Autumn (Tokyo Studio)

Rittou: Pheasants enter the water and turn into monster clams/ paulownia leaves fall (5 of 5)

November 23rd, 2008


[click on image to play video and listen to the song]

Our friend, Fukushima-san, invited us to the Ichou Matsuri い さょぅ 祭 (Ginko Tree Festival) in Hachiōji. As expected, the rows of Ichou trees and their yellowed leaves along the road looked magnificient. And it did not surprise us to see the streets crowded with people. A lively festival is not be missed, especially when impromtu flea markets and discount stores have sprung up cross the whole town. And, of course, there were the indepensible food sellers: yakitori, takoyaki, yakisoba, gyoza, okonomiyaki, dango, candy-floss, ikayaki, oden, fried bread, yakimochi, yakizakana… etc. Whilst we were busily sampling all the street foods, an excited Fukushima-san found some practical bargains: a new pair of reading glasses and a smoke alarm.

Tiny little children in scout uniforms strapped down with musical gear as big as themselves were getting ready for their parades. Traditional performances were on show in home-made platforms set up between the stores. Dancers in colourful and sparkling costumes were entertaining the crowd in a nearby park. The whole community came out for the day: everyone was selling something, buying something, or eating something. It took us the better part of an hour to reach the river and Fukushima-san’s destination: a ‘singing-cafe’.

This outdoor cafe was put on by an utagoe kissaten (singing-cafe) in Hachioji called, Bururi. The singing, performances, and song requests may sound similar to karaoke, but the experience is very different. As our friend explained to us, ‘Karaoke is about one person, this is about everyone.’ As we saw, the music is performed life, the person who makes the request must perform, but anyone can also join in. In fact, the whole audience joins in and some sing louder at their table than those with the microphones.

Utagoe kissa apparently sprung up after the World War 2 with the re-building of the country. The whole concept went with the camaraderie, particularly that of the labour, student and anti-government movements of the 1960s. Not surprisingly, it was very popular with the baby-boomer generation. This would explain why everyone there seemed to know all the songs.

As a gesture of welcome, a friend of Fukushima-san asked whether we would like to sing together. At first, the idea of singing on stage – and such an open stage, horrified us. But not wanting to let our host down we browsed through the songbook to see if we could find something suitable. As one would expect, most songs were in Japanese with a couple of Russian and German folk songs. English songs were limited. We passed over ‘I could have danced all night’ and ‘Where have all the flowers gone’, and chose ‘We shall overcome’. It seemed fitting to sing this along with our Japanese friends. After the request was put in, we were all urshered on stage, we were then introduced to the audience as visitors from Australia before introducing ourselves in Japanese. Then we launched into the song. As we were singing with our friends (particularly Fukushima-san who knows all the tunes and all the words to all the songs), it was not at all frightening, but a surprisingly enjoyable expereince.

Pictured above is the second last performance of the day when everyone joined in. The ladies in aprons were serving food and drinks at the cafe. Fukushima-san is the man with the cap standing near the accordian player. The lady in the front is preforming a traditional gestural interpretation that goes with many Japanese folk songs.

4 Responses to “Rittou: Pheasants enter the water and turn into monster clams/ paulownia leaves fall (5 of 5)”

  1. 1 Greg
    November 28th, 2008 at 4:32 am

    I am very disappointed there is not recorded evidence of your stage experience here. Perhaps a little recital when you return???

  2. 2 jolaw
    November 28th, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Redmond has now got a photographic record, although, of course, there is no sound….. You know, our friend, Fukushima-san, who knows all the words and all the tunes to all the songs, also plays in a bluegrass band, called ‘Logic love’.

  3. 3 Silvia Kwon
    December 12th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    This Fukushima – san sounds like a cool dude… and he strikes me as someone who clearly relishes life in general aided by his passion for music..

  4. 4 jolaw
    December 15th, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Fukushima-san is a very interesting fellow. When you first meet him, he comes across as very sobre, shy, and reserved. But whenever alcoholic beverages are served, he transforms into a completly different person. He becomes flamboyant, extroverted, and vocal. His English also acquires a remarkable degree of fluency. We really like Fukushima-san, you never know where an adventure with him will lead.