Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Uenohara Festival Part 3: Floats

Day 2 of the festival.
Day one’s festivities were chaotic, disorganized, and extremely eclectic. Day two was much more structured, and it was clear that there was a plan.
There were “floats” on day 2. I use quotation marks because floats are the best and most simple explanation for what they were, but they were nothing like anything I had seen before. The floats were beautifully designed. One looked more classical to me, with a very old style Japanese look to it, the other looked much more modern, it had anime characters on it, and electric lights.
On each of the floats were continuous performances. There were no words in any of them, just drumming and dancing. The performances cycled, and seamed to flow as one continuous story. I’m not sure what the story was, it’s a story of the local gods. Most of the locals forget the stories behind the performances as well.

The stages of the performance were (with my own best interpretation)

A tale of age and aptitude
            The same dance was done by 3 men one old, one middle age, and one a child.
           The all wore the same mask and the same outfits, the dance seemed to reflect that we were all once children, and if we forget that we have lost so much.
            The same dance was then done by a man with a comically foolish face,
a man with a face that was laden with decades of grumpiness, and a man with a face of naivety
            It seemed to reflect that we are all dancing the same dance (of life), but we have our own complications due to our own short comings.

A tale of femininity
            Three dancers in kimonos came out for the second portion of the performance.
            The first was an embodiment of grace, selflessness, kindness and beauty      The second was an embodiment of labor, and fertility
            The third was an embodiment of strength, fortitude, and perseverance.
            They each danced, and had costumes that reflected the different aspects of being a women.

Fox gods
            Dances were then done by 2 people dressed as fox gods
            One of the faces was much more kind, but it seemed that at some point it became enraged, and so the second fox, with a much scarier face came out and did a very angry looking dance.

            A person in a demon mask came out and did a dance

            A dragon came out and did a dance, babies were offered up to the dragon, it would bite/kiss their head and then retreat a bit, once enough babies were offered to the dragon it would go away. I’m not sure if the dragon was a lucky dragon, and thus kissing the babies, or a cruel dragon, thus biting the babies. Parents seemed eager to lift their children up to dragon as an offering though. Half the babies started crying, and the other had that brilliantly adorable look of utter confusion, I could live for that look.

The dances cycled through in that order until the two floats met.

At random points during the performance viewers were given treats, the first treat was a drinkable yogurt, the second was candy thrown out to the audience, the third was a popsicle. The popsicle was bright blue, every time I had ever seen a Japanese popsicle on TV, or in a video game in the United States it has been blue, so eating a blue popsicle while watching traditional Japanese performances, felt very surreal to me.

The floats were pulled by about 10 people pulling on large ropes, our float the shinmachi float was pulled by the towns fire brigade. The floats could not turn, when the floats came to a corner the whole thing was tipped, and then twisted, the float screeched like an old boat, and the dancers and drummers inside the float all slid around.

My favorite moment of the whole procession was when they were turning one of the floats. The middle age man and young boy version of the age dancers and one of the little girl drummers were in the back of the float. When the whole thing tilted the little girl in the back had such a look of excitement. Her moment of just pure excitement made my day.

When the two floats finally met it was to battle. The battle meant that each of the performances was to be done by each of the dancers on each float. Both floats had the same performances, but in the end, our float, claimed victory and chased the other float up and away.

To be continued…

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