It was months ago when a friend asked me if I wanted to go see the dance practice for the Kanaya Cha Matsuri, or Tea Festival, which is held every two years. When I showed up to the freezing elementary school gym that night I had no idea what to expect, but I filled out the sign-up sheet and we were off.
We rehearsed for a few months leading up to April 9th and 10th. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend a few practices, but in the last few weeks leading up to the festival I spent many hours rehearsing the dances with youtube videos on my iphone to try and not entirely embarrass myself at the actual festival.
Dancing at the festival actually had two parts. First was the traditional chamusume, tea daughter, dance. For this dance we wore the chamusume kimono and adorably large scarf hat.
This traditional dance was at first rather difficult for me to remember, despite it being relatively simple. During the actual performance I made many mistakes, and even though we all wore the same kimono it was pretty clear when the giant foreigner messed up. Regardless it was an awesome experience to perform the chamusume dance with 1000 other women and girls.
The second part of the festival dancing was the parade dance. We performed these pop dances periodically as the giant Japanese parade float, which is moved down the street by people pulling ropes, stopped to take breaks.
The floats are fairly impressive when you see them in motion. Teams of people pull them down the street by ropes while others use long poles to keep it moving in a straight line or occasionally correct its course. Meanwhile people riding inside the float play drums and flutes and men standing on top of the float cheer, look out for obstacles, and give directions to the teams working in front and behind the float.
Riding the float actually seems like it’s pretty terrifying so I’m glad I’ll probably never be asked to do it.
The entire pulling of the float through the parade route can take more than 5 hours, and as the sun set and the street became more and more packed with people the floats lit up spectacularly.
These dances were very high energy and got increasingly fun as the night progressed.
When two floats had to pass each other there were intense yelling wars and so many people it was at times impossible to move, as you can see in the photo below.
Even though I only participated for part of one day of the festival, I’m incredibly happy I was able to have this experience. Being in the Tea Festival will be one of my most exciting memories from these short years I am spending here, and I’m so thankful to everyone who drove me to practice, helped me learn the dances, and made sure I had all the proper clothing in my size. It’s been more than a month since the festival, but thank you one last time!