There are roles to play for both kids and adults at the float parade. For kids, it may be drumming Taiko drums or playing a Japanese flute. For adults it could be as simple as holding a "Kajibou" (a pole used to carry the float), yet even that role is just one step among many.
Hikite (the role of pulling a float)
Only kids between 3rd and 4th grade in elementary school can play Taiko (Japanese drum) on the float. Until then, kids can participate by helping to pull the float. They’ll pull while chanting “Yo-i Yo-i” or “Ennya Ennya” with their best effort, dreaming of themselves playing Taiko on the float in a few years' time. If they get tired their mother’s back is waiting for them.
By the time the middle of July has passed, practice of Matsuribayashi (music of the festival) for each float starts. They all gets calluses on their hands from practicing but they keep going without complaining. By practising everyday, they start to get a feel for whether they are skilled enough to make the team. On the day of the Matsuri (festival), the best players will perform in front of a busy shrine, the downtown area, and in front of the old government office where judges for the Matsuribayashi competition are.
They will wear a Tasuki (a type of sash), a Mameshibori (bandana) around their heads, and keep practising with callused hands. Before the Matsuri finishes, the sound of Taiko gets louder because of the eagerness they have to play in front of the shrine again next year.
Playing the Japanese flute while imagining a drum beat in the mind. There is an unspoken rule that “Only those who have experienced playing a Taiko drum can play the Japanese flute” among kids. Even if they own a flute, it is a different matter when it comes to who can play flute at the Matsuri. From Hikite to Taiko player, from Taiko to playing flute, it is a tough world for kids when it comes to the Matsuri.
Most of the floats are 2m 50cm tall, but they can easily go over 4m tall by the time the dolls are put in place. Sendori are in charge of protecting the floats from power lines through the town during the parade. Only those between junior high school and high school age who possess leadership qualities can take the role of Sendori. They may ride the float at any time and be beside the dolls. It is any kid’s dream (the view is amazing too).
The role of "Kajitori“ is to carry the float on their shoulders and steer it around town. Many hills and narrow streets are some of the most difficult places for those whom are responsible for managing the safety of everyone. Just a small mistake could cause serious injury or death. So they must hold the rudder with a sense of strong responsibility and the promise of “I must protect my own float”.
They don’t have time to get drunk and enjoy the festival. But this is the role of a star on each float.
They go to each house saying “This is a great Matsuri. We are— of — town.” They receive money in an envelope or a bottle of Sake in traditional Japanese wrapping paper and give a “business card” explaining the origin of the float. This role is often played by supervisors who have already experienced a front-stage role like Kajitori. But now they sweat behind the scenes. The formally mentioned “business cards” are actually very original and quite popular. Even tourists can sometimes be seen donating in order to receive them.
They are responsible for everything from the preparation of the festival to the cleanup, and for people of Esashi who participate in the festival, it is the ultimate goal and a very honourable role. Social status is completely irrelevant to becoming Toudori. It must be someone who loves the Matsuri from the bottom of their heart and knows the festival inside and out, having watched how it works since they were a child. There are many hills and narrow streets. The movement of the float gets harder as night falls. Toudori will do everything they can to finish the three days of parade without any accidents.
Oiwake Sightseeing Department
Esashi Town Office
Address: 193-1, Aza Nakauta-cho, Esashi-cho, Hiyama-gun, Hokkaido
Postal code: 043-8560