When I went to the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) in way back in February 2007, I saw a Yosakoi dancing competition. I decided I really liked it, and wrote here about it back then. Since then, I decided I wanted to try and find a place to get involved in Yosakoi myself. Of course, since I was out in the mountains where not even people existed, it was kind of impossible. In the city, however, I finally found a way! I joined the side-group of a local University to take part in their monthly dance practices, designed specially for non-students. I happily trotted along, eager to try some dancing and meet a bunch of people about my age, and found a few Uni students patiently teaching primary school kids how to dance.
But, to hell with it. I wanted to join, and so I did. And after few months, the practice culminated in participation in the Kyoto Gakusei Saiten – Student Festival. This kind of thing is one of the things that make me, despite all its glaring faults, love this country. At least for a while. The festival happened over two days. The roads outside Heian Shrine were all shut down, and about 9 stages set up at various spots, where all the primary schools, middle schools, high schools and Universities around Kyoto (and there are alot), as well as some reaching out to Osaka, Hyogo, and Okayama (and possibly one from Tokushima? – if you look at the photo of the dancers with the hats, you’ll see they are the same as the Light Dancers in my Inaka Weekend post!) came together to compete in various forms of dance and music, as well as lots of fun little bits and pieces for the kiddies, and those training in their education!
The main form of dance on display was Yosakoi, with all its traditional taiko banging, long-sleeve-flowing, beautifully costumed synchronisation; but there was also another category of Everything Else, which saw things like hiphop street dancing, twirling baton girls, flamenco, and what is probably the best of the influences America has had on Japan – Japanese cheerleaders. Our small group performed twice, and I even recieved a nice little Outstanding Dancing token (obviously gifted out of amazement at foreign participation, rather than actual dancing ability – but I happily took it anyway). I was amazed at how smoothly and professionally everything ran, considering the entire thing is run by students. Our first performance was at 1.51pm, and whenever our group went anywhere, we had to move in either single file or two straight lines, depending on what order we were given. Also, I quickly learned not to simply jaywalk across the street, but wait for the OK to cross from security personnel, despite the fact the roads were blocked to unauthorised traffic.
But it’s the very passion for Doing Things Well that means that things like this can happen, and happen so awesomely. During down time, I could wander and look at a bunch of the other performaces. Groups of people, large or small (one group apparently had 200 members), and with people of all age groups, performing to their absolute best, and loving every second of it. There wasn’t a single bored-looking face on anyone, all day, just excessive amounts of energy and enthusiasm, people having a good time. Which is impressive, considering the performances went one after the other, non-stop from 11am to 5pm.
As it got dark, and the final performaces ended, there was a short break before the grand finale in Heian Shrine itself. Alot of people went home at this point, but there were still ample numbers to crowd in and watch. After an opening performance by Ronald McDonald (inexplicably called Donald McDonald in Japan) and the most absurdly sexy McDonalds workers I’ve ever seen, we got a bunch of performances from the dance groups and the band which got the highest grades during the day of judging, as well as special performanes from the meta-group, Kyou-En, which consists of dancers from a ton of different Universities around Kyoto, and who are the spokesgroup for the event. The band, as is to be expected in Japan, kinda sucked. The final non-Yosakoi award came down to be between a cheerleading group and a street dance group, and was finally awarded to the cheerleaders – much to the surprise of the audience and everyone involved, causing the guys in the street dance group to betray their tough image and start crying on stage in classic Japanese fashion.
Finally, Kyou-En lead the entire audience in a rendition of the signature performance of the festival, teahcing everyone the moves, and then getting everyone to do it – resulting in (apparently, according to someone next to me) about 6,000 people all dancing together in the shrine. There’s a great kind of energy that develops from having so many happy people doing the same thing in unison in such a close area. And it was awesome.