Behind the Scene of the Tsubame Sakura Matsuri - The Oiran Dochu (つばめ桜まつりおいらん道中) - Adventures of Anette

Monday, May 2, 2016

Behind the Scene of the Tsubame Sakura Matsuri - The Oiran Dochu (つばめ桜まつりおいらん道中)


On the 17th of April it was finally time for the Tsubame Sakura Matsuri (つばめ桜まつり), a festival that is held annually in April in the southern part of Niigata (新潟). 
Earlier this year I had applied for a role as one of 3 oiran in what is thought of as the highlight of the festival, the Oiran Dochu (おいらん道中) procession, and as the first foreigner in the 74-year long history of the festival I was selected for the role. As preparations for the festival we had been practicing to walk on 15-cm high geta-shoes in a style called sotohachi-monji (外八文字) and taken part in various PR-events for the festival, and were all extremely excited for the big day. 

Above: Me dressed up as the sakura taiyu Oiran

A video from the procession

In the morning we gathered at the Tsubame Bunsui Welfare Center where it was time to get dressed for the event. With more than 70 people participating in the procession in different roles you can imagine all the work that is necessary to prepare for the parade.
It took a couple of hours before we finally were ready to leave the building.

In advance of the festival I had been a bit nervous about the weight of the outfit; with a 20-kilo heavy kimono, a 10 kilo heavy wig and 15 cm high geta shows I had been slightly worried about my ability to finish the whole 2-hour long parade. However, it turned out that the weight of the outfit itself was no problem, it was the wig (katsura - 桂) that ended up being the biggest challenge for me. At one of the practices we had had two professional katsura-makers from Tokyo measuring our heads and shaping the inner metal frame of the katsura to fit our heads perfectly, but despite the detailed construction the constant pressure on the head from the katsura was still harder to handle than expected. This experience certainly made me a lot more impressed with the oiran who had to wear these sorts of outfits on a regular basis! To me the katsura felt more like a torture device than something to wear for beauty.. Haha..
Usually the festival is carried out in an area of Bunsui famous for its beautiful cherry trees, but unfortunately we were unlucky with the weather, and the procession had to be carried out inside the local gymnasium. After arriving at the gymnasium we got our final pep talk before entering the area where the audience was waiting. People had been lining up to get tickets since early morning, and the gymnasium was packed with visitors. 
The procession itself wasn't that long, we walked a round inside the gymnasium with both regular walk and sotohachi-monji. All in all we had 4 performances to make sure that all the visitors could see the procession. Below are some more photos from the Oiran Dochu:
shamizen-performers onstage
Although it was a bit disappointing that we weren't able to walk outside underneath the cherry trees it was still a fantastic day and without a doubt one of the highlights of my stay in Japan. Personally I enjoyed just being a part of the preparations for the festival too, for instance to be able to see part of the process of making the katsura or the huge transformation people go through when they get totally painted with the white makeup. As a foreigner I felt very blessed to be a part of all this, as it is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If I get the chance I would love to visit Bunsui next year and hopefully see the Oiran Dochu procession outside with the blooming cherry trees in the backdrop.

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About Anette Hansen
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who'd gladly trade a trip to the shoppingmall for a hike in the forest any day.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette


The classical story about a girl who went for a one-year exchange program to Japan, fell in love and got stuck there. Starting out as a student in Kyoto in 2010 I now work full-time in Tokyo as a hotel consultant, and write mostly about my travels, working life in Japan as well as a bunch of random stuff.
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