The image of Tokyo that most people have is probably that of tall buildings, concrete and glass, busy subway stations and masses of people. But in reality the vast majority of Tokyo is covered in an even mat of low profile but by foreign standards high density urban development. Get up in any tall Tokyo tower or building and as far as the eye can see you will find nothing but rooftops, stretching out into the far distance.
Most of Tokyo looks like this, the little town of Shinmaruko, even though it is technically located in the neighboring Kanagawa prefecture’s Kawasaki City’s Nakahara Ward. Nakahara Ward is one of the 7 wards of Kawasaki city and it has a population density of 15,640/km2 (40,500/sq mi). The little neighborhoods around Shinmaruko Station is dotted with small business, workshops, clinics, stores and services, often not bigger than western one car garage.
I took these photos a couple of months ago as the sakura trees were still in bloom. Sometimes it is good to get out of the city center and explore the suburbs!
Japan is full of cities, towns and villages and they all have one thing in common – the ever present shoutengai. A shougtengai can be translated as a shopping street, a place where many little shops and stores crowd together to attract customers from all over the neighborhood. They all have their own ruling committees, quirks and specialities and one of the quirkiest must be the shoutengai in Daishimachi, the are right in front of the huge Kawasaki Daishi near the border to Tokyo. This is the place to stock up on traditional sweets, good luck charms, daruma dolls and all manner of semi-religious trinkets and cookies! If you’re in the area to visit the big temple, make sure to take the little detour and approach it from the shoutengai.
The speciality here to look out for is hard to miss, it is the traditional sweet and very sticky tontoko-ame, a nougat-like white paste that takes its name from the unmistakable tontoko-tontoko sounding hacking boards of the men who cut them up from long strings on big wooden slabs. The rival stores up and down the street will engage in a rhythmic cutting match, trying to overdo each other and attract customers at the same time. Actually, when they are waiting for the next batch of tontoko-paste they just hammer the cutting boards with the handles of their knives, making even more noise. Some of the rhythms are very catchy! The tontoko-ame is easily one of the best souvenirs you can get in the whole of Kanagawa prefecture!
I had a good place at this year’s Awaodori Festival in Kawasaki City, in Tokyo’s neighbor Kanagawa Prefecture. I was able to see the first team lining up for their first dance, the Mitakaren (みたか連). A great festival and a great performance from this gorgeous team based in western Tokyo’s Mitaka City (三鷹市). The city and dance team’s name is means three hawks in English, hence the birds and feather symbols on their wonderful uniforms. A lot of photos this time, I hope you don’t mind waiting for the load time!
Remember the two posts I did earlier on the Awaodori team from the Ota Ward Public Office? Here’s some more shots from their performance in Kawasaki City last month. The Awaodori season is now officially over (there might be one last performance tomorrow, but I am not sure) and it’s strange how sad that makes me. Now I’ll spend the winter longing for next year’s season to start again. The music, the people, the dances, the festival, the pure joy of spending hours looking for the best shots, finding familiar faces in the dance teams, learning about the teams and picking out your favorites. It’s all part of the experience for me. I even enjoy playing the arm chair critic!
As I’ve mentioned before, this particular team is made up of people either working at, or related to, the ward office in Ota, Tokyo. Usually you’ll find these people behind desks or issuing permits or handling taxes, but every now and then they turn into a kick-ass Awaodori team! These shots are a mix of men and women, especially one woman whom I manage to catch every time I go to see them (the lady in the first picture), she is a great dancer and always manages to look completely stoic about it! I also put together a little action series of one of my favorite Awaodori set formations, where the female dancers (the onna-odori) pull their arms into the sleeves and perform a dance balanced on one foot, turning rapidly and moving in formation. It is basically the ultimate marriage of comedy and elegance in dance! Watching it live really jump starts my heart. Most, if not all, Awaodori teams perform this routine or a variation on it but on most parade formations you might actually miss it.
I’m sure it has a technical name, maybe someone can help us with this in the comment section? — Coal was really quick on this one, it’s called Onna Odori Yakko – rougly translated as “women’s kite dance”. The Kawasaki festival doesn’t have the parade formation so you can enjoy every team’s full set, from start to finish. There’s probably no better festival in the Kanto area to really study the finer points of the dance itself.