Kashima City Furusato Matsuri

Furusato means "home town" and each year towns - excuse me, "cities" - around Japan
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.

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The chochin (lanterns) were hung on the yagura (center platform) with care, in hope that the dancers soon would be there.

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.

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Ten folding bicycles were the top prizes for the drawing.

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.

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Hey! Over here! I know appears that everyone turned their back on me...well they have, but it was nothing personal.

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.

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Ukulele players on stage.

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A hula halau dressed in mumus with maile leis and lilies in their hair. They were very good.

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Another hula halau - I liked their outfits, the color of ti leaves.

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Lots of kids recognized K-sensei (teacher) and came up to talk with her

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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.)

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Okinawan Dance

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Odori - look ma, no robots

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And of course, we had speeches from our local politicians. Here, Toshiro Uchida, Mayor of our fair City of Kashima, welcomes everyone to the festival.

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.

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The final act was a girl from Shinjuku (a part of Tokyo) wearing a pink cowgirl costume who sang a medley of 1960's Japanese Pop songs. I couldn't relate to it, but I guess for some of the local folks my age it sounded like "golden oldies".

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.

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K dancing the Kashima City festival dance

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.

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Do I look like I'm melting? I was. Did I mention it was HOT?

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...

After more dancing, the festival came to a close. Not! There was still the drawing. After winning the tanigui (towel) which was printed with the city flower - Hamanasu (Rugosa Rose) - and the words "12th Annual Kashima Furusato" (in Japanese of course), we decided to head home. The weather was still warm, and we were ready for a rest after standing and dancing for five hours. The tiredness has faded, but the joy of the festival remains.


The Moody Minstrel said...

Once again, no Bon Odori in my neck of the woods. (Did Namegata City ban them or something?) However, we could hear the fireworks from the festival you attended.

And those fireworks...auggh...now even fireworks have to have the "Praxis effect"!

(Praxis Effect: (n)An explosion which creates an [often physics-defying] expanding equatorial ring. It is so named because it was first seen as a result of the explosion of the moon Praxis in the movie Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country. Lucas then used it for the explosions of the Death Star and Death Star II in the remakes of the original Star Wars trilogy. Now it is more or less universal for large explosions in sci-fi movies.)

Pandabonium said...

Just the other day...hmmm. sorry, can't remember the exact evening, maybe Saturday, but I saw fireworks in your neck of the woods. I was on the highway just south of Kitaura bridge where there is a big bay on east shore of the lake, and the fireworks appeared over the bridge (but further from me than that), so perhaps they are hiding them from you, or keeping you sequestered somewhere so you'll miss out.

Praxis effect? That's not like sciatica? Oh well. Any lucas explosion is bound to be "physics defying" since the rest of his movies are. I mean specifically, why do those X-wing star-fighters fly through the vacuum of space in the same way that a Supermarine Spitfire flies through the air? And why do they have x-"wings"? And why is there noise in space and music in space and....

Sorry. I digress. As usual.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I'm sorry, you're right. My kids were going to go to that fireworks show with the in-laws, but the latter bugged out at the last minute.

I mean specifically, why do those X-wing star-fighters fly through the vacuum of space in the same way that a Supermarine Spitfire flies through the air?

SW Apologists say: It's because their advanced maneuvering systems are designed to give their pilots the feel of aerodynamic control for ease of piloting. [But that eliminates the clear advantage of being able to do horizontal "zangs" and Z-axis snap-turns, doesn't it? Watch Babylon 5 sometime to see what I mean!]

And why do they have x-"wings"?
The "canon" tech manual says: The "S-foils" (wings) perform a triple role of providing aerodynamic lift in atmospheres, containing the space maneuvering systems, and mounting the guns to provide a spread pattern of fire. [They also spread the mass out, a disadvantage in space, and make a bigger and more vulnerable target.]

And why is there noise in space
The SW Apologists say: The "noise in space" is actually a computer-generated simulation provided to enhance the pilot's awareness of the environment around him and make his responses more "natural". [It also makes it easier for him to be distracted.]

(I won't get into the music...)

What always got me was:
"Accelerate to attack speed!"

Umm...there really is no "speed" in space, since constant thrust provides constant acceleration (within the limits of relativity) and all velocity is relative, but oh well.

(Yes, I am a geek.)

Pandabonium said...

I asked the right guy.

re: music in space: old Lucas saying: Praxis makes perfect.

QUASAR9 said...

Amazing how 'british' Japan is
In A Very Japanese way ...

hold on

let me rephrase that since one is the older culture

Amazing how 'japanese' Britain is
in A Very British way.
not withstanding most was imported by the Normans in such a French way

Swinebread said...

Sorry I thought I posted to this earlier. Must have missed typed the word verification. I can’t remember what I said now, but it had to do with the dance.

Look like fun despite the heat.

Happysurfer said...

My colleague once went to one such festival here in KL. They have this every year and the crowd gets bigger each year - Japanese and locals. I read in the papers that this year's hit 10,000 people. It was held in a sports stadium.

I was hoping to read that you won one of the ten foldable bicycles. I like the idea of everyone going home with something. That's a good feeling.

Thanks for sharing this lovely post. Love the pictures (of K dancing esp) and the videos. Awesome!

ladybug said...

How great! This is the kind of stuff I love doing. The pink cowgirl lady was quite hilarious...

Like what you said about community & such, although I would argue that is why the fundies have been very successful here in the states. They are very organized w/helping out their members w/yard work, home help & such.

Churches in general, and some secular institutions like 4-H, Rotary . grange halls & Shriners are still going strong (in some places).

Although many now have an aging population, and are trying to recruit younger members w/kids. It's harder now, everyone is so involved w/the sports & other activities w/their kids, it's hard to add in volunteer work on top of it (although I've managed to do it, but I haven't been working that much these last years).

Pandabonium said...

Quasar 9 - lol. Perhaps that's because they are both island nations, and both received injections of culture from outside.

Swinebread - I hate it when google eats a comment. I've tried doing without the word verification, but I get spammed. Everybody did have fun - and all ran into each other at the convenience store later for ice cream and cold drinks. :-p

Happy - wow! 10,000? I can't imagine. Nice everyone can get together for fun. Spirit of Malaysia.

Glad you like pics and vids. K is my favorite subject.

Ladybug - the cowgirl was pretty funny stuff for me, nostalgia for others.

People crave a sense of self worth, belonging, love. If they can't get that in "normal" society, they'll get it where they can. That is key tool used by cults to bring in new members. In my view, if society in general, schools, and the organizations that are supposed to serve people's spiritual needs offered that to begin with, cults would not have a draw.