Japanese Marching Band

The Chindon'ya are a type of Japanese marching band that wear elaborate costumes and perform in a variety of festivals, shop openings, and other promotions or special events. Originating in Osaka during the late Edo period, most of the remaining Chindon'ya are based in Tokyo.

Chindon'ya usually consist of 3 or 4 members, but sometimes as many as 7 or so performers. One is the Oyakata, meaning parent or leader, who plays the chindon drum, carries the paper umbrella, and is usually the main singer and speaker of the group.

Usually, there is another person who generally leads the procession, the hatamochi, literally, person who carries the flag. This person generally does not play a musical instrument, but carries a flag announcing the event that the group is promoting that occasion. He often also hands out leaflets for the shop opening, festival, or other campaign.

The Chindon'ya may have started in the Edo Era, but their heyday was in the postwar years. It is during this period that the incoming musical influences of the American Occupation forces, as well as the slowly recovering economy, that led to the great flourish of Chindon'ya. Often performing in black markets and, in particular, for pachinko parlors, Chindon'ya thus gained a kind of a dark notoriety.


The Chindon'ya are, most importantly, musicians. They play a very unique musical style, that shares a lot in common with vaudeville and New Orleans style marching bands. The band is led by one or two drummers, one of whom - the oyakata - plays a drum that has bells, tambourine, and other percussion instruments.

The percussion players are accompanied by one or more wind instrument players, including clarinet, saxophone, and even a tuba. They play a variety of songs, including not only traditional Japanese songs, but even American tunes, including military marches and jazz. While Chindon'ya are generally performing to draw attention to a store or festival, their music is distinctive and entertaining. They are often very good with children, and some groups now include juggling or other activities as a part of their show.

In the link below, the award-winning band from Chindon Geinosha (Chindon Performer Company) performs a popular children's song from the anime Anpanman.


What's in a name?

The name Chindon'ya is onomatopoeia. The sounds "chin" and "don" refer to the bells and drum beat sounds made by the Oyakata on the Chindon drum.

But despite the exaggerated fun and exoticism of Chindon'ya, their association with pachinko parlors, black markets, and store promotions have continued to give them a bad name. The word can sometimes mean any 2showy performance that is intended to divert attention away from a scam" and is often used in reference to politics and bad business.

This, I think, is unfortunate, because, as performers, many Chindon'ya are first rate. The Chindon Geinosha performs regularly at festivals in the suburb I live in. They are entertaining, fun, and full of joy and goodwill. Hopefully, they will outlive their current decline and will see another revival in a post-TV advertising era.


by mikekato

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