Shortly after Fuji Rock, Kanamori-san suggested to everyone to go to Gujo-odori in Gujo Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture. Gujo odori is a dance festival that runs from mid-July to September, but goes all night during a few nights in August around Obon. According to the Gujo Odori website,
THE GUJO ODORI dance festival is one of the three most important traditional dance festivals in Japan, but it is also one of the most accessible. Designated a Significant Intangible Cultural Folk Asset by the Japanese government, Gujo Odori should not be missed!
Naturally, trying to fit everything I haven’t done into the next few months, I was eager to go. I was afraid that I was too eager to go. Others soon expressed interest and a plan was formulated.
Luckily for us, one of the Fuji Rock crew’s company has an office in Gujo, so we even had a place to park. A total of 8 people went to Gujo to experience the fun festival.
I thought that traditional Japanese clothing would be appropriate, but I’m usually taken aback when I see white folks trying to wear traditional Japanese clothing. It just never seems to work for me. There are two traditional summer clothes you can wear, 甚平 (jinbei) or 浴衣 (yukata).
甚平 are basically shorts and a 3/4 sleeve shirt with a tie. The sleeves are stitched with a very wide stitch, almost looking like the sleeve is tied on instead of sewn on. The armpits are open as well, all designed to give very good ventilation during hot summer days.
浴衣 Are the summer version of a kimono. They are long, require an 帯 (obi – belt), but are made of cotton and hemp, with armpit cutouts also.
Tomo thought that jinbei would look a little strange on me. My proportions don’t really match Japanese, as my legs and arms are too long and my torso is too short. But if I put on a long dress, I would look かっこいい (cool).
In addition, most dancers wear 下駄 (geta), wooden sandles. Traditional geta are like a plank with two legs. They can get pretty tall as well. The are useful in the dance though because of the sound they make.
I figured, what the heck, I’ll go for the traditional look, a goofy gaijin trying to be Japanese and failing. My next challenge was to find yukata and geta, figure out the size, how to put it on, and how to feel comfortable in it. I knew that all department stores have a section where they sell traditional Japanese articles, like kimonos, yukata, and so on. My first stop was at Mitsukoshi, and there the yukata alone ranged from 16000 yen to over 20000 yen. That’s a price tag over $200. A little pricey. I went to Matsuzakaya, and the price was even more. Forget the geta. A couple of friends recommended that I go to AEON, which is kind of like Target in the US. My snobbery had kicked in and I thought I wanted something “authentic” and not “cheap” and then I realized I was being stupid. So after my initial sticker shock, I was off to AEON, found a really helpful sales person, and got out of there with a yukata, belt, obi, and geta for under 14000 yen. Still a lot of money to pay, but it is an interesting souvenir.
I was concerned about the geta, so I bought some “flats” instead of the tall ones. I practiced walking in them around the neighborhood and quickly determined that I’d never last all night in them. Too bad, actually, but I wasn’t going to tear up my feet and be unable to dance just because my sandles didn’t match my yukata.
Tomo was down the weekend before the Gujo odori, so we did a practice run with my yukata. Especially tying the obi. We had instructions that were impossible to understand, so Tomo said, “Let’s check YouTube.” I was heading for the encyclopedia, some would suggest Wikipedia, but everyone 30 and younger goes to YouTube. Good call.
I LOVE the accent on the Japanese guy in the video. He’s not saying “taa daa” like a magic act, but it sure sounds that way. Very clear though, and after that demonstration, and a few practices, I was an expert. I did some modeling in the apartment and this is the basic look of my yukata.
Of the 8 people that went together to Gujo Dori, we had various clothing combinations. Three yukata, one jinbei, two geta, and a variety of other combinations. It turns out it didn’t really matter. I actually enjoyed wearing the yukata, had I had on regular geta I would have been even taller, but a tall guy looks good in a yukata. Tomo was right. I got a few looks, and I noticed a couple looking at my obi knot. I was assured it was correct so I was a little proud. Hopefully they weren’t making fun of me.
Gujo is in the mountains, so while the temperature was warm, it wasn’t so hot. We got there around 8:30 pm, and went for some festival food and drink of course.
I did not eat the fish.
I did wander around a bit and get some pictures of the festival and the town.
Hi-chan and I goofing around in a plastic food shop.
A fuzzy picture of me in my yukata.
Kanamori-san, Sacchan, her husband, and I jumped in to the dance line and away we went. I knew nothing of the dance, just copied the people around me. Luckily, we picked a point in the continuous dance line where there were some experienced dancers. I copied the upper body motions first, and then tried to get the footwork down. Of course, in a dance, they should work together. But I’m not a dancer, so I did my best. It was FUN! The dance basically goes in a pattern around a stage, think of the dance area as a cross, and the stage at the intersection of the two pieces of the cross. The distances are long as well, there were a lot of people there. My guess is they shorten up the ends of the cross as the crowd thins out.
There are 10 dances, I think I participated in about 5 of them. I’ve linked from YouTube (of course, YouTube) at the end of this entry so you can see them.
I was not as crisp as the people on the video, I clapped at the wrong time, I bumped in to Kanamori-san a few times, someone stepped on my foot. No one cared, no one was offended, everyone just had a good time.
We took a break for more refreshment, went down to the river, and then Hi-chan joined us for another round of dancing. After our second round of dancing, where we were able to complete almost the entire circuit, it was around 2:00 am.
Hirox (Hirotaka-san) suggested we go visit the castle, which was still completely lit up. We drove up a very circuitous and narrow street to get to the castle, and found the white walls covered in insects. Ick, a little scary. After the castle visit I thought we’d had back for more dancing, but instead starting heading back to Nagoya. Oh? So I didn’t get all the pictures I was planning since I was too busy dancing. I did get some though.
Hi-chan, Hirox, and Kanamori-san in front of Gujo Castle.
Kanamori-san suggested that we visit 大丸ラーメン (daimaru ramen) once we got back to Nagoya. It is an all night “underground ramen shop.” There was a line of about 15 people ahead of us, very much a local underground crowd. People were holding their stomachs and looking a little green when they came out. Why? Because the portions were ENORMOUS! Somehow, Kanamori-san was a bottomless pit and ate his mound of bean sprouts, all the meat and noodles, and even had room for more noodles. As the foreigner, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t even make it through the bean sprouts. Luckily Hi-chan and Hirox failed as well.
It was a good time, and I went to bed at 7:00 am. I was a complete waste the next day, but I had scheduled absolutely nothing, so it was fine. Thanks to Hi-chan for some of the pictures used here.
Here are the dances I did, and the descriptions are quoted from the Gujo odori website.
三百 – San byakku. “San byakku literally means three hundred and refers to three hundred mon, a unit of currency in the Edo period. About 250 years ago, Gujo Hachiman had a farmers revolution and the lord of the town was changed. When the new lord arrived, he gave the poor and starving farmers 300 mon. This made the farmers extremely happy and the dance san byakku, was written to say thank-you. The movements are simple depections of farmers walking in the muddy rice fields and throwing harvested rice bundles up to be dried.”
春駒 – Harukoma. “In Edo times, Gujo Hachiman was home to many famous horse farms that supplied horses to the Samurai. The movements of this dance mimic those of a samurai riding a spirited and energetic young horse.”
かわさき – Kawasaki. “The most famous and well known of the 10 Gujo Odori songs! The movements of this dance incorporate representations of the scenery of Gujo Hachiman (rivers and mountains) and viewing the moon on a warm summer evening.”
やっちく – Yacchiku. “Gujo Hachiman is a castle town and because of that there used to be many drifting performers who passed through the town. One of these drifting performers created yacchiku. Like gen gen bala bala this song is only singing and drums and you may notice a similarity between native north-american people’s dance and music.”
げんげんばらばら – Gengen Balaba (which I hate because it went the opposite direction). “Unlike most other dances of Gujo Odori, which are danced in a clockwise circle, Gengen Balabala is danced in a counter-clockwise circle. Only a drum and the singer’s voice are used. The elegant dance movements depict folding the long sleeves of a young girl’s kimono over her arm to play a children’s ball game.”