Tokyo-rickshaw at HYPER JAPAN, London

live report - 19.08.2017 01:01

Tokyo’s singing, dancing rickshaw men take the HYPER JAPAN crowd for an entertaining ride.

The Tokyo-rickshaw performance group, based on the rickshaw drivers, or "shafu", of Tokyo’s Asakusa district, were formed in the run up to the 2020 Olympics with the aim of promoting tourism and the traditional Japanese values of "omotenashi" or hospitality. They’ve done a sterling job of fulfilling their promotional role at HYPER JAPAN. These enthusiastic performers haven’t retreated to the dressing room between shows. They’ve spent the weekend out and about in the Tobacco Dock venue, chatting with people, posing for selfies, signing autographs, giving free rickshaw rides and generally charming everyone they meet.

But they’re here to perform too and as showtime approaches a video plays on the big screens, taking us on a rickshaw ride through the streets of Asakusa. Tokyo-rickshaw enter the stage dressed in their traditional "shafu" uniforms, whose shorts display some authentically muscular rickshaw driver’s legs, and they begin with a spot of acrobatic tumbling and flipping to the intro music.

Their opening number, Otokomichi is a peppy, upbeat song. The instrumental break also serves as an acrobatic break and the group launch into a criss-cross routine of kicks and cartwheels, throwing themselves into each other’s arms. They had measured and marked out the stage before their show but it’s still a tight fit and some of their flips and cartwheels come just a little too close to the stage-side equipment.

A brief MC is a chance to catch their breath and the group’s members, Watanabe Zeo, Takano Tsuyoshi, Tamaoki Yuuya and Ishibashi Takuya, introduce themselves in turn before announcing the next song Otokogi and urging the audience with a “Let’s enjoy together!” This number has a more relaxed, enka style to it, featuring traditional shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko drums. The gymnastics are cut to a minimum too as the group line up behind their microphone stands.

The set continues with Ware arite ware omou. The song’s loud, chanted chorus and choreography gets the energy going again, as well as encouraging some enthusiastic glow-sticking action from the front row. The stage lights show up the sweat as it flies off the dancing "shafu", which might not be the most attractive look, but it demonstrates the maximum effort that they put into their performance.

Pausing between numbers, Takuya addresses the audience, “We are rickshaw drivers. We want more people from overseas to see rickshaws, looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. When you come to Japan, please visit Asakusa.” He starts to introduce the last song, which is met with a disappointed groan from the crowd, until Tsuyoshi reminds him and the crowd that there are actually two songs left, which draws a cheer now that the fun will last a bit longer.

They regroup to perform Run!, an easy going pop number, before their final song Ikitewakarukotogaaru. Beginning with a gentle piano introduction, Takuya takes the lead vocal. Though singing duties are shared equally in their show, it’s Takuya’s warm, expressive voice that stands out in this ballad. The group line up at stage front, getting the crowd waving in time to the music and finish by thanking the audience in unison, then giving three deep, polite bows to all sides of the venue. The obligatory HYPER JAPAN crowd photo follows, which might be their umpteenth selfie of the weekend, before they depart backstage, applauded all the way.

Set list

01. Otokomichi
02. Otokogi
03. Ware arite ware omou
04. Run!
05. Ikitewakarukotogaaru
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