Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nebuta Festival in Sakura Shinmachi Sept. 8, 2012

Yesterday, Sept. 8, 2012, we went to the Sakura Shinmachi version of the Nebuta Matsuri. It was fun. Here are some photos and videos of the event...

The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (青森ねぶた祭り, "Aomori Nebuta Festival" or simply "Aomori Nebuta") is a Japanese summer festival that takes place in Aomori, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. The festival attracts the most tourists of any of the country's nebuta festivals, and is counted among the three largest festivals in the Tōhoku region. It was designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980. "Nebuta" refers to the float of a brave warrior-figure which is carried through the center of the city, while dancers wearing a unique type of costume called haneto (ハネト) dance around in time with the chant Rasserā (ラッセラー). In the local dialect, participation in the festival is inquired using the verb haneru (ハネル, ex. "今日もハネル?" or "Are you going to haneru today?"), which was derived from the Japanese spelling of the haneto costume and the verb haneru (跳ねる, "bounce").

Origin and history: The most widely-known explanation is that the festival originated from the flutes and taikos future shogun Sakanoue no Tamuramaro used to attract the attention of the enemy during a battle in Mutsu Province. The Tamuramaro Shō (Tamuramaro Prize) was created around this explanation in 1962 to be awarded to the festival's best group participant (later renamed to the Nebuta Taishō). 

However, it is unlikely that Tamuramaro actually conducted military expeditions in what is currently Aomori Prefecture, so this explanation is considered to be a legend. The festival most likely evolved out of traditionalShinto ceremonies like Tanabata. Another explanation involves the etymology of the word Nebuta (ねぶた). Aterui (阿弖流為), a general from the Tohoku region, united the Emishi people who had been chased out of their native territory and defeated Ki no Kosami's army of 50,000 at Kitakami River to advance all the way to Fuji, Shizuoka. This army battled Sakanoue no Tamuramaro's forces for over 12 years, but was ultimately defeated. Aterui was captured and taken to Osaka Prefecture, where he was granted an audience with the ruler before being beheaded. Aterui's decapitated head was shown off to the public, and his family and followers still remaining in the Tohoku region were forced to dig large holes where they were buried alive. Dirt was thrown over these graves, and those who surrendered to the Japanese forces and became slaves were instructed to stomp over the dirt. This event is said to be the origin of Nebuta (written "根蓋" in kanji), as Aterui's followers were sent back to their roots or to the world of the dead (根) with the dirt as a covering (蓋). According to this episode, the dancers stomp the ground while carrying the float of Sakanoue no Tamuramaro on their shoulders. 

During the Edo period and Meiji period, the act of carrying a large lantern float like the Nebuta was often banned by the government due to the potential fire hazard it posed to the surroundings. This ban was also put into place during World War II, but was lifted in 1944 as an effort to boost morale during the waning years of the war. Corporations began to sponsor the creation of the floats in the post-war period, and a strong emphasis was placed in expanding local tourism through the festival. The light source within the float was originally a candle, but was eventually changed to incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs powered by portable generators and rechargeable batteries. The frame of the floats also changed from bamboo to wire, lowering the risk of fire considerably. Nebuta floats also grew larger with time, but urban obstacles such as footbridges, power lines, and traffic lights only allowed their width to increase significantly. The floats often feature images of kabuki actors, various types of gods, and historical or mythical figures from Japanese or Chinese culture, but modern Nebuta floats may also feature famous regional personalities or characters from television shows 

Now this is something that few foreigners will ever see and it was the first time I've ever seen it. It's called Nanking Tamasu Dare and it is a very old traditional Japanese street performance. People who still do this nowadays are few and far between. Usually street performers are young people but, you can tell by looking at this kindly old woman that she's been doing this for years. She was great! Wikipedia says:

Nankin tamasudare (南京玉簾 or 南京玉すだれ Nankin-tamasudare, lit. "Nanjing Lily") is a kind of traditional Japanese street performance. The name "Nankin tamasudare" is a play on words, as it can mean a kind of flower, as well as mean something like "a wonderous woven screen" (sudare is a kind of screen made by weaving straw with twine.)

The performance consists of a person skilled in manipulating special screens made of loosely woven sticks, as well as chanting an accompanying a kind of poetry. The performer chants a rhythmic poem as s/he uses the screen to portray the objects in the poetry without stopping. The screen is twisted, folded, extended, etc., in many different ways to portray an object, and then brought back quickly to its original screen shape. The chant usually ends with a pun: kaeru nai has the double meaning that there is no frog (カエル kaeru) under the willow tree, and the willow tree figure cannot return (帰る kaeru) easily to the original shape. The story ends with the willow tree figure, with the performer slowly packing up the mat after the performance.

Nankin tamasudare is said to have been a popular form of entertainment that began in the Edo period. Today, it is sometimes performed at Japanese cultural festivals.

Besides the street performers, there were a bunch of scary characters running around. This guy was on stilts and was about three meters tall!

The Sakura Shinmachi Nebuta Festival is held on Sazae-san dori nearby where the creator, Machiko Hasegawa, of the popular cartoon lived.

This guy was freaking little children out... Yeah... Pretty scary!

Here's a couple of short videos of Chindonya! I love it! (Sorry for the poor quality I didn't bring a proper video camera. Maybe next year I will!)

Here's what Wikipedia says about Chindonya:

Chindon'ya (チンドン屋), also called Japanese marching band, and in the old times also called tōzaiya (東西屋) or hiromeya (広目屋 or 披露目屋) are a type of elaborately costumed street musicians in Japan that advertise for shops and other establishments. The performers advertised the opening of new stores and other venues, or promoted special events such as price discounts. Nowadays, chindon'yas are rare in Japan. The word consists of Japanese sound symbolism chin and don to describe the instruments, and the -ya suffix which roughly equates to the English "-er" suffix in this context.

See you ae the festival next year!

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