祭り放題!

皆さん、久しぶりですね!The first half of the second semester is over and mid-term exams start today. I’ve mostly been just teaching classes and studying for the JLPT but the early fall is not a time without its fun and interesting events.

Before the second semester begins in earnest my school has its annual culture festival, usually on the first Friday and Saturday of September. The first few days of school are only morning classes so that in the afternoon the students can continue the preparation they started over summer break (and I use the word “break” here very loosely). Each homeroom class decides at the end of the first semester what it will do for the festival and then spends most of the summer working on it. Events come in two varieties: plays and dances. Plays are performed in the gym and are usually based on a Japanese television drama or movie or a Disney cartoon. Dances are performed outside, either on the sports field or on the 円形ステージ (えんけい/round stage) and usually feature some sort of storyline and a patchwork of pieces of J-pop songs or American hip-hop tracks and tends to remind me of music played at pep rallies when I was in high school. The schedule is set up so that when the play in the gym ends, you go outside to watch a dance, and when that’s over you go back in the gym for another play, and so forth and so on. In addition to the main events, you can check out the students’ work in the 書道室 (しょどうしつ/calligraphy room) and the impromptu art gallery and for a small fee you can drink tea with the 茶道部 (さどうぶ/tea ceremony club). On Saturday, parents and friends can come and watch and the day ends with a performance by the 吹奏部 (すいそうぶ/brass band club).  After the guests are rather forcefully asked to leave, the students engage in a massive clean-up operation. Then a sort of after-festival called 後夜祭 (こうやさい) begins. There, individual students or students in groups of their own choosing perform music, skits or their own brand of Osaka-style 漫才 (まんざい/manzai) comedy.

Around the middle of September is the 岸和田檀尻祭 (きしわだだんじりまつり/Kishiwada danjiri festival). Kishiwada is a city in Osaka Prefecture close to Kansai Airport and its danjiri festival is probably the most famous in all of Japan. Danjiri are wooden floats that look like small shrines. They are constructed from wood and, maintaining a traditional lack of modern innovations such as steering, etc., the floats depend on dozens and dozens of people pulling ropes to guide them through the streets and around corners, where they literally just jerk it around by turning suddenly at a 90° angle. Though I’ve never seen it happen myself, I’ve heard that someone dies every year, either by getting run over or getting run into by the floats.  Still, despite the potential danger, it’s quite a spectacle with all the pullers and runners adorned in their colorful はっぴ (happi coats) and the guys dancing and jumping up and down on top of the swiftly moving floats.  There are 34 floats that run in the morning, afternoon and again in the evening when they are adorned with rows and rows of lanterns.

The same weekend is when my city’s citizen’s festival is held every year. In addition to food stalls and the usual fair fare, the main attraction at this festival is a big stage with loud speakers. There are lots of acts throughout the day, the overwhelming majority of which are little kids dancing. It sounds cute enough but when you take a closer look it’s actually a little disturbing to my Western eyes. Recently, a hip-hop dance school has opened up in my area and most of the performers are students from this school. The age range is elementary to junior high and the music, for the most part, is very sexually explicit rap and hip-hop, as are many of the dance maneuvers.  Every time I ask a Japanese person if they think what they’re watching is in appropriate, the act surprised by my question and tell me that it’s really cute. I’m not sure they’d think it was so cute and innocent if they understood the lyrics or where some of the dance routines came from. I don’t consider myself all that conservative, but if it were my daughter, she wouldn’t be out there dancing like that in those close at that young of an age. Oddly enough, there are few to no high school age girls, for whom the whole thing would be a great deal more appropriate.  This year marked the first time 外人 (がいじん/foreigners) performed at the festival. A couple of my friends signed up and played a short, 3 song acoustic set of songs from America, Britain and New Zealand. Just like in our English classes though, they failed to get much audience participation in the sing-along finale to “Hey Jude.” But for me, it was the highlight of the event.

The same weekend (it was a very eventful weekend!) we also went to the annual フィエスタ・メヒカナ (Mexican festival) at the Umeda Sky Building.  There, Osaka’s Mexican community gathers to play music, dance and cook Mexican food in the outdoor space between the two towers that make up the sides of the Sky Building. It’s always a lot of fun and usually by the end of the night nearly everyone on stage and off is dancing to traditional Mexican music.

This Monday was 体育の日(たいいくのひ/Sports Day). Until this year, this 3-day weekend was when the インターナショナル・ビール・サミット (International Beer Summit) was held at the Sky Building. Usually, like the Mexican festival, there would be a stage with music and dancing, a bunch of food venders, and of course lots of different kinds of beer from all over the world. This year, however, they moved it to Kobe, put it inside a building with a mere 150-person capacity and started charging ¥2,000 for admission. And because space was so limited, you had to sign up in advance to go. Needless to say, we didn’t attend though I’m hoping this year was a fluke and that next year, they’ll bring it back to Osaka and do it right again.

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