A couple of weekends ago saw the grand Hachioji Matsuri, one of the bigger city festivals in the Kanto region and in my opinion, one of the most accessible. Hachioji is a city in western Tokyo, with a population of over half a million people it is the 8th largest in Tokyo. I didn’t think I would be able to make it to this year’s festival but I found some free time and made it out there. Hachioji Matsuri has everything, music, people, dashi (large festival wagons), omikoshi, parades, dancers and of course, the stands of hayashi groups performing throughout the city, like this one. Lion dancers and a lone demon dancers entertained the public and played traditional hayashi style music of percussion and flutes. The dancer looked quite well dresses, it must have been exhausting in the near 35 degree heat!
The grand Hachioji Matsuri, the annual festival of the city in western Tokyo, started on Friday and culminates today! The Hachioji Matsuri is one of those have-it-all festivals. The entire city is out to party and there are things to do for everyone, no matter wether you enjoy drinking, eating, culture, traditions or just hanging out with the crowds. This festival has geisha, omikoshi, hayashi, dashi, parades and music and just about anything else you can imagine from a big Japanese summer festival.
I took these photos of some of the dashi and omikoshi, portable shrines, on the 2013 festival. I wish I could go this year as well but wishes and schedules do not always go hand in hand! If you are in Tokyo today without any real plans, here is your chance to jump on the Chuo line and get yourself to Hachioji!
Last night saw the start of the fantastic Kagurazaka Awaodori Festival, the third day in four day Kagurazaka Matsuri. The last day is tonight with the kid’s teams performing from 1800 to 1900 and then the adult’s teams from 1900 to 2100. You can get to Kagurazaka from either Iidabashi station, Ushigome Kagurazaka or Kagurazaka stations. The further up you go on the street the fewer people you are likely to have to fight for a good spot with, so if it seems to crowded down hill just keep walking to the second area of the festival!
Last night I took these photos of the always fantastic Tenguren and their little Kotenguren kids. I can’t get enough of this team! Even though Awaodori dance is traditionally from Tokushima Prefecture there are dozens of great teams here in Tokyo!
One of my earliest memories of total culture shock in Japan was just a few days after first arriving in the country: I was walking through Shinjuku on a Saturday morning and suddenly saw a small group of gaudily dressed up people, from young to old, men and women come skipping out of a pachinko shop, playing a tune that did not make sense at all and in a total cacaphony of drums, cymbals, clarinets and banjos. To call their makeup pancake would not offer the thick layers of white paste and bright red lipstick they were wearing justice . Lopsided huge wigs, massive flower decorations, wearing hats, kimonos and costumes, plastic toys and banners on their backs it looked like they had been styled by a dozen clowns high on acid. The spectacle was amazing and mesmerizing. Now this was something we did not have in the the rest of the world. Welcome to the world of Chindon!
It all started in 1845 when a ambulating candy salesman in Osaka discovered that he had somehow turned into a local tourist attraction due to his unusually strong voice, calling out his list of goodies to make a racket that even other Osaka street vendors were unable to match. He figured out that he could make more money advertising the businesses of other people than he could from selling candy. This being Japan, people are not slow to see an opportunity and soon he had competition. In 1885 a businessman from Osaka started hiring performers to advertise in Tokyo. The Tokyoites were not easily impressed by a shouting street vendor, but they were impressed with the military marching bands that were introducing western music and marches to the Japanese, so the businessman hired large groups of performers that mimicked the popular marching bands and wore loud garish costumes playing a strange mix of military marches and traditional Japanese folk tunes. These bands were so popular they started performing in cinemas (movies at that time were still silent) and their big break came when Kirin hired them to go back to Osaka and advertise their beer. During the 1920s, the roaming advertising bands went into decline as other forms of marketing, neon signs and street lights reduced the need for noisy musical advertising. The final death blow came in 1929 when sound films became popular and over night thousands of performers were made unemployed. Striking did not help, and by the time of the war they were banned. After the war many shops had no way of advertising as newspapers, radio (and later TV) was far too expensive for the little shops that grew out of the black markets. Out of these noisy street performers came the Chindonya (chindon being a made up word that basically means “bing-bang”, or “a noisy racket”) we see today.
The chidonya today are hired by small businesses, festival, companies, parties and weddings to perform and if you are lucky you can catch them here and there as they perform in the street, most commonly to advertise pachinko parlors (at least here in Tokyo), but there are even politicians using them in their campaigning. The bands all have at least one person on a drum set up with cymbals, and at least one wind instrument (most commonly a clarinet). Apart from those you will find almost any instrument imaginable. This chindonya, the Donchiya group from Shimizu City in Shizuoka prefecture performed at a city festival in Fuji City’s Yoshiwara district that I attended. This group is probably one of the most serious I have ever seen, very professional! My favorite chindonya though is the Neochindon Kabocha Shoukai (ネオちんどん かぼちゃ商会) from Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa, formed in 1991. I even have their CD!
Here is a video clip from a 1963 movie with a Japanese chindon band performing in Hong Kong, and naturally, getting arrested by the police. Here’s a wonderful old newsreel from 1960 showing one of the few remaining old-style chinodonya, in Kawasaki City.