Tuesday, October 24, 2006

School Festival Weekend 中学校の文化祭


Saturday morning, I went to Hiwada Middle School’s Bunkasai, or school festival, as everyone is so quick to translate it. It is basically a big production put on by the students. The students showcase their artwork, raise money through selling food and donations, and spend several hours sitting in a darkened gym putting on various stage productions and presentations.

The highlight that all the parents and teachers talk about is the choral competition, where each class sings a choral song to the school, in a competition with the other homeroom classes and grades. Always accompanied by a pianist, some of the classes are quite good, while others obviously need work. My first year here in Japan, I found the format and everything very strange. After two years however, it seems just as natural to have the chorus competition as it is natural to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

Katahira’s bunkasai was on Sunday, so my weekend was completely booked. Katahira has a unique tradition of incorporating Taiko drumming into their bunkasai. Unique to Japan, Taiko drumming is difficult to describe. Picture 30 uniformed people banging heavy wooden drums at fast paces and high decibels. Drums range in size from that of a small bowl to enormous cylinders large enough to contain a VW Beetle. I'll let you guess who got to help carry the “big drum” into the gym.

The students bang on them in unison. I have heard enough Taiko drumming at competitions, half marathons, and other events to know that Katahira’s middle schoolers were not going to win any prizes, but they were impressive nonetheless. I was proud of them for learning the songs (they had to bring in two outside teachers to put the performances together).

At the end of the class performances, 6 of the girls put on a REAL taiko production.
The six girls obviously do this quite regularly, and have done so for a long time. Having obviously put an enormous amount of work into it, this final drum performance was very impressive, and worth the 6 hours at school.

For those of you in the states who don’t know what taiko drumming sounds (and looks) like, check out another youtube video. The picture above is from last year's event, as I forgot my camera. This year we had one drum that was MUCH bigger. You can rent Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samurai” and there is a sequence in it somewhere with the telltale drums on the soundtrack. (The movie is basically scientology nut Tom Cruise ripping off “Dances with Wolves”, but in Japan.)

Katahira's Bunkasai then finished after several very weak performances, and I was happy to get home and salvage the remaining hours of an extremely busy weekend.

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