Saturday, June 07, 2008

Things Japanese (4): Sendai Aoba-Matsuri

Sendai is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture in Japan. The city was founded around 1600 by the daimyo Date Masamune and currently has a population of around 1 million.

Now, the Japanese just love festivals, or “matsuri” as it is called in Japanese. Most cities in Japan have their own special matsuri.

Sendai have a few local matsuri of its own.

The most famous is the Aoba Matsuri that attracts all the merry-making and dancing – typical Japanese festival traditions.

My friend, Toru Tanaka, who hails from Sendai is very proud of his city and the Aoba-Matsuri. Recently he wrote me a long and interesting email (with photos) describing the festival.

According to Tanaka-san, the Aoba-Matsuri started about 130 years ago as an annual festival of the Aoba-Jinja (Aoba Temple). The Aoba-Jinja was a shrine dedicated to Masamune Date who was the leader of the clan which had reigned over Sendai area for about 260 years since 1601.

But curiously, according to Tanaka-san, the festival was stopped about 30 years ago as traffic conditions got worse. Luckily for us, it was revived since 1985 as a festival for citizens of Sendai and to commemorate the 350th year of Masamune's death.

During the festival, many dance teams perform the 'Suzume-Odori” (sparrow dance). They dance to drums, bells, and flutes, with fans in both hands. Tanaka-san says that “the basic step is very easy, like this: put a foot in front of the other foot and repeat it by turns, lowering one's waist. However, each dance team will improvise and present a style of their own during performances”. Tanaka-san says the dance is “quite similar to samba”.

The dance is performed on the streets. During the night festival, a competition is held at the public square in front of the city hall. Usually there will also be a dance team of city officers. And they are quite good, too, as they have won first prize many times.

It is said that the original Suzume-Odori was first performed in 1603 by stonemasons from Osaka who came to Sendai to build a new castle. It was performed to celebrate the completion of the castle.

The dance was named ''Suzume-Odori” because the movements with fans and the rhythm is similar to sparrows picking at seeds. And it may also be connected with the fact that one of the emblem of the Date clan is made out in the shape of “sparrows and bamboos”.

After 130 years, now, the Aoba-Matsuri is a typical sight and sound of the spring season in Sendai. And from the photos sent to me by Tanaka-san, what a great and joyous occasion it is too.

Enjoy photos of this year’s Sendai Aoba-Matsuri taken by Tanaka-san (the commentaries are provided by Tanaka-san himself).

The basic style of SUZUME-ODORI

The drummers. Each team consist of flag-bearers, dancers, drummers, bell players and flute players

Let's make a pose!

There are many cute infant dancers. The dancers wear clothes like stonemasons. These childrens' wear are especially traditional style

A team of my co-workers. His team is famous but his team is not a city officer's team

My colleague. He really enjoys dancing

I found foreigners in some team. The woman in the center of the photo may come from Malaysia. I think there are many Malaysians in SENDAI, who is studying at TOHOKU Univ. the float behind the dancers is sponsored by SENDAI city

Polite dancers. They thanked the audience. They are a team of bank workers


Toru TANAKA said...

Thank you Azizi-san, I has been looking forward to your article.
In Sendai, three more faamous festivals other than 'Aoba-Maturi'. They are 'Tanabata' in August, 'Jozenji-street Jazz festival' in September and 'Pageant of light'(illumination festival) in December. I'll report on them, too.

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...


Thanks do much for the information and photos you provided.

Please let the other old boys (OB) from totzu kenkyu ken know about this article, too.

I look forward to your reporting of the 3 other Sendai matsuri.


Anonymous said...

Googling Kg Kepayang Fair Park....found ur blog...i'm budak kg kepayang fair too. me used to play layang layang kat tembok ketapi tu.

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Sdr Anonymous

Glad you dropped by. And when you claimed that you are 'budak kepayang', I believe you. Because only Kepayang folks use the term 'tembok ketapi' :-)

Used to play layang-layang there too. My Apak used to make beautiful kites and we'd be all over the kebun kacang flying the kites. The wind there is just great for kite flying.