It is Golden Week in Japan - a series of national holidays starting with Showa Day on April 29th, and ending with Children's Day on May 5th. While there are non-holidays thrown in there, many companies and schools have an extended break. The result? Quite simply PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! Tourist attractions of every sort are mobbed, roads and highways turn into parking lots, and public transport is packed. What with school work piling up (two oral reports and my thesis outline with bibliography due over the next few weeks), I decided to be good and stick close to home. All work and no play makes Sarah a dull girl, however, so this evening I went with a friend to a festival in Fuchu, western Tokyo. We could hear the huge taiko drums as soon as we left the station, once we got close each drum beat reverberated through our bodies. The best view was looking down on the taiko from the exit of the train station.
Look carefully and you'll see this particular taiko is stopped in front of a Makudonarudo... The older men on and around the taiko convinced the young girls in their golden arches aprons to give the huge drum a whack... a combination of traditional Japanese and modern globalization!
The men on top of the taiko call out and set the pace of the drummers who use huge baseball bat sized drumsticks.
The taiko on their large floats are pulled through the crowded streets...
into the shrine compound...
and right up to the shrine itself.
After watching the taiko my friend and I headed into the maze of stalls selling flowers, plants, tacky kids toys, and festival food (okonomiyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, weiners-on-a-stick, donair sandwiches, traditional sweets, cotton candy, and chocolate-covered bananas...)
Umm... right... next!
We bought a couple of pancake-sized flat grilled gyoza (dumplings) and headed back out to the street to see the floats that were appearing as it got dark. These floats were ornately decorated, covered in lanterns and carried musicians and children dancing. The kids, in their traditional masks, were really expressive and impressive!
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but these pictures just don't do the floats justice. Once it was too dark to take any more pictures I suddenly remembered that my cell phone has video capabilities (have I mentioned before that I love my phone?!). I whipped it out and went nuts taking videos of the floats as they were pulled back and forth along the stretch of road in front of the shrine. When two floats passed each other they were pulled close together, their attendants would start jumping up and down, clapping and cheering, and the dancers would leer and gesture at each other. Then, having apparently released their agression, the two floats would be dragged appart and would continue on their way. But don't take my word for it, check it out yourself!
There were lots of dancers both big and small, they would switch out when they were tired, ducking into the curtained area at the back. By far the fan favourite, however, was this little boy masked as a fox. He couldn't have been more than about 6 years old, and was adorable, combining traditional fox moves with ones that I swear he picked up from the Power Rangers!
After the dozen or so floats had been dragged up and down the street for a while they were lined up and a sort of dance-off resulted, as the dancers on each float tried to out do each other, and the musicians played over each other. A delightful cacophany of sound and movement.