Japan from the inside out

Can’t get enough of that chin-don

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 11, 2012

IT’S been entirely too long since the last chin-don report, and the objective of this post is to rectify that shortcoming immediately.

For those unfortunates who have yet to be exposed to the glorious goofiness that is chin-don, it is — among other things — Japan’s unintentional contribution to urban street/world music. The form arose more than a century ago with the creation of bands that mixed Western and Japanese instruments (mostly percussion in the latter case) to play anything and everything from the Western and Japanese musical repertoire as they marched through town in outlandish costumes and makeup to advertise local commercial establishments in any way they could figure out to attract attention. That involves clever repartee, unicycle riding, and kitchen sink juggling in addition to the music.

There’s been a grassroots popular revival of the style in the past few years, though it never went entirely away. A national contest for chin-don bands has been held in Toyama for more than half a century, but many of those bands are professional. (The truly far gone do it for a living.) Every year in early November, there’s a national contest for amateurs only in Maebashi, Gunma. This year’s jamboree was the 10th, and it began on Saturday.

Ten teams from Gunma, Tokyo, Saitama, Tochigi, Iwate, Aichi, Nagano, and Toyama participated, and the team from Iwate was crowned the champion.

The entertainment on the second day — today — was a grand parade through the commercial district of Maebashi.

Here’s a taste of what it looked and sounded like yesterday. One of the groups consists of high school students. Anyone who still thinks the Japanese are a nation of straight arrow conformists should hit the chin-don tag below for previous posts and see how quickly those preconceptions shatter!

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