My desire to ensure environmental sustainability.

Point blank on environmental issues.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Yosakoi 2

NOTE: If you have not read part 1, you can do so by clicking here 

To set the record straight, I have to admit that the event is quite organized, well decorated… actually nothing seems to go on err! That tells you that preparations are done on time; i.e. for the performing groups and the organizers. There were over 200 hundred performing groups in this year (2015), from within and without Kochi. Notably, various institutions and companies; private and public, commercial and non-commercial ones, sponsor the performing groups. Thus, most of the groups bear the names of institutions or companies that sponsor them. Indeed, this is one of the best CSR activities, among other benefits that accrue.

The real task comes during the practice time, where some groups start a couple of months before the event, while others a few months to. My group practiced for about one and half (1.5) months; every day for 2 hours except for days off. That was one of the most challenging and engaging moments in life, because of various reasons. The obvious reason is my background; I was born and bred in Africa, a continent known for vigor and energy in music performances; uniquely, movement of virtually all the body parts at ago! Then, here comes Yosakoi, where I need to be a bit calm, and accurately coordinate all the body parts, in a specific position, hold the Naruko in the required way and alignment. Make sure the Naruko shakes at the required time; poor you if you are out of order. Actually, Naruko was an extra burden because I am used to dancing without any instrument on my hand.
My group members

Language was definitely another issue; talk of the song, instructions and interactions- all in Japanese! Although my Japanese was not that bad, I had to depend on my Japanese partners in front and beside me during instruction time. It was funny though, because sometimes it could backfire, when all of them were doing something different; who the hell is doing the right thing? Fortunate enough, the continuous practice did me good, and for sure, I did make it…yaay!
The performances are held in different parts of the city (Kochi), thus necessity for early preparations. This is a time you will see an erection of temporary structures along streets, open spaces, and even halls. Even some major roads and streets are barricaded for Yosakoi purposes; it is party time! All these places are equipped with all safety measures, lighting systems, observation points and decorations that paint the face of a true Yosakoi mood.

Notably, every group have to work on their own sound system, which is normally a truck loaded with all the necessary equipment. The sound system is part and parcel of the convoy during performances in any of locations.

My group's sound system

Festival day
On the Yosakoi eve, there are normally fireworks held to switch on the real festive mood. However, the fireworks may be done after Yosakoi, depending on weather conditions, especially rain. Thankfully, this year’s weather was quite favorable, enabling a 2-hour non-stop fireworks at the Kagami Kawa (river) of Kochi City. That was probably the longest and most interesting fireworks I have ever seen; just sit on the riverbank at night, be drinking some beer and taking snacks as you watch the amazing fireworks explode above you complemented by their beautiful reflection in the Kagami Kawa waters. That is how Yosakoi times gradually role in. 
The fireworks was real fun

"Niagara falls" fireworks at Kagami Kawa

The presentation days (four in total) are marked with colorful streets, and ever-busy operations and movements. Talking of colour color, I am referring to both people (tourists from within and without Japan) and decorations. People really travel from far and wide just to witness how Yosakoi goes down. The presenting groups line up, just to ensure organization and time management. The truck carrying the sound system is always in front, with the announcer (MC) introducing the Group Name, their dance song among other things. The announcers are mostly men with deep voices, shouting at their highest volume, accompanied with excitements! This was probably the first time I saw a Japanese perform and talk vigorously one-on-one. Mostly, I see this on Japanese TV shows and movies. A “Hai” voice signals the start of the dance…come on, let us do this! This is the time to shake it off, igniting the Samurai and the real “ganbarimasyou” spirit.

Most of the songs are about 3-4 minutes, but the dances are done repetitively- meaning replays of the song. This is because some of the distances to be covered are so long. I remember my group dancing for over 30-minutes non-stop from one end to the other! I Cannot forget to mention that sometimes two groups perform simultaneously, or they start immediately behind you. Woe unto you or your group if the sound system in weak because you will be out of order! Glad that my group had one of the best sound systems.

My group in Action

 Mind you, it is summer. You can imagine the sweating rates and fatigue; you got to be strong on this. Actually one of my friends referred to this as literally “swimming in your clothes!” The sweating and fatigue notwithstanding, the audience is always awesome cheering you to the end. They are always lined on both sides of the streets, maybe sited or standing, leaving the performances to astound them. There is no good feeling as to when you realize that someone is enjoying what you are doing; that keeps you moving and pushing on to the end. Some of the audiences even try to “fan at you” (if there is such a phrase) just to cool you down. きもちがいいね (it is such a nice feeling).  

Rival groups in action
(notice the various costumes)

My two medals 
There are various prizes won during the Yosakoi festival, but I would like to emphasize on MEDALS! There are judge benches in all the performance, areas. The work of the judges is to identify best dancers, to whom the medals are given. One can collect as many medals as possible; the better your moves are, so are your chances to collect medals. It is actually a bad feeling if one fails to collect a medal in all the 3-4 days of performance! 私は二つメダルとった (I won two medals). One of the medals that I won is called はなメダル (flower medal), and it is said to be the best of all medals in Yosakoi! Glad this happened to me…

The Real Feel
My case was even unique, because I was the only African (not really sure) and maybe the first ever Kenyan to dance Yosakoi…yaay! So, most the times faces could be turning at me- not only the audience but including the media…but do I say! “Sugoi” “Sugoi” were vocabularies of the day. Actually, I promised the media people that I want to teach Yosakoi moves back in Kenya; off course Kenyans need to know about Naruko and the “Monk in Love!”

Yosakoi Interview by Asahi NewsPaper

Yosakoi Interview by Kochi NewsPaper

Indeed, the participation in Yosakoi was a great happening to me. I may not participate in the subsequent ones but I will be always be heads high, spirit burning, and proudly saying “よさこいできった” (I made it in Yosakoi)!

Special Mention
Takeuchi san: This is an awesome person, who made it happen for me. God bless you abundantly. You can visit his company website, Takeuchi Rebuilt, if in need of second-hand cars, and spare parts (will add URL soon)

Jia san: Thank you for always driving back and forth the practicing venue. Enough respect.

Kochi Toyota: The sponsor for my group. May your boundaries expand even more.

Mwangi san: This is the guy that was to dance in my position at Yosakoi. Unfortunately, he has two left legs, meaning he cannot dance…haha! Thanks for the nomination man; always a brother!

Kochi Toyota no Nishiyama Group: My group name; you guys were awesome! Though the teachers were a bit strict (きびしいですね!). Miss you all!

Source Credit: 
Japan Monthly Web Magazine (2011). Awa Odori (Awa Dance Festival) & Yosakoi (Yosakoi Festival). Online (

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Yosakoi 1

Yosakoi is a famous summer festival celebrated in Kochi Prefecture, Japan. The festival is really, well decorated, engaging, entertaining, and mind blowing. Although it runs for about four (4) days, I think for tourists, especially those interested in learning and participating in new cultures, it might seem too short for you. I am saying this out of experience, because I had a chance to participate in the “62nd Yosakoi Festival!” Let us go through it together.

Yosakoi dancers in action (notice the middle guy- me)

It is important to note that Yosakoi is now celebrated all over Japan, and some other parts of the world as well. However, the real Yosakoi festival had humble beginnings in 1954 in Kochi Prefecture, Japan. Kochi Prefecture is located in Western Japan and is one of the four prefectures that constitute Shikoku Island (fourth largest Island in Japan). All the performances are based on the official festival song, “Yosakoi” accompanied with the shaking of “Naruko.” The words “Yosakoi” and “Naruko” greatly identify with the culture of the people of Kochi Prefecture (formerly Tosa Land).

According to most people, that I have interacted with, the word “Yosakoi,” has various interpretations but I will go by a more reliable source. There is this famous folk song in Kochi called “Yosakoi.” The song talks of a monk in love! As it is mostly known, monks rarely emphasize on romantic issues because their time is fully dedicated to meditation, prayers, and off course, they live in seclusion. Shockingly, here comes a unique case of a monk who could not take it any more for a woman that he had loved. So, he had to look for a way of expressing his love for her. He resorted to buying a hair ornament for her at the Harimaya Bashi Bridge in Kochi City, as suggested in the song lyrics: “Tosa no Kochi no Harimaya-bashi de, bo-san kanzashi kau wo mita. Yosakoi, Yosakoi” (At the Harimaya Bridge in Tosa in Kochi, I saw a monk buying a hair ornament. Yosakoi, Yosakoi). Actually, the word “Yosakoi” means “come at night.” One’s (or at least my) interpretation could be the monk used to meet his love at night. It is said that this song was so popular in Kochi, that it might be one of the reasons why the Yosakoi festival was started.

The Harimaya Bashi in Kochi City
(Where the monk was spotted buying a hair ornament)

The second word, “Naruko,” has its meaning attached to the major economic activity of the Kochi people- farming! Loosely translated to English as “clappers,” Naruko were used to scare away birds that tried to invade rice fields. Indeed, the Naruko sound is so loud and can easily perform that function! They are a pair made of wood, and the design is quite handy for easy grasping and shaking. Naruko are no longer used in rice fields, but rather as one of the instruments in the Yosakoi festival!  

Therefore, my opinion could be that the Kochi people started the Yosakoi festival, just as a reminder and/or symbol of their culture, economic practices, and history. Indeed, the festival has lived testify this, and seems to grow stronger as time goes by.

Costumes and Performance Songs
Although, of late, there have been much modifications to the costumes and performance songs, there still a touch of the real Yosakoi features in them. For instance, the songs include music varieties of Samba, Rock, Pop, Enka (popular Japanese songs), as well as traditional ones. However, all the songs include some part of the official festival song, “Naruko Yosakoi Dance.” For instance, words like Yosakoi, Harimaya Bashi and Yochoreyo are heard in virtually all the songs, no matter the type.
The same thing has happened to the costume, where groups dress in relation to the music type. For instance, a group dancing Samba is better suited a Samba (Brazilian) costume, and the criterion applies to all others. Notably, most of the groups prefer the original scarecrow-like costumes, something that drives as back to the major economic activity in Kochi- scarecrows were used to scare away birds and other animals that tried to invade to farms and rice fields. As they are no longer used in farming, incorporation into Yosakoi better reminds the Kochi where they have come from.

My group's Costume
(notice the scarecrow featutres)

I think the only thing that is used in both daily life and Yosakoi festival are the shoes! I love mine, and hope to carry them home. 

NOTE: This is just the beginning of more sweet things to come; please come back for "Yosakoi Part 2," where I will talk about preparations, presentations, the real feeling among other things. See you soon!