I’ve been seeing these manjuu (sweet dumplings) everywhere since arriving in the San’in region.
Turns out they’re a souvenir based on the Dojou Sukui, a 300-year-old comical dance about digging for loaches, but the silly fisher is distracted by things like mud splashing in his face or getting bitten by a leech or his loaches getting away. It’s a well known folk dance all over Japan, but it’s strongly associated with the city of Yasugi. The dance is usually performed with the cries of a-ra-essassa! from “Yasugi-bushi” (“The Song of Yasugi”) as an accompaniment.
There is a performance hall in Yasugi where you can watch this dance (and get lessons, I think), but when getting there is a little difficult, there’s always Youtube:
This is just one example. While the basic elements of the jolly dance remain the same, the expressions vary depending on the performer. One very famous performer is Yasuo Araki-san, a very spirited 86-year-old man who has performed this dance all around the world. He speaks at least Japanese, English and Russian, and you can read his English blog intro here. He also shakes hands at any opportunity! I lost count of how many times we shook hands in the two times we’ve met, and when the car I was in was driving away and he couldn’t reach my hand through the window like the passengers in back, he flashed me a peace sign.
I had the pleasure of learning this dance from Araki-san, as well as a short zeni-daiko (coin drum) dance–this is a local instrument that’s bit like a decorated paper towel roll with tassles and filled with coins. Learning the basics of the Dojou Sukui dance didn’t take long, but it requires a little silliness.
Araki-san said my footwork was really good. I wonder what that says about my loach-catching abilities? He enthusiastically encouraged me to go over at any time for more lessons, and I received his official letter of recommendation, as well as a couple pieces of supplies for performing this dance when I leave Japan someday. If I could put together the outfit, it might be fun. We didn’t use them this time, but the dance is performed with a 5-yen coin tied under your nose! …I have no idea why. It seems I still have much to learn from Araki-san.