At the ancient martial arts festival in Tokyo’s Meijijingu Shrine yesterday I saw many more variations of Kobudo than I have ever seen in my life. The Kobudo is the ancient form of ordinary Budo, which includes modern Karate, Kendo, Judo, Aikido, Kyudo etc., which is called Shinbudo or Gendaibudo or just Budo. All of the Kobudo predate 1868 and are generally fiercer more combat-like with the express purpose of actually winning a battle, hence the sometimes sneaky methods like throwing a knife before drawing your sword to engage the enemy, or female combatants using weighted chains to ensnare enemy warriors. But the most photogenic weapons is as always the Japanese sword, the katana. Here are some of the participants demonstrating cutting techniques on rolled up mats. I am not very good at kobudo or budo, but I am sure someone would be able identify the particular school or technique they are using from just seeing these photos.
Sometimes you just stumble upon amazing performances – for free – if you just keep yourself busy enough and are not afraid to explore the back streets of Tokyo. On a converted parking lot in Shibuya back in September I saw the music and performance art group Kao=S, with amongst others the gorgeous Kaori Kawabuchi (川渕かおり) and led by guitarist Shuji Yamagiri (山切修二), in the first photo, who is known among gamers and otaku alike as one of the main motion actresses for the hit game Final Fantasy where she used her sword performance skills to help give the computer generated characters a realistic motion pattern. I am not sure that performing in broad daylight is the most fitting for a group like this, but they pulled it off well in the scorching sun and way above 34 degrees heat. The musicians and sword performers combine to make an exciting and artistic show, I wish I could have gotten good shots of the entire cast, but most of my shots were lost due to the glaring sun blowing out most highlights. If you want to see snippets of their show I recommend heading over to their homepage here. And by the way, I didn’t do any photoshop on the girl in the last photo, she must have the most amazing skin of any human being alive in Japan today – absolutely flawless. Either that or she is a remarkable talent in the world of cosmetics.
These are the last of my photos of the Hikawajinja festival. I have a few hundred more but I think this will do just fine. Many festivals in Japan are a multiday event and this one was no exception. I didn’t really imagine that they would go to the lengths of putting on two completely different noh performances for the same festival! I lucked out! I saw a few people that came the night before, but this time they came only to watch the performance, which was even more lavish than last night’s. This show had three performers: the old man, the demon dog and the warrior. From what I imagined watching their tale (there are no words spoken in pure noh theater), an old man is cooking at his home, and just as his dish reaches perfection a demon dog enters his house to eat his dinner and drink his wine. The old man finds no other solution than getting a warrior to slay the demon dog, but in the end he takes pity on the demon (even demons must eat to stay alive, and a properly cooked meal is much better than feasting on the children of the village) and stops the warrior from finishing his task. After a stern lecture to the demon he send him off with his tail between his legs. All’s well that ends well, and we got to see some nice swordplay.
If you ever get the chance to watch a noh performance like this, on a small open stage with local people viewing, go for it! Avoid the bigger concert halls and cultural events, it’s a huge difference. The black background in some of the photos by the way, is the night sky. I used my relatively noise free Nikon D3s and a 135 f2 DC lens. With an ISO setting at 1600 I could freeze the movement with a short shutter speed such as 1/500 for most of the pictures. I shoot in JPG, as I always do. Unless I’m shooting for fine art I never use the RAW format. JPG is more than good enough for print, magazines, web and even posters.