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Chindonya are a nostalgic, living link with a proud Japanese tradition of street entertainment. ("chin" rhymes with keen, "don" with tone, and "ya" with paw.) Marching music by these gaudily dressed urban minstrels was long a favored way of publicizing store openings and sales. Sadly, chindonya have largely given way to more-modern modes of advertising. But a few score chindonya groups continue to delight passers-by on Japanese shopping streets with their musical publicity for ramen shops, pachinko parlors, and other enterprises.

The drama troupe U-Stage turned to chindonya performances several years ago in the spirit of extending theater into the street. Almost single-handedly, U-Stage has reinvigorated the world of chindonya entertainment with boisterous music and carnival burlesque.

"I love the breezy, carefree atmosphere that chindonya create," explains U-Stage founder and leader, Yasushi Shimazaki. "So don't be shy when you hear us approaching. Give in to the smile that is trying to light up your face. Sing along with the tunes. And have a good time. Chindonya will bring the neighborhood alive."

Chindonya first appeared in Osaka in the mid-19th century, and they adopted Western music and instruments toward the end of the century. Later, chindonya became ubiquitous on Tokyo's shopping streets. The troupes epitomized the rough-and-tumble plebian side of the capital's urban culture. They became a byword--generally pejorative--for brash publicity and aggressive marketing.The national Chindonya festival that takes place each April in Toyama City receives extensive media coverage. U-Stage earned a special judges' prize in its debut appearance at the festival in 2000. The group won a festival award for overall excellence in 2002, and it earned the award for best musical performance in 2004.

Today, broadcast and print media have marginalized chindonya. Television has become the biggest "chindonya" of all, and it has all but destroyed Japanese street life. Chindonya are for people who are out and around, conversing with neighbors, sharing a sense of community. Television, on the other hand, is for an increasingly autistic populace--for a citizenry seated dumbly inside their homes, staring blankly into a hundred million screens.

The time has come to revitalize our towns and cities, to rediscover the joy of neighborliness. Listen! Can you hear the music? The bleating clarinet. The beating drums. The happy shouting of the troubadours. Chindonya! Come and enjoy.

The national Chindonya festival that takes place each April in Toyama City receives extensive media coverage. U-Stage earned a special judges' prize in its debut appearance at the festival in 2000. The group won a festival award for overall excellence in 2002, and it earned the award for best musical performance in 2004.