Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Local Matsuri II: Evening Activities

Michael Ashkenazi (1993) contextualizes the Japanese matsuri as having three qualities: First, it is unusual (different from daily life), recreational and entertaining. The image of matusuri is something to be experienced rather than merely seen. Large numbers of participants strengthen this image. Second, the unusual atmosphere of festivity is a place of economics and other transactions different from everyday commerce. Participants are able to enjoy a wide range of products and activities for a price. Third, the matsuri involves an ever-changing mass of participants from different social categories rather than a static homogenous group.

Ashzenkazi's qualities seem to match the Evening Activities part of the local matsuri. In the last VAOJ post I discussed and illustrated the procession of the mikoshi. This post illustrates the night time market and performances that take place in the summer festival.

One side of the river near the shrine was packed with booths selling various snacks and food. Some of the stalls were devoted to games and tempted participants to win prizes such as anime inspired stuffed animals, toy guns, balloons and whistles, gold fish and posters of pop idols. As the evening wore on, more and more people came to eat and play. It was difficult to move through the masses of people eating, drinking, pushing baby carriages, socializing... The trick was to purchase your snack and then find a small place for yourself or group to eat it.

Meanwhile preparations were being made by at the shrine. The show would start when it got dark, at 7:30 PM.

This particular shrine is famous because there is a train station right above it. The kami-deity associated with the shrine resides in a large 700 year old Camphor tree. When the train station was being built, the tree could not simply be cut down. Thus the station was built around it.

The first entertainment of the night is a taiko drum group.

Followed by a hip-hop dance performance.

Next was a group of young girls doing a yosakoi dance, very energetic with gymnastic moves and a traditional feel to it.

Followed by a ballet performance.

The second evening of the festival featured Kawachi ondo and Goshu ondo, styles of folk songs originating from Osaka and Shiga prefectures, respectively.

People danced the bon odori to these musical styles. The Obon Festival, also know as the festival of the dead, is usually observed in the middle of August. It is a Buddhist custom where people welcome the spirits of their deceased ancestors back home. Another part of the celebration is to perform folk dances, the bon odori. These dances usually have people dancing in a circle with relatively simple and repetitive movements. The movements of the dance vary from region to region. It is not unusual for bon odori to take place at other times of the summer or even at a Shinto shrine; it seems to be a part of the celebration of summer.

Bon odori seems to be a perfect example of Victor Turner's communitas (1969), where people of different social status come together as equals to perform and promote a strong sense of community. Although there is a program/schedule for the dance, the performance itself can be seen as anti-structure. The ritual attracts all kinds of people to participate whether they intended to do so or not. Semi-professional dancers in costume are joined by community members, housewives, old drunk men, young children and even yanki/bosozuko/bikers to dance and have fun. Communitas feels good...

Yes, and a good time was had by all. The Local Matsuri juxtaposes time and space while bringing and blending together Shinto and Buddhist customs, Japanese and foreign dances, regional traditions and multitudes of people. But the visual anthropologist feels the need to show more of the Local Matsuri. The next VAOJ post features Local Matsuri III: Tamago Senbei.


Ashkenazi, Michael. Matsuri: Festivals of a Japanese town. University of Hawaii Press, 1993.

Turner, Victor. “Liminality and Communitas,” in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1969. pp. 94-113, 125-130.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri I: The Mikoshi, posted July 30, 2013.

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