Murayama’s Tokunai Festival

 

During our stay in Murayama City we had the privilege of taking part in the Tokunai festival.  The festival was named after Mogami Tokunai, a famous Japanese explorer.  Mogami Tokunai was born in Yamagata in 1754.  He was a very important part of Japanese history and a very famous person in Yamagata. 

 

The Tokunai Festival runs for three days each year.  August 21-23 people dance in the streets and enjoy the celebration. Vendors line the sides of the streets.  Some vendors sell festival souvenirs while others sell local cuisine and beverages.

 

Each community in Murayama has a large group of people from their community who learn the special versions of the Tokunai dance. The large group is made up of several smaller groups who all do different versions of the dance.  All the communities dance in this competition to see whose community dances the best.  Each community dances in a parade through the city each night during the festival.  Each community gets a chance to perform on the main stage for a large audience.  On the float that follows the dancers is the community band. The band has singers who yell the chants to go with the music played for the Tokunai dance. 

 

Before the festival even started, all the communities had been practising for months. As part of our experience in Murayama we learned a version of the Tokunai dance. We practised only twice before we were thrown headfirst into the festival. We danced with team Hongo for the first day of the festival. We got to wear black happy coats and yellow head bands.  We danced on and off for about an hour and a half that night.

 It was so much fun.

 

On the second night of the festival my homestay took me to watch more of the dancers in the Tokunai festival.  I wore a traditional utaka and walked along the streets enjoying the music, dancing and food. Some of the dances were very detailed and would have taken a lot of work to learn. I enjoyed the dances very much.  I also had the pleasure of seeing some of the other homestay partners dancing and singing in the festival. That was a real treat.  The Tokunai festival and the Murayama homestay experience will stay with me forever in my mind and in my heart.