Harumukae, Longing for Spring

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater to see a showcase of traditional performing arts. The theater is located in Ikebukuro, which is an easy ride on the Yamanote line from the station closest to campus, and it’s a pretty impressive building (had it not been dark and raining I would have taken a picture, but alas). It’s significantly bigger than I expected it to be, and while waiting for the show I was able to view a calligraphy gallery that is located inside. From what I understood, the calligraphy that was on display was done by college students and it was extremely impressive. I can only imagine how much more impressive it would be if I was able to understand the amount of kanji that each contained, but the brushwork was beautiful all the same.

Before the show started I was able to pick up a radio that would allow me to listen in English to a description of the performances I was about to watch, and it turned out to be extremely helpful without getting too far in the way of the show. The show was titled Harumukae, and its theme was to welcome Spring as well as hope for the recovery of the areas of Japan that were affected by the 3/11 earthquake. The performance was broken into four different parts, each incorporating a different style of dancing. The first part was Nihon Buyo (Japanese traditional dance) style, which was danced by a single female dancer, and told the story of a girl returning home from school. After attempting to catch butterflies, she is inspired by a dance she learned in school to begin acting like a more adult woman. The second part was Bunraku, a style of puppet theater. In this type of dancing, three men control a single puppet, and move in unison to give the puppet the appearance of dancing. The particular piece they performed was done to pray for bountiful harvests. The way that the performers were able to move in unison was very impressive, and this was my favorite part of the entire showcase.

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Bunraku performers.

The third part of the performance was Bugaku, a dance important to a type of court music and performance. Four men performed it, and it was interesting to say the least. They moved in very rigid and geometric ways, and it wasn’t very lively, but it told a story about how an emperor played a sorrowful tune expressing his disappointment in flowers not being in bloom, and as a result the flowers bloomed. The ways that the dancers moved was meant to represent the blooming of flowers. The last part of the performance was certainly the liveliest of the four. It looks kind of like a festival, in which young and old people alike, as well as the musicians, take part in the dancing. At some point during this part, a performer representing a king makes a prayer praying for the spring and for the health of the country, and at another point the lions that serve as the king’s pets dance for him. The entire showcase ended with the festival themed dance, with the children throwing candy into the crowd.

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The king’s lions.

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The showcase was an eye opening experience. In the middle of some of the performances I would be humbled by the thought that they had been performed in some cases almost a thousand years ago, if not more, and that the dancers on stage were considered masters of their craft. Furthermore, I don’t want to neglect to mention the music and the various instruments that accompanied all of the performances. It was terrific, and an absolute pleasure to listen to. I think that a traditional arts showcase is a must-see for anyone visiting Japan!

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A few of the musicians that performed throughout the night.

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