|The festival is such an integral part of the local culture that even the street lights in Yamaga are shaped like lanterns.|
We still had an hour or two before the dance procession would begin when we arrived, so we headed over to see another piece of Yamaga history: the Yachiyoza kabuki theater.
|Yachiyoza, built 1910.|
Yachiyoza was an entertainment hub in the '20s and '30s, but as television emerged in the mid-20th century its patronage began to dwindle and it was finally closed in the late '70s. The building was in such disrepair by the late '80s that it would have collapsed had the denizens of Yamaga not started a movement to repair the place. The building underwent extensive reconstruction and finally reopened in 2001 to much fanfare. Even today it's used for for kabuki plays, concerts, and school recitals.
|The ceiling of the theater, covered in vintage advertisements.|
|Rotation mechanism under the stage.|
The day we visited was a bit drizzly, so the taiko (Japanese drumming) performance that was set to be held outdoors was moved into Yachiyoza. If you've never heard taiko, I highly recommend it--just maybe not if you have a headache. The drums are massive; put six or seven on a stage and they could give a Midwestern thunderstorm a run for its money. It's an adrenaline rush and the agile performances are amazing to watch. The drummers were of all ages; my favorite was watching an older gentleman and a probably high-school-aged girl next to each other, both drumming their hearts out. Oh, and every time a piece of dust or debris was dislodged from the ceiling, which was often.
By the time the performance was over it was time for the dance to begin. We were able to catch some of the youngest dancers on their way in to the big shrine at the center of town.
|Dancers in procession.|
Here's a short video of the dancers in action:
After the dance the fireworks show was set to begin, so we bought some matcha (green tea)-flavored shaved ice and moseyed on down close to the river to watch.
|They lasted for a whole hour.|
The fireworks were splendid to watch, but by the end of the show we were all pretty exhausted. We worked our way through the crowds back to our bus stop and nearly fell asleep on our way back to Kumamoto City.
It had been a wonderful evening of cultural experience, fascinating history, and delicious festival food. What a blessing to have such things so close to home, and to share them with friends.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
Psalm 119:105 (NIV)