Thursday, August 12, 2004


Yesterday I spent all afternoon watching the dance parade of the festival. Even though I had sunscreen on and kept drinking an isotonic drink, I got sunburnt and almost dehydrated. But the dance was worth watching!

Dancin' in the street Posted by Hello

The festival, "Yosakoi matsuri" started about 50 years ago, not so much as a religious custom but more like an effort to revitalize the rural economy and give people a chance to have fun.

The festival started with an original dance and a folk song, which were rather simple and slow. As time passed, many teams started making their own songs/dances/costumes,arranging the original one in whatever way they like. So what you see today at the festival is a unique mixture. You see a big decorative truck with PA system leading each team, slowly moving forward and playing dance music r-e-a-l loud,being followed by 30 to 150 dancers per team dancing in colorful costumes.

Costume Posted by Hello

Every year, each team starts recruiting dancers sometime in June (or earlier.) Rich and famous teams hire choreographers (usually dance instructors and students of local dance schools) and ask professional composers to make original dance music. Also they order their original costumes, and book vans to give the dancers rides from one dance venue to another. Such teams charge applicants the fee of apx. US$200 to US$300 to cover all the expenses. This year, total of 179 teams (19,000 dancers) joined the festival, and there were about 15 dance venues. So you can imagine the economic effect that this festival brings to this rural city.

Dancin' in the Street Posted by Hello

There are some basic rules that have to be obeyed, such as using traditional wooden clappers in the dance and including at least one phrase of the traditional folk song in the dance music. Anything else can be arranged freely. So there's many different versions of the original dance ....hiphop, jazz dance, modern dance, Hawaiian hula... you name it. And the music can be anything like rock, samba, oldies, rap...and many of them use the sound of Japanese traditional instruments (mostly made with synthesizers.) Some teams have band members on the leading truck and have them play the music live for 2 days! Most teams use pre-recorded dance music, but usually singers on the leading truck keep singing live and shouting at the dancers to show more and more passion.

Of course there are teams who stick with the traditional song and dance and pass them down the generations.

Wooden Clappers Posted by Hello

This pair isn't, but many are painted in bright colors.

I just love the way they mix tradition and new trends. There were times in the past that young people disregarded anything traditional, saying that it was obsolete. But I think now we're more in the direction of making a unique fusion of the old and the new. And I just love the way that whole town gets caught in the craze of the festival --- loud music echoing in the main street and the dance nuts, young and old, dancing as if they never get enough, under the hot summer sun! (It was probably above 35 degrees Celsius.)

Dancin' in the Street Posted by Hello

Some people seem to believe that dance teams from all over Japan come to Kochi to attend the national dance competition in this festival and win the prize. But to me, Yosakoi is a "festival" rather than a dance competition, and I want to believe that people come here for the love of the dance and for sharing the joy with all the people involved, not for winning the prize at any expense.

posted by obachan, 8/12/2004 10:59:00 PM


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