Narita Gionsai – Dashi Procession and Tekomai
The grand Narita Gionsai in Chiba Prefecture’s Narita City (there’s more than just an airport) is pretty much one of the most perfect festivals in the whole of the Kanto area. It’s huge, the setting (Narita’s historic center) looks great, the people are exceptionally dedicated to their festival and there’s a huge amount of stuff going on. Anywhere you go there is something to see, do or taste. And I didn’t even visit on the main day of the event!
I took these photos of one of the many Dashi processions that take place throughout the festival as the many neighborhoods represented in the festival pull their giant festival wagons up and down the streets, putting a huge effort into getting them safely up and down the hills of the city. The processions are usually led by young girls who dress up in something similar to a geisha. These young girls (sometimes boys but very rarely) are called Tekomai (手古舞) or in the old days, Tekomae (手棍前). They represent a continuation of the steeplejacks, young carpenters who would be skilled in building tall steeples and structures and were traditionally assigned to construct the often very tall (much taller than today’s modern short dashi – the reason being electrical wiring of the city) and after construction to walk in front of the dashi procession and make sure people did not get too close to it, for their own safety. These steeplejacks, or Tobishoku are still around though and you seem them almost daily in most Japanese cities on constructions sites and building projects. They have long since left the guarding of the dashi though. The steeplejack dressed showily (as they still do when given the chance) and eventually local geisha figured out that dressing even more showily and taking up the role of the Tekomae was a good way to advertise their services. This eventually evolved to the daughters of geisha and eventually the young daughters of the townspeople dressing up and adding even more beauty to the local festivals and parades. The girls wear richly embroidered half coats tucked into tattsuke hakama (a variation of the regular hakama which in turn is a sort of kimono made into trousers). They are supposed to have ichomage hairstyle (same as the samurai used to wear) but it is much to complicated for most parents these days so they often settle for something easier to set up, like a nihongami style. In their hands they most often carry a lantern and a kanabo, a metal rod with rings. These rods are dragged in the ground rhythmically and accompanying their traditional singing (a form of keyari). However, these festivals often take place in extremely hot summers and the kids wear thick layers of costumes and carry a surprisingly heavy metal rod so in most cases there is very little energy left for actual singing! If you think they look tired, remember that they walk up and down these streets from early morning to late at night with a few breaks thrown in here and there.