Tokyo Diaries – Kurayami Matsuri

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Big drums are big.

Here are some pictures and videos from the Kurayami Matsuri at Okunitama Jinja in Fuchu, about 30 minutes by express from Shinjuku.  Sorry about the quality – these were all taken at dusk and at night (Kurayama Matsuri means “Darkness Festival” after all) and failing light is where I really lose by not having a better camera.

Okunitama is a very old and important shrine, six separate shrines (and their deities) having been merged into this one.  It claims a history of 1900 years – though I doubt some of those claims shrines and temples make, to be honest – and it sits on an important road that’s linked Tokyo with the Western mountains for hundreds of years.

As for the festa, it’s one of the biggest in Kanto.  It’s claimed that the O-daiko drums used are the biggest for any matsuri in Japan, and while I can’t verify that I can attest to the fact that they make an amazing sound.  The video simply doesn’t communicate what it’s like to stand a few feet away from these things as they’re struck – taiko resonates through your body anyway, but these things really shake you to the core.

While the matsuri lasts for about a week last night was the main event, where the O-daiko leave the main shrine along with the various mikoshi (portable shrines), which “do battle” with each other at the crossroads.  You can see men balanced precariously on top of all the big drums, while others take turns effectively playing them with small telephone poles.  Having played smaller taiko I can only imagine how exhausting this must be, and you could see it take a toll on the men tasked to play – but amazingly, I did see one one wizened old Ojii-san who had to be helped out to the street pick up the bachi and beat the drum with real authority.  The spirit of the Kami must have been in him.

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  1. e

    Six shrines merged into one? Holy temple alliance blogman.

    The robes in the first three videos are quite a sight. The white ones skipping/dancing are a bit funny, the green ones are amazing. Any idea about the role/significance of the dance or are they 'just' part of the battle between the different shrines?

    Drums! I'm struck by how they resemble some giant barrels a bit here.
    That's some booming beat even with all the recording and headphone listening limitations btw. Must have been some primal vibe live.
    'but amazingly, I did one one wizened old Ojii-san who had to be helped out to the street pick up the bachi and beat the drum with real authority. The spirit of the Kami must have been in him.' I think there's a word (verb?) missing after 'did' :).
    Is the ojii-san anywhere in the videos by chance?

  2. No, I could never get a good angle on the oji-san. As to the barrel thing, taiko groups that don't have a lot of money in fact make taiko out of old barrels (usually wine), which is much cheaper than making them from scratch.

    I know the dancing and chanting and bright dress is basically all tied in with the notion that the matsuri is held to, effectively, entertain the Kami. As to what the specifics are with this particular combination no, really not sure.

  3. e

    The sound will be quite different from the carved ones I suppose… funnily enough the mental comparison triggered by your videos featured just some giant empty wine barrels from an ancient cellar turned restaurant in the centre of Munich I visited years ago. Massive and beautiful stuff.

  4. R

    I had restrained myself from the anime world for concentrating on some other stuff — man, it was a torture — and now I can lift the ban…hurray! There's so much to catch up on — I missed this place — and the shows that first come to mind are Hataraku, RDG and Gargantia of the Spring season together with Chihayfuru, Uchuu Kyoudai, and HxH. However, I found myself reading this post the very first amongst others that I so wanted to click-open… Enzo, you have been living in Tokyo for over 6 months now. Glad to see that things are coming along for you. It seems to me that you are always visiting new spots every weekend — happy to see that you are staying active and enjoying yourself — and thanks for sharing with us.

    Those are some giant drums there. I have always been a string person, but I saw a live Chinese choreographed drum play once — it totally moved me. I had never experienced how the sound coming out from a giant drum could strike a chord in my heart and shake my whole body. I wonder if this is how you felt although I know it's of a totally difference performance and purpose.

  5. Welcome back! No question, the drum experience is an elemental one. You feel it more than hear it.

    Yes, wine barrel taiko do sound quite different than "real" taiko (which are made from a single trunk of a single tree). But those are really expensive and you make do with what you can.

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