Performance Art?

I'd like to dedicate this entry to my good friend HallaMeat. I know he would have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences I am describing today. That being said, let me apologize as well because today's entry is not necessarily directly taiko related. It is, however, Japanese culture related, so perhaps I can get away with it.

First a bit of background information. Two weeks ago I returned from a work related trip to Tokyo. I had hoped to fit in some taiko related visits, like visiting the factory from whom we have bought all of our taiko so far, but the schedule was too full, so I wasn't able to. I went to Tokyo with two of my junior high school students for the semi-finals and finals of a national speech/oratorical contest, which is sponsored by a member of the Japanese Imperial family, Princess Takamado (whose English, by the way, is so good, that a British acquaintance I made at the reception said she sounded like Princess Diana). The contest is quite a big deal, of course because it is sponsored by the Imperial family, but also because the top three contestants all get a paid trip to England and scholarships, the largest being about $10,000. Hmmm, I guess you could buy a nice taiko with that money, or maybe a couple credits at an American university with that much. The Princess was in and out of the contest over the four days, listened to a few speeches, then left, came back for the decisions of the judges, and so on. Of course, whenever she entered or left, everyone in the room had to stand (usually, there were actually a couple times when they told us to remain seated). The closest I got to the Princess was at the reception following the final contest, which was held at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. (A pretty swanky place). She passed my table about 5 feet away from me. I could really "feel" the royalty.

Here is where things started to get a bit weird. I had an opportunity in high school to see former president Bush, Sr. on a campaign stop. The high school band played for him, and protocol dictates, that when it was time for the president's speech, we played "Hail to the Chief". I imagine that when the Queen of England enters an event, "God Save the Queen" or some other song is played. But from my experiences at the reception, I don't think there is any protocol dictating what music is to be played for the Imperial Family. I rather expected the Japanese national anthem (Kimigayo) to be played, but it's a slightly controversial song because of its association with WWII imperialism (but it is a beautiful song).

Before she entered the reception hall, there was a drum roll, followed by the trumpet voluntary. I can't remember who wrote it, but we had it played as our wedding processional, so I guess it's a song I associate with weddings more than royalty. This was followed by a quartet playing Bach's Theme from Judas Maccabeus. (Which I played on the violin when I was about 8 or 9, as Andrew will remember) Isn't this also a song often used as a wedding processional? Whatever the case, I felt more like I was at a wedding than in the presence of royalty. The strangest music choice (in my opinion), however, was when the Princess left the reception. After another drum roll, the quartet played "Auld Lang Syne". I know at least every American probably associates this song with New Year's Eve. I wondered, is it a song we sing as a farewell to the old year, or as a welcome to the new year? Or perhaps both? I guess in Japan, it is often associated with endings. For example, it is often played in stores just before closing time to let people know they should make their ways to the exit. Once again, whatever people associate it with, royalty was not the first thing that came to mind.

In any case, I got to see an Imperial Princess, and that's something in and of itself, isn't it. The strangest part of the night, though, happened after the reception. This is when I really wished that HallaMeat could have been there. We truly would have enjoyed these events together.

As I left the Imperial Hotel, I crossed I noticed a large group of people lined up on the other side. My curiosity got the better of me, so I went over to have a closer look. What I saw was maybe 100 people or more, lined up orderly, in rows, facing the street. They were not talking with one another, but simply silently looking straight ahead to the other side of the street. Also, every person (all women, by the way) in the group, had the same light blue scarf on, with someone's name printed on it, and they were all fashioned around their necks in exactly the same way. Here is a poor image of what I saw:

On the other side of the street, there was a somewhat less orderly crowd also of perhaps around 100 people, not lined up, and talking with each other, pointing at the others across the street, saying "What are they doing?" I belonged to this crowd. I noticed an acquaintance I had made earlier in the day and went over to him and asked him if he new what this was all about. He replied that he didn't know. One of his colleagues had even ventured across the street to ask some of them what they were doing, but he was answered with stone cold silence. I suggested that perhaps it was some sort of performance art, or maybe a psychological experiment, and we were all being observed for our reactions. Whether it was meant to be or not, in my opinion, it was performance art.

After several minutes, something happened. Suddenly, the front two or three rows, kneeled down. Immediately following this, a tall, slender, short-haired woman walked past them on the sidewalk. Once she had passed, they all stood up again. This happened about three or four times over the next several minutes. Finally, there was a slight change in the routine. As the front rows kneeled down maybe the fifth time, there were slight murmurs. In the very front row, several gold colored bags were taken out by about 4 or 5 people in front. Then another tall, slender, short-haired woman appeared, this time accompanied by a shorter woman. Several cameras flashed, and as she walked along the sidewalk, she stopped at the people holding the golden bags, and they were given to her. At the end of the line, there was a car waiting for her, which she got into and was driven away. This seemed to be the climax of the event, so it was after this that I went on my way, still having very little idea of what was actually going on.

BUT, I did have a slight idea. I noticed that this group of people were lined up right in front of the Tokyo Takarazuka theater. Most probably wonder what Takarazuka is. I first heard of it from a Japanese woman in my German class in Freiburg, back in 1996. She was a very devoted fan and insisted, that any Japanese woman would be thrilled to be taken to a show. It is a musical theater, where all parts are played by women. They all seem to be tall and slender women, and seem almost as if they are straight out the pages of a Japanese comic book. I find them a little bit creepy. Here is a link to some of their pictures. Feel free to form your own opinions, and if you can read Japanese, look around a little more. So based on what I know about Takarazuka, I could deduce that the tall, slender women were Takarazuka actress and the women lining the sidewalk were their fans, very devoted fans, I would guess. Perhaps they were even rabid fans. They seemed to have a pretty serious dedication to line up like that in silence and wait for the actresses to leave the venue, one by one, kneeling down as they passed. In a way, it almost seemed as if they got more reverence and protocol than the princess had just 30 minutes earlier. There self control was also rather impressive. There were no fences, or ropes, or security personnel for crowd control. As the actresses walked by, no one attempted to grab them, talk to them, or even try to get their attention.

When I made the Takarazuka connection I was slightly disappointed, because I was seriously hoping it was some sort of performance art. In my mind, I think it still was. I wish you could've been there, HM.

1 comment:

Hallameat said...

Were I there I would have worn my (Superior) Members Only jacket!

Next time you see them, you should pull down your pants and start hooting like an ape. Out-performance art the performance artists!

Hope this finds you well, Bube. Enjoying the blog.

-H. Meat