hold a celebration Bon dance. Strictly speaking, it isn't a Bon Odori, since it is not religious, but it has its roots in Japanese Obon tradition and in practice it amounts to the exact same kind of event.
The last two Furusato Festivals we attended were held at Hamanasu Park, just a mile or so from the house. This year, the location was just a little further away in the soccer field of a park, above an elementary school. It's very near Kitaura Lake, with cedar covered hills as a backdrop. This was the 12th festival since Kashima became a "City". The park is in an area that was called "Oono Machi" before it was incorporated into Kashima City and is about 15 kilometers from the city center. A second dance was held next to Kashima Jingu shrine, right in the heart of the city, a few days later.
A line of tents covered games for kids (ball toss, catch a fish, etc), and food booths (yakitori, yakisoba, hot dogs on a stick [yaki doggie?], cold drinks). Some tables with umbrellas were available and rows of chairs were assembled in front of an entertainment stage - actually the bed of an open truck van. (Most van type trucks in Japan open on the sides as well as the back.) Some people had thought to bring a mat to sit on (doh! why don't I ever remember to do that?).
We made sure to arrive before 5:00 PM when they started distributing (free) tickets for a drawing held at the end of the festival.
Drawings or games for prizes are popular in Japan. The way they are run reflects Japanese cultural attitudes about community - everyone gets something. In this drawing they would be giving away ten bicycles, 100 electric fans, and I don't know how many tenugui (towels). So there are no losers, only winners. K and I have attended a dinner function last year that had over 200 guests. At the end, there games with each table as a team, and a drawing (top prize a bicycle). But there were prizes enough for everyone, even if just a beautifully gift wrapped bar of bath soap. Japanese Buddhist temples in Hawaii do the same thing at their parties and I always thought it was a fun idea. There, they play bingo and stores donate bags of rice, paper towels, even toilet paper as prizes. Everyone goes home with something.
I really don't know what everyone was looking at and this picture looks rather odd. Perhaps they were just facing away from the hot sun. Anyway, the lady in the kimono is the wife of the mayor. She later smiled and bowed to me, so I felt better. And those guys on the left didn't just bring a mat to sit on, they brought a whole picnic table with seats! I used to have one of those. It was great. Folded into a slim suitcase size and was easy to carry in the plane for picnics on the lawn at Hana airport.
The prize thingy is illustrative of the Japanese ethic of teamwork, and sharing the rewards. Some aspects of that mindset can be frustrating for a gaijin, particularly when practicality is sacrificed for form in a work setting (just ask the Moody Minstrel). But it does have its benefits for the society as a whole. In Japan there are rich and poor as anywhere, but the range between them is not as great as it is in many other countries. Under the ultra conservative LDP in recent years, there has been a tendency toward the rich getting richer, and that was part of the reason for their recent election defeat. This society embraces a system of rewards, but not a winner take all, every man for himself attitude. In Japan the pay ratio between chief executives and the average employee is about 10 to 1 in 2004. In the USA it was 531 to 1 that year.
In the US, people seem to tolerate that more, perhaps because they accept the myth (promoted by the power elite) that "anyone can become one of the rich if they just work hard enough", keeps people from wanting to question the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few - they cling to the hope of becoming one of them - or because they believe such disparity is necessary to spur productivity (another myth). Not that Japanese people don't fall for the same consumerist traps as Americans, if not more so - buying designer name clothes or importing cars from half way around the world even though equally good vehicles or better are built right here for less. But I'm not talking consumerism with this point. Rather, "fairness" or "community". But I digress...
Here's an old recording of "Tanko Bushi" (coal mine song) - one of the odori we danced...
"Au", a mobile phone service, provided hand fans for everyone who attended. These were put into immediate use, as the temperature was around 33 C (91 F) and a bit humid.
Later, anyone who danced was given another fan (partly for a practical reason you'll see later) and at the end of the dance, cans of cold tea and snacks for the kids were given out.
As the ticket line opened, the entertainment started on the stage with a couple of "Enka" singers. Enka is to Japan music what Country and Western is to American music. The songs are often sad tales of a broken heart. One of the singers was "Okama" (a guy dressed as a woman). Later, he/she sang some for some of the dances, accompanied by the Mayor (who does NOT cross dress). Then came a few Hawaiian music acts - very popular with middle age and older folks in Japan. In fact, a Japanese hula halau once won the state hula competition in Hawaii, much to the chagrin of the locals. No one in Hawaii makes too much fuss over that though as there is a lot of money to be made teaching hula to the Japanese.
There was an Okinawan dance troupe that wasn't from Okinawa. They were from towns here in Ibaraki and part of an organization of performers of Okinawan dance that has member groups around Japan and is headquartered in Wakayama prefecture next to Osaka. Another group of women performed traditional Japanese Odori (a dance style that goes back about 400 years) using fans, tanigui, and hand motions. (They were all far superior dancers than any robot could ever hope to be.)
Through it all, cicadas in the surrounding trees vibrated their mating calls. While some school children performed some dances, we walked to the top of the hill where I took the first picture of this post, and another, below, of Kitaura Bridge. The sun was setting in the clouds, turning the sky pastel pink and orange.
At 7:30 the main festival dance started. At these dances (as well as Bon dances at temples) a group of women who practice the dances together and wear matching yukata, form the inner ring. That way, other people dancing can look to them for guidance on the dance moves and try to follow along. In Hawaii, there are so many Bon dances each summer that one can learn the dances pretty well. But here, there is only one or two dances to attend each year, so that isn't an option.
There were three different dances. Tankobushi is a coal miner dance with motions a coal miner would make: digging, trowing a sack over the shoulders, wiping the brow, pushing a cart, etc. to a song about a love struck miner. It's a simple dance that is easy to learn and so most people can do it well. Then there are two Kashima dances, one is quite new as it was developed for the 10th anniversary of Kashima City two years ago.
Both of those are more complex and involve use of a fan. The fan given to dancers has a round handle as the new dance requires one to spin the fan between the hands, as K is doing above, and which you can see being done in the video clip below.
On the back of the dance fan was printed "愛らぶふるさと” The first character is "ai" which means love and sounds like the English "I". Then ra-bu which sounds a bit like the English word "love" followed by furusato, which as I earlier indicated means "home town". So it's kind of a clever form of "I love my home town" that strangely plays on English words.
During a break, we were treated to hanabi (a fireworks show). Here's a short clip of the finale...