Every spring the University of California San Diego holds a festival they call “Sun God.” Sun God is a free-for-students concert, sporting such big-name artists as Alien Ant Farm, Bad Religion, Ice Cube, and Afro Man. I was always impressed that a University could secure famous performers for a show that their students can watch without having to pay a penny.
Yet the real fun of Sun God was never really the concert at all; in fact, many students don’t even bother to attend. The fun of Sun God was always the day leading up to the evening show.
Namely, campus-wide complete and utter chaos.
Everywhere you go students are partying, drinking, dancing, and having the time of their lives. The school invests thousands of dollars to hire extra security and try to prevent underage drinking, but everyone knows that Sun God is the day when anything goes.
In my fraternity we used to organize Beer Walks where we’d spend the day moving from one on-campus apartment to the next, playing drinking games and partying until we could walk no more. Whenever a friend came to visit on Sun God they always expressed their jealousy at my being able to enjoy the college life idealized in Hollywood movies, even for just one day a year.
But after attending this weekend’s Rits Fest it’s hard to imagine that I was ever able to call Sun God a school festival. Maybe that’s the difference between a school festival in America and a “Gakuensai” in Japan; maybe here they’re always just as crazy as Rits Fest. But that’s pretty hard to imagine.
Some of you might recall a few posts when I’ve expressed particularly strong amazement and awe at a day’s events – namely, “The Most Incredible Day,” “A Day To Rival April 11th, 2005,” and “The Mega Trip Part 3 (Tokushima, Iya, Naruto, Anabuki).” This weekend ranks right up there with the top three.
Whenever I experience something that leaves such an impression, I struggle with how to communicate it in words. Even if I include pictures and video I feel that it’s impossible to express the effect that such experiences have on one’s five senses. That’s how I felt at the Tokushima Awa Odori festival.
Sure, I can say “it was amazing, the festival just kept going and going in every direction, the energy never dwindling, the music never quieting!” But that doesn’t even come close to what it feels like to walk around a city in southern Japan at three in the morning watching tens of thousands of people dance and cheer in traditional kimono and yukata.
So, what made Rits Fest so amazing? Two straight days of nonstop entertainment from 12 noon to 8pm. The main stage had a set-up easily as nice as the Metallica concert I went to back in high school with live camera crews, spotlights, and even fireworks. But this was just the main stage. All over campus there were smaller stages set up for various performances – jazz bands, heavy metal, swing, Okinawan dance, a cappella, even mock pro-wrestling. You name it they had it.
But even the variety, shocking as it was, wasn’t the most amazing part. It was the quality. I haven’t heard musicians this talented since seeing Buddy Guy live in Lincoln Park, Chicago. I repeatedly found myself forgetting that these were all the same students with whom I wait in line for food five days a week. If someone had told me that any one of these musicians was a millionaire rock star I wouldn’t even bat an eye. Rits Fest truly is the embodiment of the Japanese commitment to perfection.
And it doesn’t end at the music. Many of the Jazz, Funk, Rap, and Enka (traditional Japanese) performers had beautifully choreographed dancers to accompany them. Sometimes there were too many dancers to fit on stage at once and the audience had to be pushed back to make room for them on the grass.
Other times the dancers were small groups of only four or five; these were the ones who took the opportunity to impress the crowds with gravity-defying flips and breakdancing spins so quick you barely had time to comprehend what was going on. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the number of performers topped a thousand over the two-day weekend.
Oh, and let’s not forget the double-dutch jump ropers! Do you remember my post back in May when I talked about the Ritsumeikan Double-Dutch Team? Their acrobatics are so spectacular that they’re being flown to New York to compete in the world jump-roping championship this year…again. If you think a world jump-roping championship sounds stupid, have a peek at the video in May’s post. Then come back and tell me what you think.
At one point I actually started to get overwhelmed by how much there was going on, and decided to take a quick one-hour study break. I headed inside one of the buildings in search of a quiet classroom. Think again. Even the ten-plus outdoor stages don’t cover all that this school festival had to offer: many of the classrooms had been lent out to smaller clubs so that they could show off their stuff as well. And while you might be thinking “yeah, stick the crappy musicians in a little room to keep them happy,” you can take my word for it that these were no ordinary street-performers. When I get around to it I’ll post a video of some of these “classroom musicians” – even they won’t fail to blow your mind.
Alright, enough with the entertainment. Hungry? No problem…all throughout campus were booths and stalls set up with various games, foods, and even alcohol. It was just like any other festival in Japan, except with more variety. You want a beer? A crepe with caramel shavings in it? Yakitori? Kimuchi nabe (Korean soup)? Indian curry? Hot dogs? Chu-hai (Japanese liquor)? French fries? Udon? Just buy it from your buddy’s booth.
That’s right, I said beer. While UCSD spends thousands of dollars trying to suppress the inevitable drinking at their festival, Ritsumeikan lets their student clubs sell beer on campus as fund raisers! Now if that doesn’t say “freedom” to you, I don’t know what does.
Last but not least, we come to the random weirdos walking around campus in costumes to liven up the mood. I’m really not sure where they all came from, but there were people walking around in everything from simple kimono to animal costumes to gigantic afro wigs. The guy in the picture to the left was walking around in a speedo carrying an ab wheel (keep in mind it’s the freezing cold winter right now and everyone else was wearing ski jackets). He would sidle up to a pair of girls sitting on the grass and start exercising his abs right in front of them. Oh, Japan…what am I going to do with you?
In conclusion, I would like to second Mr. Suzuki’s emotion as conveyed by this picture.
“RITSUMEIKAN, WE LOVE YOU!”