'Chindonya' still manage to jazz up streets


In kimono, wigs and elaborate makeup, the “chindonya” troupe dances down the street, banging on drums and gongs and blowing on flutes. One performer hands out fliers with advertisements.

If it sounds like something from decades past, you’re right. But that doesn’t bother Yosuke Takada, a 22-year veteran of the nearly extinct mixture of Japanese street theater and unabashed commercialism.

Takada, 46, remembers clearly the first day he marched down the street as a novice.”I was holding a flag at the head of the troupe, and I felt the scenery surrounding me looked like it was a living thing,” he said. “It’s a very fresh experience for me.

“The chindonya — a name derived from the sound of a gong and a drum — originated in Osaka in the 19th century and reached its zenith in the hardscrabble years following the end of World War II.

These days, a national chindonya contest draws fewer than 100 performers, but the players still can make a colorful racket in shopping arcades.Takada, head of the Tokyo Chindon Club, led his troupe around a busy shopping area in northern Tokyo one recent Saturday. While he banged on his gongs and drums, a troupe member dressed like a circus clown handed out advertisements.

“Welcome, welcome . . . welcome to the Jujo Ginza shopping street! At this Kinkodo store of men’s and women’s apparel, all items are 20 percent off — a whopping 20 percent off!” he shouted.Takada, a semifinalist in the All Japan Chindon Concours in 2005 and 2006, said his clientele includes pachinko parlors, restaurants, pubs, shopping arcades — even an occasional wedding reception.

“The sound of ding-dong echoing across the town,” he said wistfully during a break. “That’s what I like.”