Consider the mountain village of Yatsuo (kanji thusly, or so I hope: 八尾) or Yatsuo-machi (verily do I grawr at you, un-standardized transliterations and variants that I am forced to collect from my sources). This village is part of Toyama city (which is probably spelled like this: 富山市) which itself is part of Toyama Prefecture (which is spelled like this: 富山県 and is on the left side of Honshū under the sticky uppy peninsula). They have something that draws people to them. It is this.
The people in this village have this religious event/festival thing that's 300 years old plus. It's called Owara Kaze no Bon (Owara is the district. I believe). It's supposed to be an interesting sight because it's melancholy and eerie and surreal and stuff.
Kay, that was my intro, feel free to start the next paragraph. (What are you still doing up here? Go down already! You' won't find anything else up here, I can tell you that! ;) )
This festival/event is supposed to have two points: to ask for a good harvest and to keep the wind from attacking. (Keep reading, the second point makes more sense with the first point later on.)
There's a theory about where this tradition came from. It's pretty simple: Bon and a harvest request event got mixed together. Apparently, these days, the event is supposed to have had a large increase in people who like to see things coming to watch them.
People of Owara traditionally stop working to come together and dance for the night. They light paper lamp stands (that's paper lamps, part of stands), which makes sense if you're going to be dancing at night. They dance to a song of the village's that they sing, the (plus-ish) Ecchu (bless you! Sorry, I couldn't resist) Owara Bushi or just Ecchu Owara. The kana for it are thus: 越中おわら節(Ecchu may sometimes be spelled etchu, just an fyi. And an argh, but that's not an acronym). However. This doesn't seem to entirely hold true today...
From the looks of it, there are official dancers. There are costumes, one for the women (yukata) one for the men (happi coats and pants) -- and both wear large straw hats, at least some of them. (Take a circle, like the cardboard one you get in a frozen pizza, bend it mostly in half and that's the basic shape right there). Instruments accompany -- kyokū (Chinese fiddle), taiko and the shamisen. Somehow, younger dancers seem to be able to join in at some point... dunno. There seems to be an official singer/official singers. Anyways, dancers dance through-ish the village (which I've also seen called a town...). Apparently, it's all supposed to average 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, at the village's elementary school (Yatsuo Elementary School -- hey, cool, that spells YES!), there's a stage at the playground. Here, preservation societies from the Owara district dance their dances. Not clear what exactly this means... but it looks like it costs 20 dollars for unreserved seats (Saw some footage of dancing in a shrine or a temple though... And there's something about different stages? Hmms. I could go into a long, and probably not a little disgruntled, quasi-expository rant, but I think I'll just let you all discuss it among yourselves.)
But wait, there's more confusion! (At least, I was confused). Here, so you don't have to read my awkward paraphrase (which would really just be yet another quasi-expository rant) it's from the Japan National Tourism Organization:
"The dance is performed in an area extending some 3 kilometers from north to south, and the 11 Owara district sub-branches, each forming a unit, dance on designated stages as they travel around the area." There. All done. (Kinda makes it sound like a relay/marathon, dunnit. Like, it's a 3k dance, or something. ;) )
For lyrics to Ecchu Owara (Bushi), go here, I think.
When (and some more Why)
Vaguely September 1 through September 3. (Apparently, it can change, so watch out.) It's supposed to be the 210th day after the first day of spring. Sounds oddly specific, right? Apparently, in Japan's traditional calendar, the 210th day after the first day of spring is supposed to be a very bad day to be a farmer, as you are likely to get hit by a typhoon. (Hence the dangerous wind prevention/placation aspect of the dance).
Here's this one, it's kinda nice, it's got a choreographed human experience, slice of life type realism-y-ness of people passing through the festival and visiting. The music is like "relaxing" spa ad-spot guitar but maybe with a touch of Iberian tourism guitar mixed in. Definitely seems to be going for a sort of subdued tone. Anyhow, 'nuf of my highly articulate Ebert/Maltin-ing, if you want to see the dance, start at 2:28-ish (also make sure to watch for a dog in one of those bent round hats and a sort of meta moment where a cameraman/woman films a cameraman filming people):
I have no idea what they're singing at the very end, but it sounds fun.
And here's a longer video of the festival/event. (I mean, it's not as long as if you tried to watch all of the 1987 version of Little Dorrit in one sitting. But depending on how slice-of-life you feel, and depending on how much you like this kind of music, it could feel like it.) If you're like me and you have a bit of trouble appreciating the more intensely stylized vibrato the singer/singers uses in places in these videos, you might try speeding up the video a bit. (I know, I'm such a culture-less American.)
Then here's this short version of a lady just singing the Ecchu Owara (Bushi). At least I hope she is, because if she isn't that'd be a little embarrassing. Anyhow, I found it to be a bit easier on my Western ears than the others:
And there's all kind of videos out there, so if these still leave you curious, don't worry there's more!
Below are the places, free to all who search, that have, in these frenzied afternoon (and evening) hours of the last day of July, guided these fingers to type the facts they have found therein. Enjoy!
This source o' mine here has costs and times and such like, for the abroad minded:
Once again, impressively short, if I do say so.