Apologies for the lack of updates recently – haven’t been experiencing much that is both a) bloggable and b) I think to take photos of at the time. But here’s something from Golden Week, my week of vacation where I got paid to go and play in the sun.
Nearby Koenji held an event called “Koenji bikkuri daidougei”, or “Koenji surprise street performance”. I don’t understand the “surprise” aspect of this event seeing as how there was a schedule and designated areas for the people to perform, but oh well, it’s Japan, so they can do that here.
The event is essentially an assembling of street performers with a variety of “skills” ranging from juggling to acrobatics to magic to comedy (HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE) to music to people on stilts that roamed around leering at others.
There were programs available at the station and the wandering event staff also came equipped with them, so I spent my day meandering from mediocre display to less-mediocre display. While some of the acts were at least somewhat entertaining, I got the feeling the vast majority of the performers were people who spent their Saturdays in the park with a book teaching themselves how to juggle/ride a 6-foot unicycle/mime/dance badly.
I suppose I should be less critical of the people who chose to come to a 2 day event and put themselves on display, given that my skill set is limited to abilities only useful in a post-apocalyptic commune setting (spinning fiber, anyone?). I will say, however, that I’m glad the event was free.
The first ensemble I stumbled upon was a comedy duo. Initially, I was sure that their brand of humor was meant only for the children surrounding them, but then I realized adults were laughing too. If there’ s one thing I was reminded of during my visit to this event, it’s that my sense of humor and that of the typical Japanese person will never align.
Next up was a musical trio. I believe they were listed in the program as a “contemporary” or “original” style artist, which really should have been a red flag to me. I waited for them to setup, but only stayed for about 30 seconds or so before I decided to track down another performer. Banshee-style singing just isn’t my thang.
I went on in search of a performance with less screaming, and found it in the form of a magician. For some reason, this particular magician found it necessary to don a rabbit mask and make exaggerated hip thrusts before the climax of each trick. These oddities aside, the few minutes of the show I caught were neat – a glass of wine somehow disappeared into a folded newspaper, which is something I can’t quite manage (I still have to use my stomach in place of the newspaper).
Next up was probably the creepiest and least interesting act I saw all day. Just look at the expressions on the faces of the people watching him. This guy was doing some version of a slow-motion-robot while I stood and watched for a few minutes. I guess his special talent was excellent muscle control combined with gaudy mask-wearing.
The group that was arguably the most entertaining of the day was what I can only describe as a “variety” group. They sucked me in to their act with a bit involving a headless figure in a suit – really a tiny Japanese girl moving slowly (for effect and also due to suit related semi-blindness). This was only one of two acts I watched the entire way through – they performed a well-rehearsed “cinema recap”, which was essentially an amalgam of cliche scenes from movies. Really enjoyed this one.
The program next listed an acrobatic act in the main area just north of Koenji station, which I thought sounded promising. The group was listed as a French ensemble, and things started off with a short man playing saxophone – good to begin with. He was later joined by an extremely tall woman who walked onto the performance area wearing a box. Upon bursting out of the box, she began hitting her co-star and a poor Japanese father who was dragged into things with her “extreme” hairstyle. Apologies – I didn’t seem to take a photo (or a video) of the hairstyle, but it was pulled up in a giant spike with a tuft at the very end – a good three feet long, at least.
To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what the next duo I found was trying to achieve. They seemed to be reenacting a couple riding a bicycle while holding tiny doll clothes up to their chins. I have zero explanation for this act.
After this, I found a juggler wearing ivy and excessive face paint who fell down on the ground whenever he dropped one of the objects he was juggling (apologies, jugglers are apparently difficult to photograph/video):
I watched a few minutes of a comedy/martial arts duo – these guys are twin brothers and they have the whole sempai/kouhai thing going on in terms of the slightly older one (7 minutes older, I think it was) teaching the younger one the correct way to use weapons. Meh. Apologies for this blurry photo.
I walked quickly to another designated performing area hoping to catch a saxophone group (I figured if there was no singing it couldn’t be all that bad). Only caught the very last few seconds of this performance, but they sounded great. Wish I could have seen more of this one.
The last act of the day was a group from China – three performers each with their own skill. After setting up, I watched the male performer lure a tiny Japanese girl on stage with the promise of a coke, but he then persuaded her to hold out a flower while he whipped it out of her hands.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. Ahem.
After these shenanigans, the three performers did their thing. The first was a Chinese woman dressed in what can only be described as traditional asian-meets-sombrero-meets-buccaneer. She wandered around in front of the audience changing the color of her mask. Apparently her “talent” was learning how to work the special mask she’d purchased in a shop somewhere.
After Zorro’s performance was an extremely unenthused looking woman riding a huge unicycle. Her special ability was flipping various objects onto her head with one foot while balancing herself 8 feet off the ground.
Seriously, how do these people discover they can do (and want to do) these things?
Last from this group was the aforementioned whip-wielding fellow, whose talent was to balance on a board above various heights of rolling objects. His stack of objects kept getting progressively taller, and his obvious nervousness was somewhat terrifying to behold – I didn’t want to watch anyone eat concrete on this particular day.
This performance wrapped up the day for me, and so I grabbed some food at a nearby cafe before heading home.
All snark aside, I couldn’t have done the vast majority of the things I saw at this event. True, while it wasn’t astounding TV-ish material, these performers travel the country (and in some cases, the world) making a living doing this. It was an interesting afternoon for me, and I’m sure it made hundreds of kids in Tokyo happy.
If you’re interested in checking out this event, it happens yearly in Koenji over the course of a weekend, and you can find the site and the schedule online here (apologies, in Japanese onry). More photos are available on the website – I didn’t see all the performers. I have enough footage to make a video with this, but am somewhat lazy about doing it because I just wasn’t all that interested in the goings-on. Hopefully will have a new video up soonish!