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Mon, 18 Aug 2014

gujō odori

"On 32 nights between mid July and September they dance in the streets. We have to go"

And so it is we find ourselves in Gujō-Hachiman.

Or to be more accurate, in a layby just off the highway that passes by the edge of Gujō-Hachiman. It turns out the highway bus really doesn't like to stray too far from the highway. There's a taxi waiting at the bottom of the steps but we let the retired American chap who also got off the bus have it as he seems phased by this arrival into town. Five minutes of carting luggage in the sun later we curse ourselves for not thinking of asking the driver to send a second taxi.

Because it turns out that lots of other people find the notion of a town where they dance in the streets appealing we're in the only room in town we could book. It's a business hotel on a different edge of town to the highway. They are incredibly helpful with booking us a taxi back to the bus stop the next morning - some mistakes you don't make twice. Even more helpful with phoning up the bus company to book our place the next morning when it turns out the English part of the website is informational only; our travel arrangements to get to Gujō-Hachiman are a little lax having become used to the efficient embrace of Japan Rail.

After a brief rest we walk into town in search of food, pausing to notice that there are fish in the drains. Later reading reveals that the town is famous for its water quality as well as the dancing.

Having eaten we go in search of dancing. We find a parade. And people handing out free beer. Five minutes after wondering where all the lanterns the crowd are carrying come from I'm handed one on a stick and it's explained to me I should carry it until I've had enough and then pass it on. It's ridiculously welcoming.

And all the while there is a dragon, people dancing in Noh masks, music and some wheeling of a small float with a very ornate, and heavy looking roof. This slowly makes its way through the town till we get to the stairs up to the temple. At that point the float is lifted onto shoulders and up we go.

There's more dancing when we get to the temple and then some speeches. The lanterns are collected and everything comes to an end. It's not the participatory dancing we'd read about but it's been lovely.

We wander round the corner and in the middle of an open area there is what I can only imagine is the Japanese equivalent of a bandstand. On it are a dozen or so people with various, I assume, traditional instruments and an old chap chanting. Surrounding it in concentric circles are people dancing. The same dance. It's reasonably slow and feels semi formal. The closer to the middle you get the more practised the dancers are. We watch and after a while the music changes and the dance with it.

Colva joins in while I take bad photographs. She comes back to explain that someone had very helpfully, in excellent English, taken her through the moves before cheerfully saying to just have fun once she'd roughly got the hang of it. Once again with the welcoming.

A few minutes in to my attempt I find myself wondering if this is what it feels like to be at a Ceilidh without the benefit of a Scottish education. I am surrounded by people who seem to effortlessly follow what turn out to be more complicated than they look steps. As we leave at around 10 it's beginning to thin out but then this is one of the quiet evenings. In a few weeks the dancing will go on till 4am. Three nights running.

Sadly there is no time in the morning to visit the museum of plastic food. As we leave the people in the hotel give as a mug as a present.

posted at: 21:32 #

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