Just at the start of this year I blogged about a chance walk in on a performance by the fantastic taiko group Yushima Tenjin Shiraume Taiko group (湯島天神白梅太鼓), and a few months ago I had the chance to see them again at the Yushima Tenjin festival in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. They performed three complete sets at the back of the shrine, all the times with the same energy and smiles! Japanese taiko drumming is a quite physical experience to see. You can feel the drums in your stomach and if you stand too close you can feel the air pounding in your ears. It is a fantastic form of music! The performances I saw this time was almost totally done by women, except for one young man. I really hope I can catch them again a few times this year!
Usually when I take photos I never bother cropping them when I edit them. I try to do all my cropping before I take the photo. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I prefer my photos un-cropped not only because they look more “true” in my eyes (as if the physical act of acquiring a subject, composing in your viewfinder and then pressing the trigger to have your computer analyze a sensor image and interpret it for you wasn’t quite far removed from truth anyway) but also because it saves me a lot of time not to worry too much about cropping in post processing. Sometimes you’ll see a photo with a very strange composition, usually it is not me trying to be arty, rather it is just that I tried to avoid taking photos of something just outside the photo frame!
The bigger the town, the bigger the festival, and the bigger the festival the bigger the parade! As anyone who has been part of a large ceremony knows, there is a lot of waiting involved! I walked around at the head start area of one of the first of the many parades on this day, one of three days making up the festival period, and grabbed the opportunity to take some photos of the parade as it gets ready to move ahead. There are shrine maidens, priests, men carrying holy items, the omikoshi teams, dashi (huge mobile votive platforms) for entertainment and banner carriers and musicians of all kinds. It can imagine it takes a lot of experience and many years in the community to learn to manage this. Just look at the cool older men in charge of it all!
These kinds of festivals are not solely for fun and entertainment or even religion and tradition. The kinds of skills and community relations needed to pull a massive festival like this through without the use any sort of technology higher than a notepad, are skills that are vital in protecting the community in case disaster or war strikes. If you and your neighbors can navigate and arrange even a small part of a festival like this, you will be able to quickly organize vital life lines in case of a big earthquake, or rescue teams when large fires or floods happen. You will also know each other, the neighborhood, who to go to, who the natural leaders are, what kind of skills people have and what you can expect from people when things get tricky. I saw this with my own eyes in 2011 at the tsunami disaster area, and as much as I hate to imagine it, there will be more disasters, large and small, here in Japan. So the next time you see the old dudes and ladies staring silently out over a festival in full swing, you know that they are probably both proud over a job well done and happy over their heard-earned skills!
The Three day Nebuta festival each year takes place after dark so that you can really enjoy the huge paper sculptures paraded through town lit up from inside. It also makes it very dark and difficult to photograph the musicians and dancers wildly spinning and jumping behind the two drum teams. I really had to push to get these photos! It is a mystery how they can dance like that for three hours in over 33 degrees heat and high humidity. The actual Nebuta festival was held in the beginning of this month in the northern Aomori prefecture. Some day I want to go and see the real thing! I can’t believe how lucky we are here in Tokyo though, all these great festivals come to our city!
Can you spot the little bells attached to the dancers costumes? They make a lot of noise and the more devoted dancers are practically covered in bells. Enterprising kids spend the festival darting in and out of the dance groups picking up the bells that inevitably fall of the dancers while you can get packets of bells from street vendors for 500 yen per bag! It must take a lot of time to sew them all on though. More photos to come!
Last weekend in the town of Nishikawa in western Tokyo saw the beautiful and colorful Nebuta Matsuri pay a visit from the northern Aomori prefecture. The nebuta are massive paper sculptures lit from within and paraded on large wagons pulled by volunteer attendants in a parade through town. There are also dancers, drummers and flutists following the nebuta. The melody the flutists play is really catchy as I am writing this I am still humming it! The dancers wear special costumes decorated as wildly as possible with flowers, shiny objects and bells to make a lot of noise and spectacle as they dance in wild jumps and circles for about three hours at a time in sweltering heat. Here are some of the last photos I took of the festival, complete with tourists and kids posing in front of the nebuta. I will post more photos and stories of the nebuta matsuri later this week!