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!
One of the most gorgeous of the many neighborhood traditional dashi teams at the huge Hachioji festival in Tokyo’s western Hachioji City was the Nakamachi (中町). Not only did they provide some excellent hayashi music, colorful road decorations and a beautifully lit dashi (mobile festive stage wagon) with handsome liveried crew, they also had a most unusual doll performing the hayashi dances. Dolls or puppets are traditionally handled by black clad and masked kuroko (黒子), who are not supposed to be seen or acknowledged by the audience in a kabuki theatre or puppet show. They are also the originators of the popular look of the ninja, as their special look and role on stage blended perfectly with the image of the stealthy assassins. The real ninja would probably never dress in something so conspicuous as an all black fighting suit! At normal kabuki shows the kuroko are dressed in black and functions like stage hands or assistants to the actors, but in certain scenes they can wear all white (in a snow filled winter scene) or all blue (on an ocean scene). If you visit a festival in Japan and see a dashi with one of these kuroko you are lucky indeed!