In July last year during the strict electricity savings I took these photos at a bondori festival in Zoshigaya near Ikebukuro in central Tokyo. Bonodori festivals are always in the summer, hot, sticky and very intense, one of the classic Japanese summer festivals. It is usually difficult to take photos in the lights from the bonodori lantern decorations, but this summer the festivals were even darker than usual, just as dark as in these pictures, and the only light being a bright red. This particular festival is usually visited by a group of young and very talented taiko drummers. Just editing these pictures I really started to long for summer, before spring has barely started!
Not all the pole dancers I mentioned in the previous post on the Zoshigaya Matsuri are young men, here’s some more photos of older men and even a woman! Naturally, doing this particular dance requires a lot of upper body strength, but there were a few strong women taking part as well.
Most members of the troupes focus on drumming, and unlike most festivals made up of a few large drums almost everyone in the Zoshigaya Matsuri carries some sort of drum, the most common being this flat one with a curved stick that you can see in the middle photo.
This year again, I took some time to visit the Zoshigaya Festival held for three days every year, in the area between Minami Ikebukuro and Takada in Tokyo. This festival is quite special as the parade takes place over a large area with hundreds of participants, slowly making their way towards Kishibojin temple. There are no giant festival floats but plenty of “pole dancers”, people who carry poles and dance with them like a cross between a Drum Major and a pole dancer. These poles are heavy too, with a solid block of wood on top and they twirl them around without fear of life or limb. Luckily, the older members of the troupes take care to make sure there are no innocent bystanders getting hurt. The dancers can only last a few minutes before being relieved by one of the other members. Of course, the kids get their own smaller versions as well. The best dancers are amazingly skilled, they throw their poles in the air, twist them around their bodies and generally perform feats that makes my arms ache just by watching them.
The Zoshigaya Festival is also a very difficult festival to get decent pictures of, combination of extremely low light, fast movement and varied light settings of the dark city streets makes it a perfect challenge for any photographer who is not afraid to delete about 99% of the shots taken. More photos to come!
One thing that I would not like to be accused of, is ageism. There’s a lot of kids on Tokyobling but how about some photos of slightly older people? Here are more Bonodori dancers from the festival at Kishibojin near Ikebukuruo last weekend.
Bonodori is slow and rhythmical with quite complicated dance moves, even though it sure doesn’t look very difficult. On the central dias around which the dancers revolve there are official dancers showing the moves and the dance patterns for the general dancers below to follow. Even further up on the dias there is a taiko drummer in some cases, taking care of the rhythm. Taiko (big wooden drums) are usually quite flamboyant and like to show off. Since an integral part of taiko drumming is taking the proper poses for the performance they are usually great models. Just look at the young taiko drummer in the first picture! Not only was he great up at the platform, but he also danced perfectly. And just look at that angelic face… Caravaggio would have have killed for models like this!
There are traditional and not so traditional songs performed at all bonodori festivals. Did you notice that all the dancers have open hands, except for the one in the third picture? I took that photo during one of the newer dances, the “Doraemon Ondo”, which is based on the hugely popular cartoon character Doraemon (a huge blue alien cat). The songs are sung in a voice similar to Doraemon in the cartoon and dancers make fists of their hands to symbolize the chubby little paws of the huge cat. Fun. There are other non-traditional “ondo” as well, for example the Pokemon ondo. Naturally, the kids love it.
The fantastic looking old ladies are really tough. This evening was a scorcher, and even though temperatures reached 36 degrees celsius they danced without breaks for two hours! Just look at the smile of the lady in the last picture, as the last song finished. Pretty good for an 85 year old!