Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (126): It’s ganko!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 22, 2012

THE festival tradition in Japan stretches back for centuries, and some festivals are more than a thousand years old. But in Japan any old excuse is fine if it’s in the cause of a good time, so new festivals are always being created. Unlike the traditional events, they have no Shinto underpinning.

Representative of the new wave in free public entertainment is the Hamamatsu Yosakoi Ganko Matsuri, held last month in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka. This year’s festival was just the twelfth. Hamamatsu is known as the home of motorcycles and musical instruments—Yamaha and Kawai are headquartered here—and it was also the site of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s worst military defeat before he became the first Tokugawa shogun in 1603.

Ganko is a word from the local dialect that translates into standard Japanese as hijo ni (extremely) or sugoi (a word used to excess in everyday speech in the same way that “awesome” is used to excess in the United States, with much the same meaning). So, you could say that the name Ganko Matsuri means Super Festival, and that’s exactly what the organizers suggest in Japanese.

There’s only one rule, and it’s simple—anyone may participate as long as they have a musical instrument, no matter how rudimentary, and they dance. Until a few years ago, the rule was that participants had to use naruko, or wooden clappers. That was later amended to include any musical instruments, traditional or modern, including the clappers. Other than that, people are free to do what they like, including design their own costumes and create their own dance, whether it be old-fashioned bon odori or hip-hop. And they do.

Participation is by team, and last month about 4,300 people from throughout the country showed up to perform in 119 groups ranging from 15 to 100 people. Some in the group may specialize in singing or chanting, waving banners, or playing the musical instruments or clappers. In addition to parading down the city’s streets — which the gives the residents the opportunity to get in on the action — the teams get individual time on stage to be judged for awards. They have all of five minutes and 30 seconds to get on, line up, perform, and leave.

The Organizing Committee has a high-minded list of festival objectives, which include boosting the city and its industries, promoting interaction with people from other parts of the country, and encouraging citizen participation in local activities, but it’s really just a cover for “Have a good time.” Many of the performers are college students enjoying themselves in extracurricular activities. Here’s a taste of what it looked like this year. If what you’re seeing or hearing at any given moment doesn’t appeal to you, wait about 30 seconds. You’ll be seeing and hearing something different.

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One Response to “Matsuri da! (126): It’s ganko!”

  1. toadold said

    Now that was extremely cool. Costume changes on the move.

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