Home > Focus on Japan 2004 > Hyottoko


January 17th, 2004

If you watched the QuickTime video I posted of the New Year’s “hatsumode” visit to the local shrine, then you undoubtedly noticed the young people in the strange masks (above and below) dancing about in a rather stylized fashion. These are known as “Hyottoko,” as you may have heard Hiromi exclaim in the video.

Hyottoko is an abbreviation fo “Hi Otoko,” or “Fire Man,” from the idea that this character blows fire from a bamboo tube (hence the mouth shaped as it is). Their dance is considered comical, and is said to have been used as long as 900 years ago to amuse troops fresh from battle. The female equivalent is known as “okame,” though I didn’t see any at the shrine. As far as I know, there is no special tie between Hyottoko and New Year’s, but it was fun to have them there; you may have noticed one of them doing the shishi-mai head-biting thing on me in the video. I’m guessing that a lot of mixing and matching of traditional entertainment was going on there. Whatever the case, it was fun!

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