of Fuchu City.
The portable shrines you’ll see at most Japanese festival, the omikoshi, aren’t that heavy in themselves, usually the logs or poles that the omikoshi is carried upon weighs far more. The whole set can vary between 500-4500kg. Naturally the big ones are not suitable for kids so instead the local children are given miniature omikoshi to practice. At the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s Fuchu City I saw these mini-omikoshi being carried around town by the local kids. It was really difficult to get any decent photos, not only did I have to adjust for the glaring sun playing hide and seek between clouds, but also the kids were fast, almost running! They had crossed over the first main gate of the shrine into the inner courtyard in less than half a minute. Fuchu kids really take after their parents. The heart of the Kurayami festival is the historical Okunitama Shrine, consecrated in the year 111 A.D. The beautiful gate you see in the background though was rebuilt in 2011 A.D. and still smells of fresh wood!
I don’t know what to call these dashi, the huge wagons that you’ll see at most bigger festivals, maybe there is a proper term in English? I saw these on the second day of the huge Kurayami matsuri at Fuchu City – the biggest city in Tokyo that you have never visited. Or at least that is how I would describe it to people. The dashi at this festival were staffed my mostly kids and school children. I have never seen so many young people doing the traditional and old fashioned hayashi dancing as in Fuchu City! The future for this festival looks very bright!