Saturday, August 14, 2010

Yosakoi: Written Thursday August 12, 2010

The crowd closes in, you feel music blaring from speakers on moving trucks in your chest cavity, your nerves go taught as the performance builds to a crescendo, your fist clench as the performance ends, and you stifle the urge to belt out a good old, “HELL YEAH!” (of course one must resist this impulse because no one around you would understand those words, and it could easily be mistaken for anger or some other inappropriate emotional overflow). Yes folks it’s Matsuri (festival) season here in Kochi-ken. I took the day off of work on Wednesday and took the JR train into Kochi city early for the Yosakoi Dance festival. The festival hinges on the performance and judging of seemingly endless dance groups who all perform in a parade like exhibition led by decorated flat bed trucks that have been covered with various sponsoring team names. Teams can be sponsored by any one; rice companies, fish flake brands, hair salons, or even towns. They dance from 9 in morning until long after I had already left the city (about 7). I can’t say I actually know a huge amount about this festival, but I do know that every group performs to what can best be described as a remix of the Yosakoi traditional song. To compete the lyrics and certain rhythm sections of the original song MUST be present in your performance. This leads to groups being defined, at least for Japanese challenged gaijin, by their flamboyant costumes and how ganki (up beat, happy, and or great) their performance was. As the day wore on most of the groups became progressively less ganki. Their smiles faded to exhaustion and . . . perhaps even boredom. Imagine performing the same dance continuously for three days. The word challenging only goes so far.
I ended up meeting up with four other JETs who I befriended at Tokyo Orientation. Jamie, Marie, Sonia, and Amy. I played phone tag with Jamie until finally asking him where he was. His response, under a McDonalds sign. . . (there’s at least 4 of those). It was very good to see that group again. I find them wonderfully easy to spend time with. Unfortunately, they live about 2 hours West of me by train in Nakamura. I’m considering going to visit them this weekend for camping, depending on the weather. Great fun for all though.

I find there is an inexplicable quality to the festivals (especially the bigger ones) in Japan. There is a level of grandeur on the scale of the Macys Day Parade, but . . . very different. It’s difficult to describe. Between the claustrophobic, shoulder crushing, nature of the narrow streets one must navigate to find the best view, and the full frontal assault against all sensory receptors I always leave with a feeling akin to great self-awareness. Perhaps when confronted with so many colors, shiny objects, sounds, delicious smells from festival vendors, and the slight physical exertion of standing, walking, or pushing through a constant mob my mind kicks into meditation mode. I left Kochi with a sensation like I’d just finished a great run, or maybe like those crazies who do hot yoga feel (sorry if you’re a practitioner, but doing yoga in a heated room is farley close to the anti me equation) after a good long sweaty stretch. Maybe it’s the history behind every piece of costume and tradition, maybe it’s the dedication of the performers, or maybe it’s just a part of that quintessential Japanese thing that I mentioned earlier. That little thing, which is omnipresent here, that resonates within certain people to the point of creating a sensation of euphoria and comfort.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not running around beaming uncontrollable manic smiles every day as I simply stroll down the street. It’s a quieter kind of comfort, best linked to discovery. Silent astonishment at the 50 dollar mushroom individually wrapped in the super market, (why are you so special I wonder?), try and count the number of vending machines you see within a four block radius of my apartment (it’s ridiculous!), rice fields instead of corn, or just being able to see those mountains that surround my little city dotted with constant whisps of mist. More to come. . . pictures posted on facebook, flickr has currently out smarted my attempts at posting. . . . deal with that soon.

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