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