More photos from the wonderful Yoshiwara Gionsai that took place a couple of weeks ago in the Shizuoka Prefecture Fuji City, two to three hours by local train from Tokyo. The main attraction of the two day festival is without a doubt the giant dashi that are being pulled up and down the main street. The dashi are home to musicians and dancers, and kids. Lots of kids! It is hard not to get good photos of something like this!
The dashi are built, maintained and financed by the local neighborhood communities, so people take a lot of pride into their communal festival platforms. Of course, if you belong to a community that can be organized to take of something like this, you can count on there being a lot of other perks and advantages!
I spent yesterday in Fuji City, in Shizuoka Prefecture which is two prefectures over west from Tokyo, visiting the lovely and colorful Yoshiwara Gionsai, famous for its many dashi (mobile festival platforms). The festival was as great as ever, despite the tiny bit of rain that fell at the end of the festival. You would be excused for not believing that we were actually in the middle of the rain period here in Japan, but so far there has not been very much of it.
The main attraction of the Yoshiwara Gion Festival is the main street in Yoshiwara Honcho, where the different dashi are pulled up and down the streets by the members of the neighborhood they represent. The dashi are manned by kids and adults who play the more or less traditional music of these festival. When I say more or less I mean that Shizuoka is famous for being slightly more innovative in the music and rhythm sections of their festivals and the kids have quite a bit of freedom in deciding how they are going to perform. Most opt for the traditional way but there are a few far away influences to some of teams drumming or dancing!
Last month’s Yoshiwara Gionsai was just as exciting and fun as usual. I could only make it there for the second day, missing the huge tree procession of the day before. One of the peculiar things about this local festival is the omikoshi which is covered in bamboo grass and moved in a way that is different from most other omikoshi. It is take around the parish districts by teams divided by neighborhood and at each handover an ceremony where a bottle of sea water is emptied over the head of the headsman of the omikoshi team. Although many omikoshi teams are now unisex this one is still only open to males, for at least one obvious reason I would only discover when actually trying to lift the omikoshi: it is incredibly physically demanding and space is very limited, so you need as many of the strongest people you can fit, and preferably all of the same height! There is even several points in the procession where the omikoshi stops and is jumped up and down. I don’t know if the sense of fear is stronger than the sense of pain and exhaustion, but failure is not an option!
It is great fun to follow the omikoshi careening through the streets. In the old days it used to be even wilder and different neighborhoods would wrestle for control of it – in mid procession! But a few years ago a straying omikoshi took out a whole stand of festival food and it was decided to calm things down a bit. The women of the neighborhood are kept busy – preparing and handling the hand over ceremonies, following the omikoshi around cooling it off with water and making sure not too many innocent bystanders are caught in the procession!
All in all great fun and if you are in Shizuoka (or in Tokyo and don’t mind the train travel) I can really recommend this festival for next year!
At the Yoshiwara Gionsai in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Fuji City last month I saw the local firefighters perform their traditional ladder acrobatics. I am sucker for these performances and never miss one if I am in the general area. This ladder team was very talented and it was a pleasure seeing some new faces (for me). They also performed one of the very rare three person acrobatics!
I have blogged a lot about this kind of traditional Japanese culture before, so if you want to read more about this, just use the tags at the end of the post!