Monday, January 22, 2007

sennen no koe

For my birthday, mom got us all tickets to Sennen no Koe in Omotesando. 千年の聲 - Voices of a Thousand Years, a Buddhist chanting group from the mountains of Toyama. At first, it was strange to see a Buddhist group in this performance hall instead of a temple. But the incongruity faded as we watched, and I remembered that American Gospel groups often performed concerts - they don't need churches to sing well, or to be holy. Also, the theatrics were minimized. There were a few lights and the costumery was elaborate. But, after all, their voices dominated.

First a monk came in to light some candles on stage. Then, a procession of monks in varying colorful robes entered, holding assorted musical instruments and other accouterments. Some were holding canopies mounted on long gilded poles, assumedly to shelter the most important monks from the (non-existent) elements. The most striking instruments were the large conch shells that some blew into, striking because I had never seen the like in Japanese music. But Toyama is a sea-bordering province, and this group, as the name suggests, is old as dirt.

Perhaps most interesting was the role of women in the procession. There were a number of them, also chanting, but at one point in the ceremony, the whole lot of them (about 20) walked in formation along strips of white cloth, blindfolded and wearing broad straw hats. It didn't seem to be a virgin-gift thing, as the women varied greatly in age. And when they reached the congregation area, they removed their own blindfolds.

Metropolis says that this ritual is representative of the cloth bridge to paradise, allowing women to enter a usually off-limits area. So I guess it's cool in a way, because it's an inclusive ceremony, although it stinks that they're not generally allowed in the first place. I'd love to know more about this... guess I'll have to get out my kanji dictionary and try to muddle through the program.

We also ate at It's Vegetable! in Kinshicho, a wonderful vegetarian (and almost entirely vegan) Taiwanese restaurant. The food was so good that I kept forgetting to take pictures before attacking it. Standing out were the cashew chicken and the sweet&sour pork.

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