GOCOO (pronounced gokuu) is a Japanese Taiko Drum band that, while playing more than 40 Japanese drums, creates the sound and beat of mother earth. The band consist of 7 female and 4 male members who generate their original sound that cannot simply be categorized as traditional, folk or rock music. The sound is more primitive and trance-like and it is beyond nationality and music genre. The core of the band is its leader, Kaori Asano, who possesses the enchanting power of a modern shaman.
Ms. Asano brings her sticks down with full power as she swings her long hair as in a shishi lion dance.
Ms. Asano has said: “On stage, there comes a moment when daily affairs are stripped down to nothing but “love” and “gratitude” - the most genuine feelings of our souls. I think this must be what was originally intended by the idea of having a “festival”. I am often told that I am expressing something new but in truth, the newest things are intimately connected with the oldest things”
The band was formed in 1997 and GOCOO is highly regarded in Japan as well as in other countries. They have performed more than 100 shows abroad, including Europe. Their music was used in the movie, Matrix. GOCOO also performed their music at the opening of the Earth Summit in 2008 as an Asian representative.
Karakasa firework displays are held at Otori Shrine in Tsuchiura. In these displays, fireworks are set off from 'karakasa' umbrellas made from oiled paper. These giant umbrellas measure 5m in both height and diameter.
A 100m-long rope acts as a fuse to carry the spark that sets off the actual fireworks, which are set on a box called 'yatsuguchi' on top of the karakasa. The fireworks in turn send sparks which then light a series of lanterns hung around the circumference of the karakasa. After that, the sparks are the main feature of the moment called 'te-botan' ('hand peony'), when the sparks appear to fall from the umbrella like raindrops. This beautiful display lasts for about 7 minutes. Legend has it that this firework display began as a prayer for rain by farmers who were suffering from drought.
Under the karakasa is a lantern with the words 'productive crops'. When the fireworks of the karakasa have finished, bottle rockets are fired into the night sky and the festival ends.
Jugoya, or the 15th Night, refers to the 15th night of the 8th month in the lunar calendar when the moon is supposed to be especially beautiful. People enjoy looking at the moon and eating dango dumplings and taro, as well as making decorations with autumn plants such as susuki (Japanese pampas grass).
This custom comes from the mid-autumn festival in China. In Japan, in the Heian period, it became an Imperial event and was called 'Moon Feast'. Courtiers looked at the moon, wrote poems and played music.
Commoners called this event 'Taro Beautiful Moon' and it was a harvest thanksgiving festival, in which dumplings, taro, chestnuts and persimmons were eaten.
One month later, the 13th Night takes place on the 13th of the 11th month in the lunar calendar. Beans and soybeans are dedicated, and the festival was known as 'Bean Beautiful Moon'. You were supposed to enjoy the moon on both 15th and 13th Nights because if you did not, it was believed to cause bad things.
In some local versions of these festivals, local people are allowed to steal offerings or crops as a form of good luck, and these have formed parts of much-loved autumn or harvest festivals.
The Kanko Odori dance is performed during the Bon festival, at Ise, in Mie prefecture and surrounding areas. It is also known as the Shaguma Odori dance.
The Kanko Odori is basically a folk dance in which the dancers move and bang 'kanko' drums hanging from their chests. Their large and gorgeous headgear and decorations carried on their shoulders are the characteristic costumes of this elegant performance. 10 to 15 people form a circle in this Bon festival dance, which is carried out to commemorate ancestors.
There are two types of dance: one features the decorative headgear called 'shaguma'; the other features bamboo hats decorated with flowers and is an elegant dance. Shaguma is made from glued horsehair and is worn with a set of grass skirts, creating a beautiful and fascinating atmosphere.
The dancers in the Kanko Odori perform in parade, wearing white clothing, carrying the drums and banging them sometimes dancing energetically. The dance is very spectacular and dynamic.
Kasedori is a fire-prevention festival that takes place in Kaminoyama, Yamagata prefecture. It is believed that the custom began about 350 years ago. In those days, the festival took place first at a shrine on the 13th day of the lunar new year, and then in the town on the 15th.
During the festival, young people parade through the streets. As they pass by, local people pour water from ladels onto the procession and pray for fire prevention and prosperity.
This custom was halted in 1896, but revived in 1959. Today, the youngsters still wear the traditional straw costumes called 'kendan' and parade through town calling out the peculiar sound 'kasedori, kasedori, ka-ka-ka.'
At the time of the festival, Kaminoyama is covered with snow. However, the great energy of the youngsters is warming in the freezing weather.
Eisa is a Bon odori dance held in Okinawa during the Bon festival according to the lunar calendar.
Eisa appears in mentions of Naha (Okinawa) in the 'Records of the Joseon Dynasty' in 1479. It is believed that Eisa had started somewhere around this period. One idea suggests that the word 'eisa' derives from one of the Ryukyu 'omorosaushi' songs; another suggests that it comes from from the call 'eisaa, eisaaa'. Neither suggestion is certain, however.
During Eisa, people walk to each house within their own 'shima' (area). This is called 'michi-jyunae' and happens especially after the 15th, after the 'miokuri'. However, there are places where they do 'michi-jyunae' during the three days of Bon festival, according to the lunar calendar.
Eisa mainly consists of taiko drums and dances. Strenuous dances are performed to the beat of the drums, alongside singing from the 'jiutai' chorus. The dozens of dancers moving in step to the taiko drums and the dynamism of the whole, is part of the great attraction of Eisa.
Every year in the middle of September, a folk song event called Mugiyamatsuri (Mugiya Festival) takes place over two days in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture. The melody played during the festival is called 'mugiyafushi' and was composed by farmers working in fields of wheat ('mugi'). The melody emanates sadness and sorrow, but with the linear, brisk dancing, the result is a serene and meticulous collaboration of sound and movement.
About 800 years ago, the once-powerful Heike clan fell after their defeat at the battle of Dannoura. The Heike clan sought refuge in a secluded area called Echugokayama. The Heiki people became farmers, and sang the mugiyafushi as they harvested the land.
It is said that the 'mugiyafushi' originated from a song from Wajima on the Noto Peninsula, that was sung while making noodles. The merchants who sold noodles and wheat would travel from Noto to Echu, spreading songs such as the 'notomugiyafushi' and 'madara'. These songs eventually made their way to Gokayama, where they became known as the 'echumugiyafushi'.
Today, events such as performance competitions between citizens, as well as the 'mugiya odori' dance, take place on a special stage placed within the Johanabetsuin Zentokuji.
The longest existing bullfighting in Japan is from the island of Okinoshima, and dates back 780 years. It appears to have originated in 1221, as entertainment for the deposed Gotoba Emperor, who was exiled to Okinoshima following the Joukyu Rebellion.
Bullfighting used to occur all over Shimane Prefecture and the Shimane Peninsula, but these days it is held in only one part of the area.
The grand summer tournament is held on the 15th of August. It is a one-game match with no draw. Therefore, the islanders show an overwhelming passion toward this summer tournament. The fight continues until either one of the bulls runs away, so in some cases, the battle may last for an hour. When it is clear which bull is the winner, men gather around it, some mounting it, and others screaming with joy; the losing bull quietly leaves the ring.
Even today, bullfighting is still part of the life on the island; it is a dedication to their god. To keep up their tradition, the youths of Okinoshima have established a system to let children from 3rd and 4th grades at school to be able to train for the bullfighting.