October brings the Nagoya Festival, a massive parade throughout the city celebrating three great warriors and historical leaders connected to the city: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. However, this is by no means the only – nor even the most interesting – of the festivals celebrating the city’s great history this month. Another festival that is well worth checking out, though something of a far cry from the great leaders of Japan, is the Osu Street Performers’ Festival in Nagoya’s shopping district of Osu.
While today Osu is best known for it’s Buddhist Temple and broad, eclectic collection of unusual clothes stores and boutique restaurants, the history of Osu is something a little bit different.
During the Edo period, ‘yūjo’ (literally ‘women of pleasure’) and brothels were restricted to ‘yūkaku‘, a closed-off area reserved for the sex trade, a red light district as we know it today. In Nagoya, that area was what we now call Osu. As these yūkaku flourished, as well as being home to the city’s sex workers, they grew to include all manner of recreation activities, from fine dining to theaters to shopping and street performance. It is these entertainers from Osu’s 400-year history that are celebrated today.
While there are many street performers’ festivals in Japan, Osu’s began in 1978 as an alternative to Nagoya’s main festival, allowing only Osu to lay claim to being the oldest. Around 250 street performers, musicians and artists will show off their skills, up close and personal, allowing you to see close hand the dancing, juggling, and magic routines on offer.
The highlight of the festival is the ‘oiran’ parade. The oiran were members of the sex industry; however, unlike the regular yūjo, they were the highest grade of courtesan, proficient in traditional Japanese arts and able to converse with wit and authority in all manner of subjects. Oiran were a precursor to the now more famous ‘geisha’. Accordingly, they were well paid (an evening with a one of the top oiran costing somewhere in the region of a shop worker’s monthly salary), and thus ornately dressed.
And it is this dress that makes for such a spectacle as modern-day oiran (who maintain the artistic side of the job but eschew the sexual aspects) are paraded through the Osu arcade, a remembrance of times gone past.
The festival itself is particularly good fun for all family members, from children to adults, and of course, there is plenty of good food, with many yatai food stalls on top of the great selection of eats that Osu already has on offer.
Need more reasons to go? Check out our ‘getting to know you: Osu’ guide.