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Monday, August 24, 2009

Kinshicho backstreet festival

錦糸町 お祭り



I stayed this weekend at an address in Kinshicho, a relatively impoverished town in Tokyo's east end. I was awoken Sunday by what I thought first was a crow. As I listened, I realized it was human: a constant, strident, parade-ground-type shouting of a single voice, repeating the same words over and over.

I blearily went out onto the veranda to see what the commotion was, and was surprised to see a festival in full - but somehow listless - swing, with scores of men shouldering a large, ornate omikoshi portable Shinto shrine down a deserted backstreet.

I say "surprised," because the yelling that had woken me up did not suggest a festival. The sounds of Japanese festivals are group sounds, with the loud chanting of "Wasshoi!" all in unison, and the commotion of the crowd following. This, rather, was the lone, unpleasant, amplified voice that conjured up a villainous harangue in an old war movie rather than a scene of neighborhood festivity.

The shouter was a middle-aged man wearing a huge, white megaphone, who led the procession, walking backwards hollering at it in his ugly, incessant staccato. Strangely, the "revelers" were almost silent, rhythmically hoisting the omikoshi, but with little vigor, delegating what should have been the communal festive voice to the cawing of the "sergeant major."

Stranger still, there was no one following the procession, besides an old homeless man carting his few worldly possessions and mumbling to himself, and a garbage truck: both parties, I presume, just happening to be there when I looked out.

So there it was: an almost silent crowd of seemingly duty-bound shrine-bearers following a fascist with a bullhorn down a deserted backstreet overhung by a grimy overhead highway with hardly anyone in tow outside the happi-wearing core of listless "revelers."

And that pink afro wig?!

I shot a little footage, rubbed my eyes, and went back to bed, to dream something a little sweeter.

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