On the stage were three rows of ten men each, dressed in warrior-style hakama and with imposing headbands knotted in the back. I was astonished to see that every one of the thirty was holding a drawn sword. The spacing between the rows was about half a meter, and the clearance left and right was no greater. A solitary man stood apart from the formation at the edge of the stage. This lone figure wore that same hakama but had dispensed with the headband. Instead of a sword, he carried a drum attached to his chest, similar to that of a street performer. This man began singing out 'iyaa, haaa' in a leisurely voice, punctuating his curious song with drum beats. It was a wondrous song with a unique rhythm that I couldn't place. It might be described as a fusion of the Mikawa Manzai with the voices at a Buddhist initiation rite.
The song was slow and deliberate, flowing formlessly like syrup in the summertime. Drum beats were inserted periodically, imposing a rhythm over the song's continuity. In response to this rhythm, the blades of the thirty flashed in rapid movements of great dexterity, sending chills through the onlookers. There was a live human within a half meter in any direction, and that human in turn was swinging his own deadly blade in a similar fashion. Only precise coordination of their movements prevented them from striking and maiming each other. It wouldn't have been so risky if they'd swung their sword in place, but the entire company stepped and turned in unison. They also spun in circles and bent their knees. If the next man over were a second quick or a second slow, one could lose one's nose. One might even slice off his neighbor's head. The blades moved freely, but within the confines of a squared pillar half a meters on a side. Each blade had to swing in the same direction and at the same speed as those around it. I was spellbound. The shiokumi or sekinoto dances were nothing compared to this. I was told that it took extensive training. It was no easy task to stay together. The most difficult role was that of the droning drum master. The footwork, hand movements, and hip motions of the entire troupe all followed the lead of his beats. From where I sat, this old fellow looked to have the easiest role, singing away in secure comfort. In truth, he bore a heavy responsibility and was exerting himself tremendously.