Enormous umbrella dance has spectators again

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Dancers raise and lower their bright umbrellas as they dance at the 50th Tottori Shan Shan Festival in 2016 in Tottori City.

TOTTORI — This summer, thousands of dancers will perform in Tottori City a paper umbrella dance that once broke world records for the largest umbrella dance.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Tottori Shan Shan Festival is normally held on major streets in front of JR Tottori Station, but this year the summer tradition will be held at an athletic field. The festival was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and last year’s festivities were held without spectators, so it will be the first time in three years that spectators will be present to enjoy the dances. About 50 groups are scheduled to participate on Aug. 14.

Earlier this month, members of Hyakkaryoran, one of the dance groups, practiced at a gymnasium for the festival. Brightly colored umbrellas opened in unison with the light steps of the dancers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Members of Hyakkaryoran practice umbrella dances for the festival.

“It looks easy to do, but it really isn’t. The dance is actually very complex!” said Kimitaka Ikemoto, leader of the group. “There are several points that create a beautiful dance, such as the angle of the umbrella, the direction we look and our smile.”

Nearly 20 members of the group are scheduled to participate in the festival, practicing twice a week. A 16-year-old girl joined the group last year and will perform for the second time this year.

“Being in front of people makes me feel good. I’m sure I’ll be able to smile naturally. I can’t wait for the stage,” the high school student said.

The Tottori Shan Shan Festival began in 1965, based on a local traditional performance that is believed to have originated from a ritual praying for rain. At the climax of the festival, dancers spin their umbrellas in unison to the tune of local songs, creating a spectacular scene.

Children’s groups, work groups and enthusiast groups all perform, which truly makes it a festival that encompasses all of its citizens. At the 50th festival in 2014, 1,688 dancers participated, which earned it a place in Guinness World Records for the largest umbrella dance. In 2018, a record 4,279 dancers participated in the festival.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hand bells used in the Suzukko dance

The umbrellas used in the festival have bells attached to them, which jingle as the dancers move. “Shanshan” is an onomatopoeic word that describes the sound of the bells, as well as the city’s gushing hot spring waters.

In 2006, a new dance, Suzukko, was introduced to the festival that uses smaller hand bells rather than the traditional umbrellas, allowing dancers to move more freely and rhythmically.

In addition to trying out new things, festival organizers are also making efforts to pass on the original umbrella dances and train new leaders. They have conducted tests to certify technical skills since 2015 and about 280 people are certified.