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Umbrella spectacular returns

                                Members of Hyakkaryoran practice umbrella dances for the festival.
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Members of Hyakkaryoran practice umbrella dances for the festival.

TOTTORI, Japan >> On Sunday thousands of dancers will perform a paper umbrella dance in Tottori City that once broke world records for the largest umbrella dance.

The Tottori Shan Shan Festival, which normally takes to the streets nearby the Tottori train station, this year will commence at an athletic field. The summer tradition was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and last year’s festivities were held without an audience. This will be the first time in three years that spectators will be in person to enjoy the dances. About 50 groups are scheduled to participate.

Earlier this month, members of the Hyakkaryoran dance group practiced at a gymnasium. Brightly colored umbrellas opened in unison to the light steps of the dancers.

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

Nearly 20 members of the group are scheduled to participate, and they are practicing twice a week to get ready. A 16-year-old teen joined the group last year and will take part in her second performance.

“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,” she said.

The Tottori Shan Shan Festival began in 1965, based on a local traditional performance that is believed to have originated from a ritual to encourage 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 enthusiasts all perform, making the event one that truly includes all of the city’s residents. At the 50th festival in 2014, 1,688 dancers participated, earning the fest a place in the Guinness World Records for the largest umbrella dance. In 2018 a record 4,279 dancers participated.

The umbrellas used in the dances are outfitted with bells that jingle as the dancers move. “Shanshan,” a term that describes the sound of the bells, also identifies gushing hot spring waters.

Leaders of the festival are looking ahead to ensure the festival’s longevity by introducing new dances. In 2006 they introduced suzukko, a dance that uses smaller hand bells rather than the traditional umbrellas, allowing dancers to move more freely and rhythmically.

Organizers are also providing classes to teach original umbrella dances and train new leaders. They have instituted certifications for dancers, and since 2015, about 280 people have been certified.

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