Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Favorite Japanese Experience: Yosakoi 2012

I'm just starting out with a warning... this is a very, very long blog with tons of pictures. I just wanted you to be prepared!

Well, it has to be... we have been preparing for Yosakoi since the end of June.  Now I don't just mean thinking about getting ready for Yosakoi. I mean practice for two hours twice a week in a non- air conditioned gym when it was extremely hot outside.  We practiced every Tuesday and Friday night.  Then once we received our costumes, we started dancing in our multi-layer, multi-prop costume.  After every practice we would come home and sew, add snaps or velcro, take out a hem... you get the point. We quickly learned after the first practice, that was a big deal and it was very serious! Needless to say, we have been preparing for this event for awhile and so this blog will be long! :)

Yosakoi is huge dance contest/festival in Sasebo.  Yosakoi takes place all around Japan, but Sasebo hosts the largest Yosakoi festival on Kyushu (our island).  Yosakoi is the battle of dance.  This year 170 teams competed over the three-day long weekend event.  There were posters and advertisements for it everywhere...

Banners in our shopping arcade
The team that I danced for is "Eidai House." We are sponsored by a construction company.  Eidai House is one of the few teams that allows Americans to dance with them.  We felt so very privileged! Dancing in the Yosakoi festival has definitely been the highlight of our time in Japan and an experience that I will never forget! In my previous blog I showed you pictures of our crazy (but fun) costume.  Not all the teams have elaborate costume changes, but our team is well-known for our many costumes, props, and for adding a sense of comedy to our dance.

Yosakoi started on Friday night, with one dance in the main park area.  That dance was to get all of our nerves out.  Then starting bright and early Saturday morning we danced for the judges.  Our team has placed in the top twenty for 12 years in a row, it was important that we did well!  Then on Saturday and Sunday we walked all around Sasebo (sometimes we had to get on the city bus) and danced at various locations and we also danced our 5-minute routine in a parade (we did the dance 4 times in the parade).  We danced at the train station, Japanese Navy Base, and parks. By the end of the weekend, we danced our routine 14 times!  We wore our costume everywhere we went for the entire weekend! And yes, Sunday afternoon we found out that we did indeed place in the top twenty!! Besides dancing, another fun part was when the Japanese locals would come up to us during the festival. They thought it was fun that we were taking part in Yosakoi, they were excited to see Americans perform. 

Here's some pictures that I took throughout the weekend to show you what it was like:

My wonderful friend, Christine... it was her idea to participate in Yosakoi this year and I'm so glad she told me about it!

Eidai House... our group picture

The Americans that danced... they referred to our group as, "Team America." We loved it!

Team America with our dance instructor, Saeko.

The judges booth

Our team traveling from sight to sight.

A team meeting after dancing in the parade. I love the fun girl in the back!

Getting my red eyeshadow (actually it was lipstick) put on.

Our instructor was an amazing lady named, Saeko (pronouced, psycho).  She choreographed our entire dance, created the costumes, and produced the music (it's her voice you will hear in the video, too). She is so talented, and so very patient to work with the Americans.  She only speaks a small amount of English, so I think it's pretty incredible that she was able to not only teach us the dance, but explain to us about our costume, and all the other details we needed to know.  By the end of the weekend, we realized that she is a pretty big deal in the world of dance. Everyone knew her and she was even on one of the posters advertising for Yosakoi.
Saeko's huge poster. We were amazed that this was our teacher!

She is an incredible dancer!

Okay, onto the dance.  Now, since we danced at so many venues, these pictures are from all throughout the weekend.  I tried to put them in order so you could see what our costume looked like and its many layers.  During the dance we would change and also sometimes pull out props that were attached to us (a flag, flower, clappers, or large wings).  At the end of the blog I posted the video of our entire dance.

Our team coming onto the stage

Getting ready to start the dance

At the beginning we wore a large green cape had velcro and a secret pocket...

The green cape opened to reveal a face.

Then we pulled a collapsable flower out of our pocket...
Then we ripped off our cape that was attached to us by a system of pullies (crazy) to reveal a cartoon face. This is the face of a famous Japanese character.  The crowd loved this part of the dance. Team America didn't understand this part, so we just called it the "Tomato Dance" because we felt like large tomatoes.

Then about six guys carried three large flags over us and on the sides, and when they moved...

We came out in our gold costumes.  This was my favorite part of the dance!

These clappers were another prop. They were fun to dance with!

Then we pulled the gold part down to reveal beautiful colored fabric. Each person had a different material.
The most challenging, but pretty spectacular, part of the dance happened at the end when we pulled these huge wings
out of our pockets!

I hope all of that made sense!  Maybe it will help to watch the video...

Here's a few pictures along the parade route.

I still can't believe I was able to do this!  It was such an amazing opportunity and one that I will never forget! Our team mates were so very kind and helpful to "Team America." They were so fun and encouraging! When Christine first asked me if I wanted to do this, I thought, "sure, why not, Chris will be gone on his fall tour and it will give me something to do." Did it ever!  It kept me so busy!  The part that I didn't consider though, was how much I would miss him during the festival.  I so wished he would have been there to watch our performance. He was great though, and would constantly tell me in emails that he was proud of me (he's such a supportive and encouraging husband).  However, at the end of one of our dances, my sweet  Japanese student, Yasuko, came to find me. She came to watch me dance!  She even followed our team along the parade route. I had tears in my eyes during the whole parade because it made me feel to special that she was there to watch me.  She took some incredible pictures. She said it was her "duty" to take pictures since Chris could not come.  Isn't she the best?  

You made it to the end! I warned you that this would be a long blog! I hope you had some snacks to munch on along the way. If you didn't, maybe you should go get some before you watch the video. It is  4 1/2 minutes long.  Enjoy!!