Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chiryu Karakuri Ningyo Company and an Action-Packed Marvel

Hundreds of strings stretch across the puppet stage, criss-crossing over wooden beams, in and out of eye hooks, and through the anticipatory fingers of the puppeteers. There are fifteen members of Chiryu Karakuri Ningyo Company, ten of which are crammed inside the stage surrounded by puppets, sashigane, and scripts marked with hand-inked illustrations. During their bi-annual performances, the troupe usually performs on the top of an 18 foot festival float; however, for this week’s rehearsals they use the portable stage, a 100 square foot wooden frame that fills the entirety of Chiryu City's cozy community center.

As I move from one side of the room to the other, I push my back against the wall and delicately slide, careful not to disturb the concentration of the performers.  The team of puppeteers are like a crew of rowers, pulling strings, skillfully twisting sashigane, and quick-changing puppet costumes in harmonious collaboration.  

Two long wooden beams, the toiorganize the numerous strings, passing each thread through carefully marked holes. These are the same toi used on the top of the dashi and, along with the puppets, are invaluable components. After every rehearsal the puppeteers wax the internal strings with resin and then carefully pack the tracks for safekeeping.

Although it's considered an amateur troupe, Chiryu Karakuri Company is one of the most skilled and elaborate groups I’ve come across during my fellowship. In 1992, they represented Japan at UNIMA’s World Conference in Slovenia and have performed internationally in Italy and Australia. Led by my mentor and teacher Yasuko Senda, this September they will make their French debut at Festival Mondial Des Theatre de Marionnettes in Charleville-Méziéres. Like other karakuri ningyo companies, such as in Takayama's Hoteitai troupe, the group only performs one program, The Battle of Ichi-no-Tani. In the world of Japanese mechanical puppet theatre, the show is an action-packed blockbuster. The 15 minute spectacle is filled with dramatic Edo era ingenuitypuppets skillfully shooting bow and arrows, a samurai showdown, and a gleeful warrior twirling a skewered corpse on the end of a spear.

With the unique assistance of a tayu, which I have not seen in any other karakuri ningyo performances, it’s one of the few companies that weaves their audience through a narrative, recreating a legend from the 12th century’s Genji and Heike feud. Like joruri ningyo, karakuri ningyo began as a shinto ritual performed during festivals to offer gratitude to the gods. However, during the Edo era, as ningyo joruri diversified into itinerant performance, comical entertainment, and historical dramatization, karakuri ningyo held fast to its shinto roots. Today, the majority of performances are brimming with the same rhythmic movements, symbolic transformations, and spectacular gestures of the original ritualistic shows. The Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, with a cast of historical characters, live narration, and a fifteen minute runtime, offers something totally different.

The development of karakuri ningyo into historical drama might be due to another unique feature of Chiryu's company. On the first floor of the dashi, a platform extends specifically for ningyo joruri performances. These shows, which occur before the robotic puppets take the stage, date back to the matsuri’s Edo era origins.

It’s likely that this integration with local joururi ningyo troupes influenced the karakuri company to try its hand at historical storytelling and incorporate the bunraku trifecta: tayu, shamisen, and puppeteer. The dashi reflects this synthesis, with a center tier that is dedicated to the narrator and shamisen player, forming a towering theater with three different stages.

While Chiryu Karakuri Ningyo Company usually only performs every other spring, this year they are busier than ever as I follow them to indoor shows at cultural centers, rehearsals for Charleville-Méziéres, and celebratory events that mark their introduction into UNESCO's Cultural Heritage list. It’s an exciting and fruitful time for a puppet company that almost didn’t survive the 20th century. 

Like most puppet troupes in Japan during World War II, Chiryu’s karakuri ningyo performances completely ceased. It took some companies decades to recuperate after wartime due to the destruction of puppets, lack of national pride, and economic strain. Luckily, Chiryu City found the funds and spirit to rejuvenate the dormant tradition. In 1950 The Chiryu Karakuri Ningyo Company was founded by Mr. Shinji Sakata. Today, the company is directed by his son, Morohiko Sakata, and has almost twenty members. It’s a diverse group of insurance salesmen, farmers, students, an architect, and a few city officials. 

Some of the men have been performing together for almost 30 years, but there are still plenty of new members. In order to survive, there has to be. While the masters of other Japanese traditional arts, such as noh, bunraku, and kabuki, are often in their 70s and 80s, karakuri ningyo takes a lot of unexpected endurance and dexterity. 

In order to reach the top tier of a dashi, you must pull yourself upwards through tiny compartments, your hands gripping the floor as puppeteers navigate around you. Once at the peak, you balance in-between wooden cross beams as you stretch your neck upward to manipulate the puppets, trying to avoid the glare of the sun.  

My original expectation was karakuri ningyo would be similar to handling a marionette, requiring a sense of elegance and specificity. While the puppet’s movements can be crisp and expressive, there’s nothing graceful about the manipulation. As I jostle rods and tug at string, it feels like operating heavy machinery. I often struggle to garner enough strength. The puppets, fabricated from Hinoki wood, are heavy and difficult to command. Not to mention they’re filled with interior mechanisms, additional costumes, and hidden characters.

For example, the onerous puppet of Okabe includes a collapsed miniature Shinto shrine and an additional puppet head. He also wields a spear that swings another karakuri ningyo around on its end. To manipulate Okabe, it doesn't just take practice, but serious muscle-power. 

Now, I see karakuri ningyo's manipulation more similar to the powerful puppet machines from Walking with Dinosaurs than marionettes or rod puppets. I’m awed by the troupe’s greatest trick of all - they make it look easy. 

After rehearsals, as the group gathers around the small television set with beer and kameda crisps to watch footage of past performances, the youngest members hang by the stage. 


They’re trying to get a grasp on the puppet, Kojiro, a boy warrior who must draw a bow and strike his arrow at the center of a target. There’s no illusion. The puppet must really pull-off the coup. Manipulating only Kojiro’s arms and hands through a series of strings and rods, it’s even more difficult than shooting the real thing. 

The young men practice over and over, most of the time unable to get Kojiro to successfully string the bow. One of the old-timers approaches, beer in hand, and takes a stab at it. He tugs on the strings. Kojiro draws. Bullseye. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Youkiza Puppet Company, Four Centuries of Breaking Rules & Pulling Strings

Sayoko Yamaguchi in performance of 'Pelléas et Mélisande' at Youkiza, 1992.
via Japan Times, 2015.

Masahiro Matsuda-san takes me backstage at Nose Joruri Theater, one of the largest joruri companies in Japan. The theater sits just north of Osaka City, a few miles from Mt. Nose and the remarkable Myokensan Temple. Matsuda-san, who was recently appointed director of the theater company, is faced with the challenging task of raising attendance during a time when visitor numbers are steadily shrinking. He has tried to modernize the production's promotional ads by featuring puppets in spacesuits or black and white cinematic poses more reminiscent of Casablanca than Chikamatsu with little results. Backstage, he holds up the wooden kashira of a female puppet. With the pull of a string, she transforms into a demon with horns sprouting from her head, her mouth in a dangerously fanged grin.

A few months earlier, Matsuda-san had the puppet-makers change the color of her mouth from black to a vibrant  blue. This seemingly insignificant choice, the interior color of a puppet's mouth, went too far. Patrons were upset and Matsuda-san found more trouble than he expected. Things were changing too fast.

Traditional Japanese performance, from Noh to Bunraku, is often marked by this strict adherence to historical custom. Ritual is pivotal and anything divergent can be interpreted as disrespectful to the ancestors who practiced before. The national arts are not just entertainment, but an expression of what it means to be Japanese. So when I attended a production of Doll's Town, an original show by Japan's oldest puppet company, Youkiza, I was left totally bewildered. The production traveled between decades, activated magic lanterns for illuminated explosive air raids, featured humans and puppets interacting in Andy Kaufman Howdy Doody intimacy, and set fire to one of the leading characters.

via Europe Magazine, 2011. 

Started by Magosaburou Youki in 1635, today the company is led by Magosaburou XII, who generously invites me to his studio to explore. Surrounded by marionettes, magic lanterns, and hot coffee in Youkiza's beautiful West Tokyo studio, I have just one question for Magosaburou-san. How does Tokyo's oldest puppet troupe become one of the city's most ambitious and daring theater companies?

At its conception, Youkiza originally performed Buddhist parables with marionettes, each puppet manipulated by seventeen strings attached to a flat control paddle known as a teita. At its center, the teita had a small see-saw-like bar that operated the puppet's head and feet. The puppet's neck was attached to the body through a knob known as a choi. With the assistance of a skilled puppeteer, the choi string brought the puppet to life, creating realistic breath and head movement that, along with the teita, have become synonymous with the company.    

via http://www.youkiza.jp 

During the heyday of itinerant puppet performances in Edo Japan, about five perecent of companies performed with marionettes. However, Youkiza stood out for other reasons. It was one of the first ningyo companies to adopt the collaborative support of a narrator and shamisen player, and they frequently commissioned original plays from contemporaries, including the Edo Era cult figure Hiraga Gennai, who wrote the satirical essay On Farting. Sure, Youkiza did the quintessential Chikamatsu tragedies, but the puppet theater also produced many unknown works before plays gained wide popularity through kabuki and ningyo joruri houses. A fan of these stringed spectacles, the Tokugawa government supported Youkiza throughout the Edo period. Nonetheless, the company faced serious economic challenges that worsened as the Meiji era dawned and shogun rule collapsed. By 1866, Youkiza almost disappeared.

It was the ninth Magosaburou Youki who brought new life to the troupe by reinvigorating the risk-taking penchant that was at the heart of Youkiza. He radically eliminated the tayu and shamisen, brushed up on his storytelling chops, and manipulated the 17-string marionettes while delivering the puppets' dialogue himself. When speaking about Magosaburou Youki IX, Magosaburou-san grins widely across the table, weaving tales about the puppeteer's rebellious escapades, including the introduction of the Magic Lantern, or Utushi-e, into the company's repertoire. The IX performed these illuminated spectacles across the city, including Tokyo riverbanks, where fishing boats were repurposed as puppet stages, and crowds gathered outdoors to witness the astonishing mystical lanterns illuminating keyholes into colorful new worlds.

via http://www.youkiza.jp 
During Youkiza's 2017 production of Doll's Town, three puppeteers emerged operating magic lanterns projecting slides of fighter jets. Through the lantern's internal mechanisms, the glowing illustrations were transformed into crimson explosions. It's a two-hundred year old technique created by light, lenses, and just a few glass slides - but the moment is surprisingly effective, perhaps even more effective than actual footage.

via http://www.youkiza.jp

It's an odd paradox that this artifice feels more sincere than reality. As I bring up this conundrum to Magosaburou-san, he pushes his coffee to the side and waxes poetic. For Magosaburou-san, the tools of the puppet theater, from marionettes to magic lanterns, activate an audience's dormant curiosity. These limitations of the physical object are metaphysical invitations for a viewer to engage his or her imagination and enter head first into the world of the play.

via http://www.youkiza.jp 
At the end of the 19th century, these techniques were just as effective, as Magosaburou Youki IX's innovative introduction of magic lanterns and new performance methods contributed to the rise of Youkiza's popularity. The company worked feverishly in Japan's yose, a type of Japanese Vaudeville. They performed alongside musical acts, magicians, and comedic storytellers known as rakugo. However, despite this success, the company continued to face obstacles, from internal family conflict between Magosaburou IX and his son, Youki Isse (Magosaburou X), the rise of the film industry, and the devastation of World War II, which left much of Youkiza's Edo era puppets and magic lantern equipment destroyed. 
Via the Tokyo Arts Council
However, for Youki Isse, the 21st century's economic and existential challenges inspired him to question the role of Youkiza in a rapidly changing Japan. Like his father fifty years earlier, Isse wasn't satisfied with the company's work. He wanted to diverge from the world of yose and experiment with large-scale productions, dramatic works, and broadcast television. While Isse's defiance led to serious paternal conflict that lasted decades, he led Youkiza into a fruitful collaboration with NHK, Japan's public broadcasting network. Under industrial lighting, where puppet faces cracked and set piece were set aflame, Youkiza produced one of the first broadcasted puppet shows in Japan. The live televised performances garnered national attention and newfound support for the company, leading to an era of large-scale theatrical productions and new contemporary work. Establishing Youkiza's place in modern Japan, all with the same puppet fabrication and manipulation techniques from the last three and half centuries, Isse was eventually granted the Magosaburou title by his father.

via http://www.youkiza.jp
Two generations later, Magosaburou XII shares so much in common with his ancestors it feels like they are at the table with us. Like his forefathers, Magosaburou-san didn't have any toys. As children, the Youki line was only allowed to play with marionettes. By four, they all made their stage premieres, performing marionettes alongside fathers and grandfathers. But most similarly, he has pushed the company in new directions, producing Japanese kabuki classics, the radical works of Artaud and Jean Genet, international collaborations, and original shows that explore post-war and post-bubble Japan.  As an artist who developed in the 1970s, Magosaburou-san found inspiration in Tokyo's radical underground  theater movement, ultimately incorporating the spirit of Shüji Terayama and Juro Kara into his Edo era company. This has shaped a contemporary Youkiza that offers a rare reflection into both modern and traditional Japan. 

via Blog of Sakate.

Today, the company is designated a "National Selected Intangible Folk Cultural Property" and a "Tokyo Municipal Intangible Cultural Property," however, Youki-san admits he faces pushback from cultural institutions. As one of the oldest surviving theater companies in Japan, officeholders, cultural ambassadors, and bureaucrats want him to stick to tradition. But what if your tradition survived by taking risks and challenging the status quo?

via @ihajiro. https://twitter.com/ihajiro

I ask Magosaburou-san what kind of work he hopes Youkiza will produce in the future. "I can't really know and I don't really care," he responds. "As long as they keep using the same puppet techniques, I'm ok." And how can he care? In order to survive, it's about answering the question that every Magosaburou Youki has asked for the last 375 years. "What Does it mean to be Japanese in this moment... and this moment... and this moment..." It's a question that never gets old. 

For more information about Youkiza, visit their website at: 


Monday, May 29, 2017

From Takayama's Spring Festival to an Extraterrestrial Ritual: The Shared Awe of the Crowd

Last November, I made my first visit to Hida Takayama to witness the god of luck, Hotei, balance two tiny acrobats on his shoulders and dance above an audience of expectant tourists. Many of us waited for hours, fiddling with digital cameras, snacking on onigiri, and gazing up at the empty stage anticipating the entrance of one of the world's most famous Edo era robots.

Accommodating over a thousand visitors into the shrine took some serious maneuvering, highlighted by the fall out between an enraged elderly man swinging a tripod and the tripod's owner, a photographer who arrived late and jockeyed through the crowd to set-up front row center.

After police officers removed the suspect from the shrine accompanied by the gentle applause from the grandmother to my right, things settled down as we stood shoulder on top of shoulder, heads tilted skyward, waiting patiently in puppet idolization.

After Hotei's performance, the small city of Takayama, filled with Sake factories, robotic puppets, and one of the best hamburger shops in Japan, had me hooked.

Just a few months later, I hopped on a JR Expressway bus and headed back. As the driver travelled through the winding Hida mountains during a small snow storm I was excited to return without the throngs of festival goers and packed itinerary. During my second trip, I found a quiet town in the grip of winter as I carefully balanced across ice-covered sidewalks to cozy-up in the karakuri ningyo cultural archives belly full of Hida beef.

My third visit to Takayama was three months later in April during Sanno Matsuri. Takayama's fall and spring festivals are both enormous celebrations, each with their own ensemble of elaborate floats, or yatai. They each attract thousands of visitors from across the world, filling the streets with 18 foot floats adorned in glowing lanterns, dancing teenagers manipulating wooden lion heads, and a contagious chaotic euphoria.

This year, for the first time in Takayama's history, an additional festival is scheduled in May to celebrate the designation of the yatai as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Treasure. The ten yatai from the fall festival, Hachiman Matsuri, will wake from their hibernation, decamp from their garages, and roam the streets of Takayama at the same time as the thirteen yatai of Sanno Matsuri. It's hard to believe, but this event will attract even more people than the annual festivals, which already feel beyond capacity.

To navigate through Takayama's main street during a matsuri means relinquishing all autonomy and giving-in to the dense tussle of the crowd. As someone who tends to avoid any event with more people than a weekly book-club meeting, I am bewildered by those who willingly attend overcrowded events, from pop-star studded concerts to professional sports games.

The next morning the three yatai with karakuri ningyo travelled over Takayama's famous Nakabashi bridge and met at the city center.
Caked in sunscreen, I spent hours scoping out a spot near a roasted rice ball vendor, Jinya Dango. It was just as crowded as the previous evening, but as the yatai arrived and the puppets emerged, we relaxed into a pleasant anticipation.
Photograph by William F. Condee
As the February snow thaws from Gifu Prefecture, Sanno Matsuri brings forth three puppets that embody the essence of spring's arrival - transformation. With the opening of a mysterious box, a young boy transformed into an old man, an angry dragon burst from a cage, and a fan-dancing woman mutated into a wild lion. With each transformation, the crowd gasped in unison. Similar to my experience in the fall, the karakuri ningyo are some of the best in Japan.

On the second day of Sanno Matsuri, the procession of yatai was cancelled due to rain. However, the karakuri ningyo puppeteers agreed to perform inside the yatai garages. I made my way through the historic streets of the east district to watch one of the performances.

In a narrow alley, surrounded by only a hundred or so spectators, I watched the same performance as the previous afternoon. The show is based on a Japanese tale about a young boy who welcomes a drunk old man into his home, suspects him of being a dragon, locks him inside of a box, and drops him off near the Japanese sea. Filled with vengeful rage, the old man transforms into a dragon and breaks from the boy's makeshift cage. The two puppets are skillfully operated by 32 strings running through the the extended stage, or toi track, by six puppeteers hidden underneath. 

Even though I knew what to expect, I couldn't help but join in with the collective gasp as the dragon burst forth and launched confetti into the air. Afterwards, I thought about the previous morning when this same moment of wonder was shared amongst thousands. Despite having spent the last twenty-four hours begrudging my fight through the crowds, I missed sharing this show with the enormous mass of visitors. Even though these performances are for the gods, there's something about reacting to transformations with thousands that makes them feel like a mystical event.

Takayama's karakuri ningyo performs the impossible - it unites crowds of strangers into one shared moment of awe. I left the garage with a newfound empathy for those who enjoy the thrill of attending a World Series.

A few weeks later I'm in the hometown of Mt. Fuji, where the theater director Kuro Tanino premiered a new work, Moon, at the Shizuoka World Theatre Festival. Last year I wrote about Tanino's production Avidya: No Lights Inn, and I spent the winter months of 2017 interning with his company, Niwa Gekidan Penino, as they remounted the production Darkmaster at Komaba Agora Theater in Tokyo. Now in Shizuoka, I found Tanino skipping the conventional stage for an environmental experience that transformed the city's famous open air theater into an extrasolar planet complete with a cast of five little people in spacesuits and a make-shift moon-landing set reminiscent of Tom Sach's Space Program.

Photograph by Chiye NAMEGAI.
Shizuoka World Theatre Festival. Kuro Tanino's Moon. 2017. 

Each show welcomed a substantial audience of about four hundred as they made their way through the performing arts park towards a massive collection of astronaut helmets. Adorned in these stellar costumes, the enormous crowd followed the cast through the woods, collected geometric sculptures, and assisted in the creation of a celestial monument at the peak of the massive outdoor theater.

Photograph by Chiye NAMEGAI. 
Shizuoka World Theatre Festival. Kuro Tanino's Moon. 2017. 

Mame Yamada, who also played the lead in Avidya: No Lights Inn, sat at the monument's apex as hundreds of spectators stared up at his tiny figure with anticipation. Towering above, with his long hair, short stature, and hypnotizing movements, Mame-san felt like a space-age deity or a living version of Takayama's mystical puppets.
Photograph by Chiye NAMEGAI. 
Shizuoka World Theatre Festival. Kuro Tanino's Moon. 2017. 

The enormous mass of space helmets, continually intensified the stage images. By interacting with other audience members, transforming the environment, and staring reverently skyward at a three foot astronaut standing on a geometric shrine, Moon felt more more like a extraterrestrial matsuri than experimental theater. 

There are many moments of awe-inspiring spectacle in the performance, including a dance scene with music played solely from a collection of amplified Gamboys. With an enormous float designed by German theatre artist Caspar Pichner, the event culminated with the transformation of the outdoor theater into a grand celestial view. As if watching Earth rise from the surface of the moon, the entire audience of space-helmet clad visitors quietly took in the stage.

Photograph by Chiye NAMEGAI. 
Shizuoka World Theatre Festival. Kuro Tanino's Moon. 2017. 

Takayama matsuri and Tanino's Moon are two rituals developed centuries apart. They don't ask us to identify with their characters, but create an environment where we identify with each other. During both experiences, I recognized my shared impulses with other audience members, and entered into a sort of group consciousness often overlooked in the darkness of a conventional theater seat.

In the performance of Moon I attended in Shizuoka, the experience ended with an awesome but somber image - the Earth is an unsettling foggy tint, no longer inhabitable, void of its natural green and blue wonder. Yet, it's still an uplifting conclusion. The audience emerged from the other side, together, looking down at the Earth's surface in a shared silent stupor. We've learned how to be with each other.

For more information regarding Kuro Tanino and Niwa Gekidan Penino: http://niwagekidan.org/english

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Towering Matsuri of Inuyama & Ichinomiya

On April 1st, Inuyama Matsuri marks the start of Japan's spring festival season. Over the course of a few months, hundreds of floats will emerge from their winter hibernation and travel across the small towns of Aichi Prefecture bringing music, excitement, and puppet shows.

Often known as Aichi's "Little Kyoto,” Inuyama is lined with preserved Edo era homes, traditional Japanese inns, tea houses, and museums. The small but popular destination welcomes visitors with Japan's oldest castle, which towers over Haritsuna Shrine, home base for Inuyama's spring festival. With its enormous parade of thirteen ornamental dashi, large crowds of excited visitors, and neighborhoods brimming with culture, Inuyama is the perfect place to fall back into Japan's festival season.

On the first day of the celebration, Inuyama's dashi, or yama, gather in front of Haritsuna Shrine. The thirteen floats, each adorned with karakuri ningyo, tower above thousands of eager spectators. These are some of the tallest dashi in the Japan, measuring about 7 meters high. However, they are more slender than their cousins, and, despite their height, weigh about the same. Instead of ornate wooden carvings, the dashi are constructed from narrow beams and adorned in local textiles. Also, To help manage the float's weight, the karakuri ningyo puppets are a bit smaller.

Inuyama Matsuri is home to one of Aichi's most unique floats, a stunning 6 meter boat that travels through the narrow streets performing the story of Urashima, an old man who spends four hundred years underneath the Pacific. Typically a dashi's decorations, carvings, and embroidery won't offer too many clues into the karakuri ningyo they shelter. However, this stunning gold-trimmed vessel creates a unified vision of Urashima's famous nautical tale.

Urashima is not the only celebrated personality at Inuyama Matsuri. While children always play an important role in Japanese festivals, from pulling floats to playing music, the kids in Inuyama are adorned like living idols. The leader of the annual festival, or chigo, is selected each year from local primary school students. This six year old is draped in silks and a crown as he leads the annual procession.

Other children are dressed in beautiful outfits accessorized with decorative swans.

Like the blossoming sakura that attracts millions of tourists to Japan from across the globe, children represent Spring's sense of purity, rebirth, and future prosperity.

However, this has not been a good year for cherry blossoms. While April 1st in Inuyama is usually marked by a vibrant backdrop of blooming flowers, an unusual shift in weather has brought a spring season lacking the renowned colorful flourishes. As the afternoon parade of children lead the dashi underneath the naked trees, my mentor and friend Yasuko Senda can't help but mention the number of kids participating seems to shrink each year.

For locals, the future of these festival traditions always feels precarious. During the opening ceremonies, Inuyama's mayor mentions another event happening simultaneously 30km away - the grand opening of Japan's first Legoland. Sure, it will contribute to the economic development and growth of tourism to Aichi Prefecture, but the mayor reminds the crowd that it's got nothing on his hometown's 383 year old festival.

Compared to performances of Bunraku and Noh, where the majority of audience members are elderly enthusiasts in their 70s and 80s, I feel like Japan's festivals are far from drifting into obscurity. I mean, I just had to scramble through a crowd 3,000 people to watch a puppet show. But the residents in small town Japan are more aware of the country's population decline and impact of locals migrating to urban centers. It's inescapable, no matter how busy the festivals get. The children, with swans rising from their backs and head pieces tangled into blinking LEDs, aren't just symbols, but physical treasures of hope and endurance. 

Inuyama Matsuri continues for two days, marked by a stunning night parade and another performance of the thirteen karakuri ningyo.

The shows on the second day are performed at the shrine. Each dashi is pushed towards the torii gate by a team of young men. 

Unlike other floats, the massive wheels allow men to gather underneath the dashi to push and pull the towering vehicles throughout the city.

The floats are are filled with the local children, who look down at the crowds with curiosity, as the puppets perform for the gods.

In the neighboring city of Ichinomiya, the small town hosts their own festival two weeks later. Given their close proximity, the two matsuri share a lot of similarities, particularly the slender and towering dashi. However, Ichinomiya's floats are more modest. Instead of expensive fabrics and ornate decorations, the dashi are decorated in white papers that symbolize donations received from community members.

Inuyama's city government allocates a large budget to preserve and promote the annual festival. However, Ichinomiya lacks government support. Instead, the festival relies on the local shrine, Iwato Jinja, to organize fundraising efforts. While the festival might feel a bit more unorganized, lacking the Master of Ceremonies and VIP tents for special guests, the event is filled with ritual, including the offering of seven well-dressed horses to the shrine's god before they are paraded through the town's streets.

While the dashi may not have the same ornamental flare or financial support as Inuyama, the karakuri ningyo in Ichinomiya are well-rehearsed and exciting. It's some of the best performances I've seen so far during the spring season.

While watching the mechanical puppets trapeze across the towering stage, it corroborates my new adage, "You can't judge a puppet by it's dashi."