Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Festivus for the Rest of Us

Now, I’ve only been in Japan for a little over three months, but I feel I’ve already glimpsed certain truths about Japanese culture during my short time here. For example, I have confirmed that Japanese people tend to be hard-working and considerate and that they have a great fondness for fast paced electro-pop. And the thing that has become most obvious of all: the Japanese LOVE them their festivals.

Having said that, I introduce the latest installment on this diary-blog: The Festival Chapter.

1) Ohara Matsuri.

This was the big festival that happened in Kagoshima at the start of the month (November 3rd, to be exact). It’s the largest festival on the whole island, and it had been hyped up the month preceding by trams that had been covered in lights and flowers and which were always accompanied by blaring music. With all that anticipation, I must admit I had pretty high hopes for the Ohara Matsuri. Oh what could be in store for us?
Well, it didn’t disappoint. There were literally hundreds of dance groups, in coordinated outfits, parading down the main street downtown. There were tons of food and novelty/souvenir stands, taiko drum and traditional folk song troupes, and the mayor and all the bigwigs were there. There were people in costume portraying legends and mystical creatures and archetypes from all the old Japanese stories.

I took the video as I was walking towards the meeting point for the "foreigner's dance group." The party hadn't really started yet, but it gives you a sense of what it was like. That is, if you multiply the clip you saw by 1000.

There were also foreigners. Many, many foreigners. We gathered together in a heroic attempt to learn and execute three traditional dances (plus the Macarena) for the pleasure of the onlookers. And I think we did alright, if I do say so myself. We may not have gotten the dances down perfectly, but people seemed very amused. Who says gaijin can’t dance??

2) Meiwa Middle School Culture Festival

To be honest, it should probably be called the Meiwa Middle School Japanese Culture Festival, but I guess they’re doing their best to (gradually) reverse some of the effects of that whole isolationist policy thing. The band did play “La Bamba,” which was fun.

Apart from that there were lots of skits and dances and singing and a photo slide of the school trip to Hiroshima. The best part may have been when the band director took the mic from the 7th grade soloist, only to make a long winded speech about who knows what, and then burst into song with the whole band acting as his accompaniment. He rocked out.
It’s a tie between that, and the kid who “freestyled” crazily during the eight graders’ dance. If he keeps working at it, he could be one of those youtube sensations some day.

Little Red Riding Hood, Japanese style.

This is the kid who dances amazingly. (He's also really good at sax- he's bound for internet stardom, I tell you!). Until I can get the video up (too long at the moment), this photo will have to be enough.

Before the singing, dancing, etc. could begin, though, there was a sort of fair displaying the best of the students’ work for the semester. I took photos of some of the things that stuck out:

A mogura is a mole, btw. And that little cloud above the mogura is his spirit. :-/

The exhibit for the art class had sports scenes, and ONLY sports scenes. That is, for everyone but one kid. What a rebel....

AMAZING. Go creative kid!

3) Kagoshima University Culture Festival

This was my first visit to the University and it was indeed a real culture festival this time. Southeast Asia was pretty well-represented and there were even some Central Asian countries added to the mix. Exhilarating and delicious. My friend Ayako gave me the run-down on the whole event. Apparently university clubs and departments and sports teams have three days to drink and camp out, selling crafts or games or food to raise money. What exactly are they raising money for? To be able to camp out and drink and sell things. It’s beautiful. Ayako also took me around and gave me the unofficial tour of the campus. Very similar to any American campus, with a few charming bonuses I’ve never really seen before back home.

First, there’s the distillery. They make their own sweet potato whiskey on campus, and they’re really proud of it. I know Brown bottles its own brand of water, and UF makes Gatorade…..but a school producing its very own name-brand booze? Maybe there ARE schools that do this, but I’ve certainly never heard of them....
Japan, you’ve got us trumped.

Second: the barn!!! They have a really nice barn filled with friendly animals. Seriously, you can walk up to them holding a clump of grass and they stick their heads out expectantly. What a nice change of pace for people living in the city! Loves it. Why didn’t we have cows and pigs and horses and goats to pet on the way to class at Brown, huh??

Look at how sweet she is. Happy little cow, makes me want to steal her (and become vegetarian again).

These guys danced in order to attract customer to their booth. What were they advertising? Human Whack-A-Mole.

The Power Rangers were just trying to sell me a rice ball.

4) Not really a festival, but more of an ENGLISH LANGUAGE SPEECH AND SKIT CONTEST

It went on forever and the kids who participated were really into it. Unfortunately none of the students from my schools placed in any category. A reflection of my skills as an English teacher? …naaaah. Although it took me until last week to notice the banner in one of the classrooms said, in giant letters, “ENGRISH.” Almost breaks the heart. A photo of said banner will soon follow.

That’s it for festivals and such. I’d just like to take a moment to talk a little bit about cheese. I love cheese. Not as much as candy, but almost. And unfortunately, Japan just doesn’t do cheese. (Sigh). I need to rant a little bit because they hit me with a double whammy when they gave me these little candy-impersonators at lunch time:

They are called “candy cheese,” but they are NEITHER candy NOR cheese. Imagine my dismay when I tried one and immediately learned that a) they are not little pieces of white chocolate and that b) it was in fact just a small hunk of cheese. Japanese cheese. Also known as rubber eraser cheese. If you want to be really cruel to kids on Halloween, give them Japanese candy cheese. It’s ten times worse than getting those butterscotch candies.

I should have been asleep an hour ago! Peace and love- and happy Festivus. <3

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Fail!!

I know, I know! It's been 4 weeks! What was I thinking? What have I been DOING?

Well, I wish I could tell you...

It's been a lot of teaching, shopping, visits out of town, and general hanging out. Also a few more festivals. It's all gone a little fuzzy in me ol' head. But I shall do my best to recap on the past month. And I promise to do much better at blogging regularly in the future. You have my solemn pledge. ::Cuts palm of hand with samurai sword::

Most recently, I attended a Halloween party! (Happy Halloween everybody!)

It's not really observed in Japan, apart from the occasional jack-o-lantern decorating a store, but all the foreigners in town plus some enthusiastic locals still got together for a big party in a club downtown. I dressed up as a hippie, but I don't think all the locals got it.

I like this one, in which the hippie is arrested by the 70's cop:

Weekend before this one I went with one of the teachers at my favorite school, Meiwa Middle, to a festival in a town called Ijuin.
Ijuin is pretty close to Kagoshima, but it has a much more naturey feel to it that I loved! 6 of my students participated in the kyudo (Japanese style archery) tournament. While they may have lost, they sure looked good doing it. Which is what matters, anyway.

The festival grounds were actually a really old shrine tucked in some mountains. The surrounding trees were huge and the whole place had a mystical, magical feel to it. Especially when it started to rain softly! It was beautiful....

Apart from archery, there were also kendo and sumo competitions. I didn't expect to enjoy the sumo as much as I did, but it was very exciting!
Be warned: the follow video contains images of the male posterior. (Who are we kidding- you love it!!)

Fun Fact: The sumo wrestlers in the video are only high schoolers. I can only imagine how intense pro-Sumo wrestling must be. There were also "middle school and under" competitions happening that day. It's crazy, how many young boys work hard and train to be allowed to wear the coveted sumo wrestler thong.

There were also cool ceremonies happening in the shrine itself. Some young boys were being initiated as samurai! Or something like that. They really were dressed up in samurai armor and the priest chanted and sang and waved a pompom type thing over them. I wish I could explain the meaning, but I can't. So here are some pictures. Enjoy the mystery.

There were also a bunch of stands with games and food and souveniers. I lost a game in which the prize is goldfish, but the guy decided to be nice and gave me a black one and orange one to take home. I named them after important figures in Japanese culture: Naruto and Pikachu, respectively.
Unfortunately, I was not able to keep them alive very long. I think the Ph of their water was not optimal :-/. Naruto died on Wednesday and Pikachu died on Thursday.
I was really sad when Naruto died. As for Pikachu...I had been...dismayed by him, so it was only a slight sadness. (Pikachu had viciously taken bites of Naruto as Naruto was dying on Wednesday! I had to put Naruto into a fruit bowl so that he could finish dying in peace).
I have been contemplating buying a rabbit or marmot as a pet. I think I do better with furry pets as opposed to...scaly wet ones.

Earlier this month I:

1) bought a couch and other misc. items for my apartment and am currently looking for a not-too-expensive coffee table! Here are some pictures of my sweet pad:

This is the view from the balcony at the entrance of the apartment! The volcano you can spot between buildings is called Sakurajima. That means "cherry blossom island."

2) Witnessed a mini-festival down the streets of a shopping district.

I think it's a sort of rehearsal for the big festival happening in my city in November. It's called Ohara Festival and I think traditionally it has to do with cleansing and renewing. This is a big deal sort of festival, apparently. They've been advertising it with these crazy loud trams that run all over the city at all hours of the day:
The reason the mini festival was so important is that there were merchants selling lots of interesting things, of which the most interesting were....OCARINASSS!
That's right. I'm pretty much the next Link. I bought the one that looked the most like the famous Ocarina of Time. It's a little lame that it has a dolphin painted on, but no matter! I'ma learn all the songs from Zelda and win the Princess's heart!

3) Visited my friend, Nick, in Sendai.
Sendai is a small city about an hour north of Kagoshima. It's very beautiful and nestled between two big rivers. We made many delicious and unique pancakes, such as caramel apple and marshmallow coffee chocolate. We then visited a shrine and hiked along the bigger river. 'Twas a fun and gastronomically adventurous time!

Pant, pant. This is the longest post of my life!!
But to conclude, some things around my schools and town that I've particularly enjoyed. I hope you do too!
In this worksheet, students made sentences using the sentence structure "It is ~ for ~ to ~." Example: "It is easy for Mark to be loud."
Most students stuck to boiler-plate answers like, "It is easy for Akira to play soccer." The student who turned in the worksheet in the picture has written, "It is easy for Zushi to make girlfriend" and "It is easy for me to understand love."
AWWWWW!! He gets an A++.
Have I mentioned how much they love Obama here? They really love Obama here. In the picture above, we see that President Obama is joyfully and proudly driving the class bus to excellence!

The slogan "Yes, We Can" is absolutely everywhere....

Yep. The only person giving Obama any competition is Colonel Santa Clause.

Or Captain Santa (Santa as
baseball player) or Pirate Santa (self-explanatory). I wish I had pictures of the other Santa variations I've seen, but you'll just have to imagine those for yourselves. Sigh. Talk about making Christmas commercial. But I guess it makes some sense, seeing as how this is one of the least Christian countries....
Is this where our increasingly-secularized American society is headed???
All you readers who still live in the States- you must save Christmas!

Go! Go! Go!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

He came, he saw, he con...went back to Egypt

So, in the week since I last posted Mark Doss came to visit. This was very exciting because he's my first visitor and also because he's my boyfriend whom I love very much. (Awwww).
Oh, and I turned 23! Good age, I like it.

So among the highlights of his visit:
1. Watching drunk horses parade around a city
2. Getting addicted to a new Japanese arcade game (Dance Dance, anyone?)
3. Bathing naked with a bunch of strangers
4. And much much more!

Let me explain in greater detail.
On Monday (the 21st) Mark and I joined a bunch of the other ALTs on a day trip to a (realtively) nearby city called Kumamoto. We had heard of a very unique festival held in Kumamoto every September, in which horses were fed sake and made to parade drunkenly around town. Yes, I know, not the most humane of parades, but...."when in Rome."
In any case, we arrived without much of a plan to Kumamoto. This turned out to be okay, because the liquored up horses march right through the city center and there is absolutely no way you can miss the incredible amount of people marching in the parade, accompanied by incessant taiko drumming and cheering.
It was quite the party.

We were a bit worried because we had also heard some rumors that that horses were killed and eaten (or simply killed and not eaten) after the parade, but it seems that the rumors, thankfully, were unfounded. Dem horses be safe and sound...if perhaps a little hungover.

We also explored a castle, an old samurai residence. a botanical garden, and a shrine while at Kumamoto!

Apart from sightseeing and enjoying awesome Japanese food, we spent lots of our time at the arcade. Sigh. We couldn't stay away! One game in particular captured our interest. I don't know what the actual name of the game is, but it's Taiko drum version of Dance Dance Revolution. It's just as flashy as Dance Dance and 10 times more addictive.

Speaking of addictive, guess who went to the onsen (public bath house) yet again? Yep, I can't get enough of communal bathing.
Not really, I just took Mark to the onsen because I thought it would be a good cultural experience for him. It was a bit hard to convince him at first, but I think Mark really enjoyed his trip to the bath house. I suppose you'll just have to ask him yourself. There will be no pictures of the naked-bathing-with-strangers. It just wouldn't be proper. And also I didn't want my camera to get wet...

And now, for a little glimpse into what may be the best part of life in Japan. The delicious and amazing sweets they've invented over here:

In no particular order, my favorite candies/sweet stuff are:

1. This taffy type candy

2. This delicious ice cream dessert

3. This soft mushy ball of goodness. It's strawberry and marshmallow and light dusting of what is probably a little bit of cocaine (or something)

Sorry the pictures are so dark. Come visit me and you'll get to see them (and eat them!) in much better lighting.

Tomorrow I return to school! The past week everyone was on holiday- Silver Week, we call it here. But now it's time to get back to school. Sigh sigh.

As always, much love. I hope, wherever you are, you have good candy too.