The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Beauty and the Beast

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I saw a young woman eat a live snake tonight. Of course she killed it first by biting off its head and to further add to the dramatic effect that action had, if any more drama were needed, she let the blood run down her chin in rivulets of B-movie macabre all of which had the cameras in the audience clicking and not a few of us gasping in shock,  because none of us, NONE, were expecting that to say the least

Such acts involving the decapitation of otherwise harmless animals are probably illegal in my country, at least they should be, but they didn`t used to be of course, back in the era this circus act hails from. Like some trip back in time where entertainment meant standing at the edge of rough wooden stages with rising dust filling your nose and sweatily close actors cavorting directly to you, this freak show was old fashioned, extreme and simple and despite it all being  so, so wrong, it was quite mesmerizing.

Each time I`ve gone to the Mitama matsuri, which takes place this time of year in Tokyo`s controversial Yasukunishrine, I`d passed by the temporary wooden cabin, where the show takes place, with its gaudy , painted murals/advertisements on route to Lemon Chu-His and taco-yaki in the surrounding stalls. But I`d never gone inside until tonight. There being no mikoshi to photograph in front of the spectacular lanterns and basically having shot this matsuri to death already,  I decided that tonight, I would.

It was interesting without a doubt, though I am not sure the cultural experience I`ve just had is one of the traditional arts worth preserving, it was certainly a very unique trip to another idea and another age of entertainment. Apart from the snake eating woman, there were, racist charactures of Chinese, idiots (image 4) one of whom flashed her breasts as she twitched and squirmed around the floor in some over reaction to implied modernity; while another proved idiocy by eating lit candles and later, with much encouragement from the other “idiots”, poured hot wax in his eyes. before them came blackened monkey-humans (I have no idea what exactly they represented but they are image 3) who screamed and clambered around the rafters like Butoh dancers eating large chucks of dry ice in clouds of painful and scarring steam and if  that wasn`t injurous enough one even stopped a spinning table fan with his face. There was also a vertically challenged magician, who was actually pretty good and controlling it all was a creepy-looking ringmaster in a glittering suit and a top hat who wore a huge fake mustache.

I`d like to say I`ve never seen anything like it before but these rather un-reconstructed novelty shows are surprisingly common in Asia and as I write this I`m reminded of another freakshow I saw in Thailand where I wandered around uncomfortably close to the false bearded lady and legless mermaid, among other tricks of mirrors and make-up, who did nothing but sit there, centimetres away from us, and wait for the visitors to laugh at them. I couldn`t laugh, it is not in me to laugh at misfortunes in others however make believe they are.

Neither canI forget that the snake in the picture above was real and its own, separate, salient being until bitten in half by the girl in red who after munching on the still twitching flesh turned the carcase up and sucked the blood out like it was a nearly finished ice-pop and I have to ask myself who really is the beast in this story.

Damon

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9 responses

  1. hunyaga

    It’s a shame that performance art is an excuse to be really horrible to some poor snake. what a bitch.

    July 15, 2009 at 5:31 am

  2. If anyone knows of a better way to eat a snake then let them come forward but in my book that is the only proper way to enjoy a snaky snack.

    July 15, 2009 at 6:04 am

  3. What is this? At my beloved Shrine?

    July 15, 2009 at 6:18 am

  4. Which part of the festival is this?
    Inside the “haunted house”?

    July 15, 2009 at 8:38 am

  5. There is no better way to eat a snake but then again i don`t think she needs that particular diet, Phallus. No Doug it is at the circus type cabin next to the haunted house, 600 yen to enter and you can stay as long as you want, I think. You`ll probably only want to stay one round however if you ask me, the old fashioned acts are cringingly unpleasant. You have to admire the anacronistic bravery and sence of history though, then understand why some culture is not always to be kept intact.
    Good to have you here Alex!
    Damon

    July 15, 2009 at 11:06 am

  6. why oh why do I never get a call from my British comrade when he is off to such bizarre events??
    have I not done enough to convince him that I am EXACTLY the guy you want to go to a live snake eating show with??
    clearly not.

    July 16, 2009 at 12:22 am

  7. Adrian, sincere and heartfelt apologies for the glaringly obvious oversight on my part. It was, by way of an excuse, rather unplanned for me. I wasn`t sure I`d get Monday night off until Monday afternoon so took the train straight from work, had mare with error 01 affecting my 24mm lens (bad contacts and such like) luckily had the the 17mm to hand and it was all a bit rushed and well I am never ever going to forget you next time I do something. Indeed I am hoping to see you on Friday night as I have that night off too and will talk over a good idea with you for this Monday. Take care my Alien friend and once again I really am sorry because as I think about it now you would totally be the perfect person to share that with. Though I always imagined you as a vegitarian!
    Damon

    July 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

  8. Sometimes only one word will suffice: bizarre!

    July 17, 2009 at 10:16 pm

  9. Pingback: Seeing Red « sungypsy blog

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