By Rena Nagayama, Rina Yamao, Rika Yamao
Beautiful mountains and ocean and lots of fields are everywhere in Kochi. In contrast to this peaceful environment, Kochi has one of the most passionate summers in Japan – Yosakoi festival.
The Yosakoi festival was born in 1954 to cheer-up exhausted Kochi after the massive earthquake that occurred shortly after the end of world war Ⅱ. Every year, the festival starts with a big firework display on August 9th and continues till 12th. The date is the same every year since it is the most unlikely day to rain in Kochi. Also, it is before the “Awa” dance festival in Tokushima, which is one of the most popular festivals in Japan. At the Yosakoi festival, everyone performs with Naruko, the percussion instrument for the festival, and wears unique uniforms.
“Yosakoi festival is different from any other festivals in Japan,” says Yurika Yoshimura, from Nara with shining eyes. “It’s more like a concert that everyone can appear on the stage and perform. Nowhere can play music in a great volume which can be heard wherever you are in Kochi city. If you hold the Yosakoi festival in Kyoto, it would not be accepted as a festival. It’s just a commotion. I mean, Yosakoi festival blends into Kochi. That fascinates me.”
Yoshimura has a great passion for Yosakoi performance as well as for the Kochi people. She met Yosakoi when she was a university student, then moved to Kochi after graduation to be nearer to Yosakoi festival. Her boss understands her devotion to the Yosakoi festival, and Yoshimura feels free to do what she wants to do. She is one of the members of Yosakoi Immigration supporting group. She and other members promote Yosakoi festival while they work and practice Yosakoi performance.
The purpose of Yosakoi festival was to have fun dancing and cheer up Kochi at first, but many Yosakoi groups have gradually come from other prefectures or even from abroad. As the Yosakoi festival spread around Japan, it became a huge festival, and it is considered a treasure of Kochi.
However, Yosakoi festival is in danger of its continuance. Kochi is a countryside which is located in the southwestern part of Japan, and far from big cities. As a result, a lot of young people move to another prefecture to go to university or to get a job.
The population of Kochi is now aging rapidly, and people who have enough power to perform all four days and manage all the 16 areas are decreasing. It is difficult to make people move to Kochi due to fewer universities, job opportunities, lower wages, and the relative isolation of the prefecture.
The number of people whose age is from 15 to 64 is about 200,000 now and is expected to decrease to under 150,000 in 2040. On the other hand, the number of people over 65 years old keeps increasing.
To make this situation better, Kochi city decided to advertise the Yosakoi festival and set up a project named Yosakoi Immigration Project in 2014. Afterwards, they asked some people who have immigrated to Kochi to be near to Yosakoi festival to work together as a group named Yosakoi Immigration Supporting Group.
Yosakoi National Convention, which has been held since 1999, gave a significant influence on Yosakoi immigration. Thanks to that, people who decided to live in Kochi were increased, and the Yosakoi immigration project was accelerated rapidly from 5 or 6 years ago.
Kochi City Policy Planning Division Immigration/Settlement Promotion Office has a purpose of supporting Yosakoi immigration applicants to select Kochi as their destination of migration. Therefore, they decided to promote Kochi by appealing Yosakoi festival.
Yoshimura is one of the first members of the Yosakoi Immigration Support Group, which consists of 11 members. She used to be a swimmer, but when she saw a Yosakoi performance, she was moved by the power of the mass dance teams. Consequently, she joined a university Yosakoi team. The more she practiced Yosakoi with the team, the more she was into it.
“In general, most of the university students were interested in famous artists. However, I was crazy about Yosakoi, and my music playlist was full of Yosakoi music. It was sad that I could not talk deeply about it with others even if I wanted to.” she said.
As she practiced with the team at the university, her seniors went to Kochi for three months to practice Yosakoi in Kochi while they went to the university. She was impressed by them, and she also went there as they did.
When she got there, she faced a lot of difficulties from the locals. Kochi people told her that she came for pleasure, not for a serious purpose. When they said that to her, she felt mortification.
Even though she came to Kochi with a serious reason, the local people in Kochi did not think the same way as she did. She found that there is a different concept of Yosakoi between people who are from outside of the prefecture and the inside of the prefecture. People who are not from Kochi like her would think that Yosakoi is a traditional festival and a marvelous thing. However, people in Kochi think that Yosakoi is just a festival to have fun and it is not so special for them because it is too ordinary for them. Therefore, she replied to them with creative new words to express how serious she is to Yosakoi festival.
“I came here for Yosakoi Ryugaku,” a term coined by her and referencing studying abroad that many Japanese people find enticing. This word made her more confident in herself.
At that time, most people who did Yosakoi Ryugaku were students. However, nowadays, regardless of age, many people like office workers or older adults do Yosakoi Ryugaku as well as students.
She told the story of a man who came to Kochi to be involved with Yosakoi. He had been interested in Yosakoi since he was around 50 years old, but had waited until he reached retirement age.
After turning 60, he tried to join a Yosakoi team in Kochi. However, due to the strenuous nature of the dancing, members must be under 60 years old, and he was not allowed to join the team. But when Yoshimura saw his passion for Yosakoi, she was worn down by him and accepted him into the group. Whenever he practices, he always smiles even though he gets words of caution.
“When I saw their faces with bright and shining eyes full of passion, I also feel happy at the same time,” she said.
Yoshimura has one crucial thing on her mind.
“I want to make people’s life wonderful by Yosakoi.”
Before she chose the life of Yosakoi in Kochi, she had some worries in her mind whether she should choose the Yosakoi life or not.
There are both advantages and disadvantages in choosing the way of this life. The advantage is that she can have fun recommending Yosakoi to people through youtube and facebook. The ways of promoting Yosakoi are infinite. She has the freedom to do as she likes. So Yosakoi Immigration supporting group can organize how to introduce Yosakoi. This makes her more motivated to do.
On the other hand, the disadvantage is debasing the quality of life and total income. Kochi is a rural place, and the income is lower than in big cities. In her case, when her friends who live in big cities go to Universal Studios Japan, Tokyo Disneyland etc., she could not do the same thing as them because of her low salary. She has to make ends meet. She chose to take a risk in her life. And also, the distance between Kochi and another prefecture is the big problem. In her case, she cannot meet her family easily and if her family has some big trouble or some disease, she would not be able to go and see them soon.
Community was also a problem for her. She talked about the differences between Kochi and Nara. For instance, “Hakobunnka,” which means box culture. The concept of this thought is completely different from Kochi. In Nara, when they give some presents to other people, they give it in boxes because they want to show them respect and they want to show that only to a specific person. By contrast, Kochi has “Fukurobunnka,” which means bag culture. They show respect to everyone, and they show that with an attitude, not just a formal way.
No matter how many problems there are, she chose the life of Yosakoi because she had a big passion and could not give up on that. Now, she got a job in a law office, and she gives some advice as one of the members of Yosakoi Immigration supporting group to those who want to move into Kochi. They usually ask her about when they should move, where to live, and whether they need a car or not. However, the most important thing is about a job. When they start living in Kochi, definitely they need work to make their living. She gives them some advice as a person who experienced Yosakoi Immigration. She expressed with one good expression.
“The image of Yosakoi Immigration Support Group is not a place where provide a study style to pass the entrance examination to the university like private classes. It is a person who can give them advice on how we chose the first-choice school like senior students of the university.” She explained Yosakoi Immigration Support Group’s position with a superb example.
Yosakoi Immigration Support Group presents Yosakoi to many people in various ways. They have a back on just Kochi city, and Kochi city side has a tolerance so that they can introduce Yosakoi as much as they want. It has not cost even a single yen for this activity. They have started promoting Yosakoi on Facebook from 2013. Besides, they teach Yosakoi Immigration at the university once in a year. They also held an event in Tokyo which is similar to a television program called “Tousouchu.” The event was held at “Harajuku Super Yosakoi,” and they gave some information about this event on SNS in advance.
The rule of this game is if people find a person from Yosakoi Immigration Supporting Group, they can get some snacks. Many people showed some interest in this event because they were able to get snacks. They wanted people to know about Yosakoi in an easy and fun way. Also, they thought it leads people’s interests to Yosakoi.
She said five people moved to Kochi last year due to the work of the Yosakoi Immigration Support group. These were young people with no family. There are data which show the number of immigrants to Kochi by age. People in their 20s to 40s account for 80 % of immigrants. Most of the people were coming from Tokyo and some Kanto area which is located in the middle area of Japan. A few people who moved into Kochi was a nursery teacher and lawyer, those who quit their job, new graduates and those who succeed their family business. Most people find their job in the newspaper. However, there is data which was announced by Kochi prefecture. Its shows 51 % of immigrants were hired by some company or corporation. Other people were self-employed, starting a business on their own, a public servant and agroindustry.
The rate that immigrants seeking their job are still low compared with throughout Japan, but it has increased compared with the previous year of Kochi’s rate. One of the groups of Kochi city which promote people to immigrate to Kochi help them to find their job and they conduct the place that can introduce job as free.
Today, the aging population became a serious problem in Kochi. This Yosakoi Immigration project could help to solve the aging issue if its success to keep increasing young people. Companies also promote Yosakoi, and Yosakoi leave, which they can leave the workplace early to participate in Yosakoi practice if they need and they can take holidays during the Yosakoi festival.
The next goal of Yosakoi Immigration Supporting Group is to collaborate with companies or job-seeking sites which is willing to allow people to take holidays and flex working schedule for Yosakoi festival and support people who want to move to Kochi for Yosakoi festival to get a job more efficiently.
Yosakoi is a great fascination which both elder and young people can enjoy.
“I want to promote Yosakoi with a unique idea and make people have fun,” she said bravely.
“I want to do something fun and creative.”