Taiko & dance, and then a tsunami dream

3 Apr

Two weeks after the multiple disasters in Japan, they finally began seeping into my dreams, although mildly. The first was the 3/30/11 dream that was the subject of my most recent post. It was essentially a snapshot of a small-scale (sort of miniature) nuclear plant with spherical towers (more follow-up on those in a later post).

This morning (4/2, that is) I had another dream reflecting Japan’s disasters. I don’t suggest that it has any meaning for the situation in Japan—it certainly doesn’t seem on the face of it to be a healing dream; much more likely the meaning is entirely personal.

This dream was clearly influenced by the performance I attended Thursday night (3/31) by Tamagawa University Taiko & Dance. It was a fabulous performance of traditional Japanese drumming and dance inflected with the students’ modern affinities, including jazz and hip-hop. More visibly, the style turns drumming into aerobic exercise. (You can watch a video of the group on the web site of the Philadelphia-area PBS station WHYY. It actually starts out pretty sedate compared with what I saw.) I thought, What a great way to work out anxiety, anger, and stress. Group members who spoke on stage said the group was very happy to be there, as one can imagine. That and the sheer fun they have drumming and dancing showed on their faces throughout the evening.

So it feels odd to have incorporated them the way this dream did. In this dream, a wave travels a long distance across flat ground and drowns about a 1-1/2 dozen women.

The women in the dream are dressed as the female dancers were in the last number Thursday night, wearing a distinctive type of hat that looks like a bird (or, to my mind, like a pterodactyl).

Amigasa hats worn by women dancing in an Awa Odori festival. (Photo from the blog Konnichiwa)

Amigasa hats worn by women dancing in an Awa Odori festival. (Photo from the blog Konnichiwa; click photo to see more like it.)

It turned out to be easier today to find out what the hat is called than I expected. The concert’s printed program says the dance was “Awa Odori,” a “traditional dance of Tokushima prefecture, most known for its high quality folk tradition. A national competition is held every year at Tokushima for this simple yet exciting dance.” (Tamagawa is a bit southwest of Tokyo, and Tokushima is farther south.) Men’s and women’s versions of the dance differ, as seen in this YouTube video:

Finding Awa Odori online, I found the hat is called an amigasa.

A blog called Seiyaku talks about the amigasa in a discussion of the origin of wedding veils, although it says “don’t even think about” wearing an amigasa for that purpose. The dance associated with it probably conveys the wrong message when going into a marriage; to wit:

The festival dates from the 13th century when a priest called Genshin commanded villagers to dance in the Zao Gongen temple grounds to pray for a good harvest. The dance evolved into a folk dance and is accompanied by music and singing, which also evolved with rather agrestic and bawdy lyrics. For this reason, the festival was banned in the Taisho Era (1912-1926) but later revived and continues to be celebrated each summer.

David Cowland-Cooper (an Australian expat teaching English in Tokushima who also does taiko drumming) is an obvious awa odori enthusiast. He’s written out complete instructions for the dance, and even a glossary of all things associated with it. He also offers the chant, inviting spectators to join in, that captures the dance’s spirit:

The dancing fools, the watching fools,
Fools just the same, so you might as well dance!

Wikipedia has a detailed account of the dance’s history that explain just why this would be a bawdy occasion:

The term “Awa Odori” was not used until the 20th century, but Obon festivities in Tokushima have been famous for their size, exuberance and anarchy since the 16th century.

Awa Odori’s independent existence as a huge, city-wide dance party is popularly believed to have begun in 1586 when Lord Hachisuka Iemasa, the daimyo of Awa Province hosted a drunken celebration of the opening of Tokushima Castle. The locals, having consumed a great amount of sake, began to drunkenly weave and stumble back and forth. Others picked up commonly available musical instruments and began to play a simple, rhythmic song, to which the revelers invented lyrics.

But the sentence immediately before that casts a different  light on why my dream would reference the dance:

The Awa Odori festival grew out of the tradition of the Bon odori which is danced as part of the Obon “Festival of the Dead”, a Japanese Buddhist celebration where the spirits of deceased ancestors are said to visit their living relatives for a few days of the year.

My dream hints at deceased answers—although that’s not how I would immediately think of them—in a couple of ways beyond the women who drown. In a great rarity for me, the dream seems to involve two historical periods (even one in a dream is unusual for me): the setting is a crumbling (and surprisingly plain and simple) Roman arena, and there are World War 2 soldiers in charge, either Japanese or Chinese.

I realize that which of those two nationalities it is makes a vast difference in the meaning…so I have to assume the ambiguity—compatriot (from the women’s standpoint) or sworn enemy?—is part of the message of the dream. Whichever they are, they regard the women with great hostility. The women seem to be acting out of fear as they scurry around putting something (possibly food) into holes built into the lower part of the arena wall where they are.

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