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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!

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