Cultural Update Seen in Festivals
The Revival of Summer Festivals and Overtourism
The “Woodford Folk Festival,” held in the Australian midsummer, is a large-scale event that spans 6 days and features various activities such as concerts, dance performances, and theater shows. Despite being held in a city with a population of about 5,600, the festival attracts around 130,000 people. While the event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, it has been decided to resume the festival from 2022. Such events bring numerous benefits, such as economic revitalization, strengthening local communities, and providing unique experiences for the region.
However, it is also essential to address the issue of overtourism. In the small German village of Leavenworth in the United States, with a population of about 2,000, it receives one million tourists every year. Especially during the lighting ceremony of Christmas illuminations, more than 10,000 visitors arrive in one night, causing problems such as local residents being unable to use public transportation or dine at restaurants.
To address this issue, they have made some changes, including extending the illumination period from only weekends to one week and canceling the lighting ceremony, aiming to attract visitors on weekdays. Leavenworth, which has thrived on tourism, is changing the format of the festival for its future prosperity. This week, we will focus on updates in the culture of festivals, including food, dance, and technology.
The History of Thanksgiving Through the Eyes of a Turkey
Thanksgiving, a holiday not widely familiar in Japan, is known to involve eating turkey during the November break. However, I knew little about it until an American friend studying abroad invited me to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Seeing the turkey being roasted whole in the oven, stuffed with vegetables, was quite a spectacle (though it took quite a while to cook, and we ended up having dinner two hours late, laughing). Traditional dishes like mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pecan pie were also served on the table.
The tradition of Thanksgiving, which is said to have started in 1621 and celebrated its 400th anniversary last year, is now observed as a holiday where families come together to enjoy delicious food in November. However, the culture of the feast, as well as the meaning of “gratitude,” has evolved over time. It is believed that the holiday originated from the harvest festivals commonly practiced in England, which then transformed into a simple festival where the Wampanoag people and the English settlers shared a meal together in America. During the westward expansion era, it evolved into a tradition to celebrate victories over Native Americans. Additionally, the holiday’s date has changed frequently, and it was Abraham Lincoln who reestablished Thanksgiving as a national holiday during the Civil War, shifting its significance from a “feast day” to a celebration of “autumn harvest.”
Even in modern times, the tradition of eating turkey still echoes the past, as Native Americans used to hunt wild birds such as geese and turkeys, and these large birds became an essential source of food for settlers as well. Ironically, “autumn harvest” still evokes negative memories for Native Americans. The meaning of traditions inevitably undergoes changes as history shapes them, but it might be worth revisiting our own culture, considering the imprinted history.
Connecting Nostalgia Through Bon Odori
The Anpanman Ondo (Anpanman March) played at summer festivals in Japan has a nostalgic feel to it.
The Bon Odori, with origins dating back a thousand years, is a spectacle that captures attention from around the world. While its purpose is to honor ancestors and pray for good harvests, it evolved into a simple festival of entertainment, a place for meeting and release during the Edo period. Even today, it is loved as entertainment for all ages, where anyone can join in.
I want to take a peek into the updated culture of Bon Odori. In an interview article with Tom Kawada, the representative of the travel and festival editing production company B.O.N, he talks about the significance of “Bon Odori” and the changing value of “dance” itself. Bon Odori is a dance where people dance together, not just a performance to watch, and in areas with fluidity, it continues to function as a place for reunions. Observing physical spaces allows us to see who is present in the community and what kind of relationships are formed. Social media has greatly influenced the changing value of dance. TikTok has made arranging template dances in one’s own style and sharing them a trend. The younger generation now finds commonality with people within “dance” in the space of SNS. Traditional dance may become a content with a cosplay-like meaning, where people dress up in yukata and go to Bon Odori, increasing its spreadability.
The interview with Tom Kawada dates back to 2017. Since then, the sense of belonging to local communities has become even more blurred due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. This year, if outdoor summer festivals return, why not dive into the circle of Bon Odori and experience the moment of connecting hearts with local people? As I return to Japan after my study abroad, I am secretly looking forward to experiencing new emotions and reuniting with old friends as I hear the Anpanman Ondo.
Technology Preserving Traditional Arts for the Future
In March of this year, the “VIRTUAL NIPPON COLOSSEUM,” a virtual body festival, was held. It was a project exploring the possibilities of digital performance beyond the boundaries of art, entertainment, and sports.
One particularly intriguing attempt was to record and preserve performers’ movements through motion capture. The aim is to pass on disappearing folk performing arts to the future. In practice, the project has archived the folk event “Kase Tori” in Kamikoani, Yamagata Prefecture, and is selling the motion data as a product.
In the field of “traditional arts × technology,” attention has long been focused on future-oriented topics such as how to update existing expressive methods. However, in searching for new expressions, a deep understanding of the background history, religious beliefs, and more seems essential. Expressions that simply come together by chance without understanding the true essence may not truly be in line with tradition.
In contrast, efforts to digitize and open-source the accumulated knowledge of performers, as seen in this project, can serve as valuable materials for both the study of folk performing arts and the experimentation of expression in digital space. By reevaluating the past and building new expressions, we can look forward to the possibilities offered by such endeavors.