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
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