[The American Years]

Sunday, August 20, 2006



Greeting from Japan, where some seemingly normal things have distasteful associations, and are thusly avoided. For example, sunglasses and tattoos are avoided by normal folk (read: basically everybody) because they are affiliated with Japanese organized crime. I still wear sunglasses, as I am the least likely Japanese mafia member ever. I have however decided to delay getting my planned tattoo of the eagle riding the Harley across my back.

Similarly, the Japanese flag is not displayed because of a fringe political group who wants to reinstall the emperor as the governing authority. That group waves the flag all over the place, and drives around in gray SUVs blaring the national anthem. The result is that what you and I would consider normal patriotic displays have become distasteful for respectable citizens. Strange that in a country that is nationalistic nearly to a fault, you almost never see their flag. Not even at the post office or at schools.

(Personal note: Kathleen bought a Japanese flag despite my warnings. So not only are we foreigners, who should be avoided, we are also now foreigners who are loyal to the emperor. )


A note about beer. It's sold in vending machines (though the practice is becoming rare).

Also, a non alcoholic beer is marketed to kids. Great website: www.kodomo-beer.com ('kodomo' means kid) Notice in the photo below that the kid beer for girls is a smaller bottle than that for boys. Awesome.


Toyota City is the sister city to Detroit. Big deal, I know. But Toyota City (yes, that’s the real name) has an additional claim to fame. It is the home of the Oiden festival. “Oiden” means “Come to my town” in a local dialect. I think it’s the only word left of that dialect, but whatever.

The main idea of most festivals in Japan is to eat fair food, sweat in the heat and watch fireworks. The Toyota Oiden festival has great fireworks, which we loved. It however has an additional focus: competitive synchronized dancing.

Teams of dancers compete for prizes for their dancing, costumes, etc. The costumes range from traditional yukata (robes), to lab coats with neon blinking lights, to French maid outfits (on the men), to speed skaters pushing religious icons on wheels (see video, attached).

The competition goes like this: Teams of 20 or so people parade around in a circle, and past the judges. The Oiden Song plays and they dance, then move forward, then dance again, then move forward some more. After the song plays 3 times in a row, they take a break for some drinking, then it’s back to the (somehow slightly less) synchronized dancing.

It’s terrifically silly and senseless, and I love it. Were I going to be here next year at this time, I would try to join a team for sure. The people practice hard to be very organized and synchronized when they are acting like complete idiots. It’s awesome. If one person were behaving in this manner, it would be a shameful embarrassment. Put 20 of them doing it in unison, and it’s turns into a respectable (though largely drunken) competition.

The scale of this festival is simply astounding. It takes two evenings to accommodate all the teams. It fills street after street after street. Toyota City expected more than 200,000 people on each of the 3 days of the festival. (And that’s in metric, so there’s a 1.6 conversion factor as well.)

And the song… it’s a repetitive silly popsong. It’s played about 200 times during the course of the dancing. Seriously, at least that many times. It’s the “It’s a Small World” of Japanese festival songs.

Here’s a taste, with thanks to friend Damien S., for providing some coverage to the goings on.


Japanese Proverb:

If you understand everything, you must be misinformed.



blogon said...

Love the group with the afros. I'm jealous. Our city's festival is a rodeo. Not nearly as cool.

Giddy said...

Reminds me of that Hoo-ha Parade (or whatever it's called) that they have in Pasadena at Thanksgiving to (gently) parody the Rose Parade. I'm thinking, "Synchronized Lawn Mower Brigade" and such.....

Also reminds me of my college dream for Mock Rock (the lip synch competition). I always thought it would be extra idiotic and therefore hilarious to perform "the Hustle" for Mock Rock--you know, have 20 people doing the hustle in synchrony, and to freeze, turn head to the audience, and say "Do the Hustle!" at the appropriate moments. Since it's LIP SYNCH competition and those are the only words, it would just be funny, as long as the dancing was reasonably synchronized! well, funny to me, anyway. If only there had been a bunch of Toyota City denizens in the dorm; they would have been happy to join me!!!