Tokyobling's Blog

Faces of Atami – Festival Singing

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on October 3, 2012

In a photoblog like this it is really difficult to convey sounds and music, even though you lose 90% of the atmosphere by not being able to hear the sounds of the festival photos I put up on this blog I try to do my best with colors and images instead. There is one particular sound you do not hear very often anymore in Japanese festivals, even though it used to be a common part of folk culture back in the Edo period of pre-modern Japan (roughly from the start of the 17th to the mid 19th centuries), the Jinku singing (甚句). This is a kind of very slow rhythmic singing that is easy to pick up and requires the audience or the chorus to respond with a few set phrases or words. Different regions, cities or even streets have their own traditional jinku lyrics with small variations to the melody, often at the whim of the main singer. There are a few well known widely used jinku songs but sometimes a singer will compose his or her own lyrics about whatever is on the minds of the people taking part in the song. I have heard lyrics about the seasons, lost love, the joys of drinking, the sweet sadness of graduating school and even songs about how hard it is to get laid! Some of the songs are very poetic but some of the songs are extremely funny, especially when singer is having fun on behalf of the community or group of people making up the chorus. Sumo wrestlers have their own kind jinku and you can also hear it on some wedding ceremonies when friends of the groom will perform at the celebrations to honer the couple. But the best way to hear jinku is to at the festivals, if you are really lucky you will catch a group of omikoshi carriers giving their best with one of these songs, and if the singer is talented and not too drunk, the suggestive melody and sweetness will give you proper goose bumps! I was lucky enough to run right into a group with a talented jinku singer and a megaphone at the Kogashi Matsuri in Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture last month.

If you do not mind, please go to this page, click a song title and then click play on the inbuilt media player on the page and listen to a typical (but very low quality recording of a) jinku song. Unfortunately I could not find the lyrics to the song she was singing here in Atami. This group is called Yuwadoushikai (勇和同志會). I know next to nothing about jinku, so if you know more or can correct me, please feel free to lecture us all in the comments! I am dying to learn more about this wonderful form of singing.

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