Japan is a country which embraces cuteness. Japan is also a place which has maintained many beautiful traditions. Last weekend, Liam and I attended a massive festival, Furusato Matsuri, at the Tokyo Dome, and got an eyeful of both the cute and beautiful aspects of Japanese culture.
First, some background. The Furusato Matsuri is an annual two-week event held in the Tokyo Dome which features food vendors and performers from throughout Japan. It’s kind of a ‘Festival of festivals,’ bringing together into one central location the best of the past year’s events. To go, Liam and I – Wil was away with a work obligation — took the train from Fussa to Yotsuya, then the Metro Nanboku Lime to Korakuen. When we emerged at exit 2, we were right across from the Tokyo Dome. (Japanese public transportation is awesome, by the way.)
I knew the festival would be big, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how big. The entire floor of the dome was filled with either food and craft vendors or performance space.
I paid an additional fee so Liam and I could enter the sitting section directly above the performers. It was a bit of a gamble…I made the decision with no English information. (Who or what were we paying to see?) I was handed a Japanese brochure but couldn’t read anything besides the dates on it.
Gambles are good, though. Within 10 minutes of sitting down, the entertainment began.
We started with beauty: A kimono-clad drum company that set the dome to shaking with fantastic rhythm:
Apparently, they were only the warm up act for the cute explosion that would last for the next hour. Unwittingly, I’d managed to arrive at the right time, on the right day, for a dance-off between mascots from four or five prefectures. Perfect for my 4-year-old companion!
Talk about cute. Groups of 5 or 6 mascots at a time were paraded onto the floor. These were some sweet-looking creatures. Big eyes. Bigger heads. Is that a bear? Or a raccoon? In a wig? Why does that bunny have sunglasses on? Who cares! They each got the chance to strut their stuff to catchy pop music that had the entire crowd bouncing along. These characters knew how to get their groove on. Who wouldn’t want to see a big, green, plush tree and a big, blue eggplant (?) spin in circles on their heads? Group after group showed that they could perform complicated choreography. Well, almost. If someone fell over, the other characters were there to help them back onto their feet. The crowd — us included — loved every minute.
I didn’t clue in right away that it was a contest, but at the end, it was obvious. All 20-some characters came out to wait for the big moment when the winning prefecture would be awarded a panda bear prize. Liam was pleased with the outcome: He had taken a liking to the angel-like character.
We took a food break and plunged into the crowds to peruse the booths. Liam had some delicious ice cream from the Hokkaido region and I had what turned out to be tasty fried cheese. (Remember…we are always ordering almost blindly. I picked a fried thing out of a row of fried things. Could have ended up being pork or chicken, for all I knew.) Later, in the dessert aisle, I ordered what turned out to be a delicious strawberry filled cake.
Liam insisted on a yellow cake displayed right next to the strawberry one. His filling? Something fishy that tasted a little like clam chowder.
We returned to the seating section. Buh bye, cuteness. Hello, beauty:
The first performance was a group which featured both dancers and a giant float in a mini-parade that made numerous circles of the stage floor. The dancers’ style was free, easy, and rhythmic, reminiscent of Native American performances I’ve seen at powwows in the U.S. The float was massive and was pulled and pushed by a strong crew. The dome’s lights were lowered and the scenes portrayed on both sides of the float glowed. I can just imagine how magical it must be to see this parade outside at night at its original festival. (I was thoroughly entranced by a small festival held in Fussa this August.)
Next, a large troupe, mainly female, marched out. Their energy was palpable. They danced in unison, in tidy rows, first to traditional music — it sounded Chinese to me — and then did several sets to techno-pop music. I hate to say it, but they out-danced even the mascots. A few men performed alongside them, as well.
I was having a blast and would have gladly stayed for many more hours, but my young date for the day was getting restless. He agreed to one more cruise through the crowds on the dome’s floor but it was clear he needed to get out into the fresh air. More cuteness and beauty was waiting for us outside. We stumbled onto what appeared to be a convention of adorable Harajuku girls and another amazing, lovely outdoor lighting display, but that’s a story for another day…