Monday 8 August 2016

Performance Report: Nabeyoko Natsu Matsuri

Twelve hours later, well, closer to fifteen, I'm somewhere in Nakano for another performance.

Nabeyoko typically is not one of the more challanging ones, though it does tend to be very hot. As per usual, most of our members sat around and enjoyed the festival during the afternoon, but I decided to skip that part this time due to a combination of being really really tired, wanting to spend slightly more relaxed time with my daughter, and giving my liver a break. There's only so many times you can turn down free beer in a given afternoon.

So, we start getting ready around six in the evening. There are no changing rooms for the men, so we have to make do with a back street, same old same old. Nothing unusual to report there.

We begin at one end of the street and parade to the front of the shop we changed behind—the owner used to perform with us on drums, and he is instrumental in getting us involved each year. There we performed a set piece before continuing up the road, turning round, coming back a way, and performing a second set piece. Easy.

The second set piece it was decided would be performed at 90 degrees to our usual style, so we were facing down the road rather than off to one side. What this meant was that we now had a relatively narrow, but very deep space to perform in. Not a problem, providing everybody has some sense of spacial awareness and can visualise the world in three dimensions. Or in other words, a problem. But we grinned our way through it, even when a local store owner, presumably, started banging a giant aluminium can with a ladle, which was a lot more distracting than it sounds. Staff told him to go away in no uncertain terms, but he was back a few minutes later doing the exact same thing again. I'm not vindictive by nature, so let it be known that I harbour no animosity, and wish no vengence upon him—an eternity of wailing and gnashing of teeth, for example—at all, whatsoever.

Something had, however, been bothering me the whole evening. In fact, it had been bothering me the previous evening too, and the previous week. The "Enbun Charge" salt tablets I'd found most effective in preventing dehydration did not seem to be having the usual desired effeect I'd come to rely on, and it had been having an adverse effect on my performance skills. A closer inspection of the package was simultaneously a relief and a horror. I'd bought the wrong ones. These were "Enbun Plus", a competing product in a superficially very similar package. That'll teach me to just grab them off the shelf without looking properly. The rest can go in the bin then, and I'll make sure I'm stocked up on the real deal in time for Koenji in three weeks time.

I'll be sitting out Shimokitazawa on 20th due to family commitments.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Performance Report: Nakameguro Natsu Matsuri

As previously mentioned, this promised to be one of the more interesting performances behind the scenes, as we'd made the decision well in advance that we would both perform and leave our precious bundle of joy and dribble in the good hands of somebody else—a good friend and advocate for ethical Awa Odori photography volunteered to sit this one out on our behalf, and the rest as they say is history.

And "they" clearly have no idea what they're talking about...

The day started normally enough, at whatever time in the morning little'n decided to get up, which typically is around the same time the sun does. Fast forward to about 2:30 in the afternoon and we're no closer yet to even starting to get ready for the evening, so we divide into shifts. One of us looks after little'n while the other gets ready, and vice versa.

Somehow, this actually worked and we made it on time. The hall we get to change in was part of the city hall, and was very nicely air conditioned (hence this particular choice of venue). Once again, divide into shifts—I look after little'n for an hour while dearest gets ready and everybody asks me if I'm sitting the day out and why am I not getting changed, then she takes little'n for ten minutes while I get ready. Friend turns up, and as we explain how to take care of sleep, feeding and drinking tea, little'n dozes off in my arms, and her nappy overflows...

Run to toilets, get her nappy changed and into new clothes, fifteen minutes later she's asleep again and all is well with the world. Except she hasn't eaten, and nor have we, and we've only got a few minutes left. Also I have a big wet patch down the front of my costume, but nothing that will stain, I'm sure, and what are the odds that anybody will even notice?

* As I'm sure the suspense is simply killing you, let me reassure you now that the wet patch did not stain, and nobody at all noticed. Or if they did, they were polite enough not to say anything. The distinction seems to matter much less now that it would have done a year ago, funnily enough.

It's time to head out, and friend assures us that everything will be fine, so off we toddle, anything but convinced. We've only ever left her in the hands of immediate family members (plural) before, and never for more than an hour.

Still standing...
Needless to say, it didn't take long for us to forget all about that as we got into the spirit of the festival.

Hold on... As you might recall from last year, Nakameguro is the one that has the really really long uphill parade ground that always kills us! Well, we did that one twice. The lack of food soon takes its toll, but it's nothing we haven't done many many times before. We only nearly collapsed of hunger, thirst and heat exhaustion, and muscle fatigue several times. Easy stuff. Some members of other teams were not so fortunate and had to leave in an ambulance.

Finally back at HQ, we see little'n waiting in the corridor in friend's arms with charm aura turned up to 11, waving cheerfully to all the nice performers from all the other teams. Turns out she slept through most of it, and then greedily gobbled up enough food to feed a small pig. So she was in a good mood!

Actually we all were. It was a good experience for everybody, and the help was much appreciated! Little'n went straight off to sleep again when we got her home, and we followed suit, whether we intended to or not.

Next festival we'll both be performing in is in October, but for me, it's in about 12 hours time at Nabeyoko.

Monday 1 August 2016

Performance Report: Kitamachi Awa Odori

Kitamachi Awa Odori is always met with a mixture of excitement and dread. The excitement comes from the not unreasonably long parade grounds that are sufficiently wide to allow a full range of theatrics, and the enthusiasm of the crowds who are actually really there to enjoy the event (as opposed to being merely inconvenienced by it as they make their way home). Add to that the large number of high level teams, and what could possibly go wrong?

The weather. Almost invariably, it is hot enough that people suffer heat stroke or dehydration, and I reminded my new members on several occasions leading up to it that they need to take active precautions against both in advance—if you feel thirsty/dehydrated/sick before you even begin, which is a very real possibility, then you're not going to have a good time. And if you collapse of boiled brain during a performance, then nobody else is going to either. When it isn't overly hot, it gets rained off by a freak rain storm that appears out of nowhere and drenches everything in seconds.

This year was not such a year. It was hot, sure, but there was a cool breeze and the humidity could certainly have been a lot higher. It was the kind of weather I felt confident we could cope with without anybody making themselves ill.

As per usual, we began with a set piece along the road near the station. Also as per usual, we had teams with ultra-loud percussion on either side of us, though the louder of the two was around a corner which shielded us from the worst. Despite this, any performers on the opposite side of the stage to our musicians could simply not hear, and were having to take cues by looking at other people's feet. This is unfortunately par for the course, and it's something that all teams have to contend with. Except, presumably, the really loud ones in question. I'm sure they do just fine, unless their dancers have an irrational fear of flutists for some reason.

The parade portions followed, and went more or less without a hitch. No missing persons, no major roadblocks... On the contrary, we had to skip ahead at one point because too much of a gap had opened up ahead of us. Moving at speed is not one of our strengths unfortunately, so we could have handled it better, but it's nothing I'm going to complain about.

And it was also nothing that the "judges" were going to complain about either. They saw fit to award us the curiously named "Hustle" award! I will not be fielding questions as to what exactly the prize was for at this stage.

An honorary mention should be made of the outstanding job the local scouts did at one of the water stations. They served barley tea which was very tasty and very very cold, and did so more proactively than I've seen at any other event. They had people with trays of the stuff all the way up the road, offering it to us individually as we passed, so we didn't have to walk quite as far to be refreshed. It was hot enough that the extra effort they put in was very much appreciated!

Next weekend has two festivals—Nakameguro on the Saturday, and Nabeyoko on the Sunday. Saturday should be something of an adventure, as we'll be taking little'un along for the ride.