A couple of weekend I visited Omiya City in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo for their annual summer festival. It is a newish, huge, city festival (so no properly traditional or religious significance to it as yet), where they show a little bit of everything the city has to offer in terms of culture. One of these being a proper samba carnival! Having never seen a samba carnival in Brazil I can not vouch for how authentic it feels, but it sure looks spectacular! The outlandish costumes, the music (and not least the ladies) are huge attractions for locals and the streets were lined ten deep along the parade route.
August has been very very hot in Japan, with few days under 35 degrees celsius and temperatures hitting 40 even in Saitama Prefecture on several days. To dance for a two hours more or less nonstop in this heat is a feat in itself. The men and women did a great job.
Brazilians make up one of Japan biggest ethnic minorities, and there are currently about 300 000 of them in Japan, mostly concentrated in the factory towns on the southern coast of Japan, stretching between Shizuoka Prefecture and Osaka. Most famously in the city of Hamamatsu where most street signs used to be bilingual in Japanese and Portuguese.
Last Saturday was the grand Koiwa Awaodori festival, perhaps one of the first, bigger Awaodori festivals in central Tokyo of the year. This was only the second annual festival, making it one of the youngest festivals of this kind in Tokyo. True to form, this year the rain was pouring down just like on the inaugural event last year! The dancers and musicians of this traditional dance from from Tokushima Prefecture in southern Japan held strong though and danced the entire two hours of the main event, despite the pouring rain.
I took these photos in the beginning of the festival, of the famous Asakusa Kaminariren (浅草雷連) and the new for me but excellent Eboshiren (笑星連) from Kanagawa Prefecture. Both teams were excellent in high form! As soon as the rain period ends the Awaodori season here in Tokyo beings in earnest – I can hardly wait!
If you are in Tokyo this weekend and not interested in the massive Kawagoe festival taking place in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo I recommend visiting the far smaller but almost as crowded Oeshiki ceremony at Kishibojin in Zoshigaya, a 10 minute walk south of Ikebukuro station. Kishibojin temple is one of those religious mysteries of which there are so many in Japan. Even the name is unclear as it changes from different maps and signs, and it is a hybrid Shrine/Temple celebrating Oeshiki which is a distinctly buddhist ceremony a week later than all the other Oeshiki ceremonies, it is officially called a shrine but it has no torii gate but a small Inarijinja. I have visited dozens of times but I still haven’t unravelled this one. More studies needed!
Yesterday when I took these photos was the first evening of the three night event. Tonight and tomorrow will be much bigger with thousands of people taking part and as many onlookers crowding the narrow streets leading up to Kishibojin temple. Like at the Oeshiki in the main Nichiren temple in Ikegami last week, there are lots of matoi dancers as well as the larger mando. It is considered good luck to touch one of the white paper flowers and you can even buy them to decorate your home altar at a small stand inside the temple, but unlike the main ceremony in Ikegami touching them is not encouraged and I have never seen anyone doing it, so it is probably better to ask before reaching out and getting some of that good luck!
Photographing this even it extremely difficult, fast moving, dark and quite introverted this is not a photogenic festival despite all the fantastic things going on! Also, if you are into amezaiku the man at Zoshigaya this weekend is really talented. Also, while visiting the festival you can check out what is probably the oldest kiosk in continuous operation in the world, having started in 1781!
One of my favorites among the teams that performed at the first night of the Hatsudai Awaodori festival in Hatsudai just next to Shinjuku a couple of nights ago was the Otoriren. They have a good mix dancers and musicians and give the impression that they take their dancing seriously enough to be able to have fun with it. It takes skill to make something difficult like this look easy! They also have a very photogenic catchy set of uniforms! You can find their official homepage here and their Facebook page here!