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JapanFocus
Samba Meets Sushi
Brazilian samba carnival celebrated in Tokyo
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2007-09-24 17:48 (KST)   
Scantily-clad samba girls attract lots of attention at Asakusa's yearly Samba Carnival.
©2007 D. Weber
Every year, the traditional district of Tokyo known as Asakusa gets treated to the very untraditional sight of samba girls dancing down the street in front of Senso-ji, one of Tokyo's most dignified Buddhist temples. A kaleidoscopic swirl of color fills the street as musicians, dancers, and floats move to the sound of the samba beat rather than a somber Buddhist dirge.

Asakusa's Samba Carnival began in 1981. The mayor of the district at that time wanted the winners of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival to put on a display in Asakusa. It was so popular that the untraditional event became a traditional one. Today the festival has become a four-hour long parade of samba groups from all over Japan.

Colorfully-attired musicians strike up a lively Latin beat.
©2007 D. Weber
A samba dancer atop a fiery float.
©2007 D. Weber
Thirty to 40 groups compete in three leagues for prizes every year. The top league is comprised of groups who take their samba seriously, while the other two leagues are for those who are there mainly for the fun of it all.

The groups pick themes every year. The themes can be elegant like sparkling jewelry or autumn leaves or they can be comical like the one I saw this year where women had large doughnuts strapped to their shoulders.

©2007 D. Weber
Godzilla likes samba?
©2007 D. Weber
Close to 4,000 people participate in the samba parade every year. The majority of the participants are Japanese but there are also a number of foreigners who participate, most notably Brazilians and Japanese Brazilians.

Japanese Brazilians bring some clarity as to why the Asakusa Samba Carnival exists in the first place. A large number of Japanese reside in Brazil. In fact, Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan including the United States. Migration to Brazil started in the early 20th century with farmers looking for better conditions abroad. A number of them inter-married with Brazilians and converted to Catholicism.

The Lollipop Gang representin'.
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
In the 1980s during the bubble economy, many Japanese Brazilians began to migrate to Japan. There are now over 275,000 "Dekasegi" -- Japanese Brazilians -- living in Japan. So Japan and Brazil share a special tie culturally; for example, Japanese immigrants introduced judo, which has became Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The Asakusa Samba Carnival represents this cultural bond between these two countries.

Most visitors to the carnival are no doubt not aware of this nor likely do they care. They come for a taste of Rio's famous Carneval -- for the costumes, music and splendor of the whole thing. And taking pictures -- lots of pictures.

©2007 D. Weber
A samba dancer refreshes herself with bottled water.
©2007 D. Weber
The scantily clad samba ladies who best represent in most minds the carnival are the targets of thousands of cameras, which snap away in a frenzy of photographical ecstasy. I am somewhat hesitant to believe all those photographers were taking those pictures solely for artistic purposes simply because the designs of the ladies' costumes -- what little there were of them -- were so gorgeous. However, I allowed ignorance to blissfully cloud my mind as I fought for space among the densely huddled photographers to take my own pictures and videos.

The Asakusa Samba Carnival is held on Saturday toward the end of August beginning around 2 in the afternoon. With the enthusiasm of some photographers, it would be best for samba aficionados to arrive probably around noon to get a good view.

©2007 D. Weber
Mmmm sexy doughnut!
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
Viva la carnival!
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
(Young) Elvis lives!
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
Record-setting costumes.
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
Don't turn me off!
©2007 D. Weber
Bovine beauties.
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
©2007 D. Weber
and on a final note
©2007 D. Weber

- Some Highlights of the 2007 Asakusa Samba Carnival in Tokyo 

©2007 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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