Yamakasa

Last night we stayed up all night with the help of multiple canned coffees from 7/11 to watch hundreds of Japanese men (and a few children) pull floats around the town. We scored an excellent spot near a garbage pail of water that people were throwing on the participants, so we got nice and wet, which was seriously appreciated, considering how hot it was at 5 am.

We are off to visit an island for the long weekend but here’s a really cute picture! So excited for the beach!

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Festival Season!

The rainy season is finally over, and that means it’s time for my personal favourite! Festivals! There is a festival to attend every weekend around here, and if you’re adventurous, you can probably find one to attend every night during the week too.  While festival season technically coincides with ‘summer’ and you do have to put up with a lot of heat and humidity to attend them, they are certainly worth it.

A student drew me this picture of Yukata, the traditional festival wear for women. I am going Yukata shopping soon, and assuming I can find one that fits, will be wearing it to all future festivals! I think my clumsy self will be skipping the wooden sandals though.

Every town has at least one major summer festival, with food booths, dancing, games, and a fireworks display. I love the atmosphere at festivals, and the fireworks put every Canada Day celebration I’ve attended to shame, but the real standout is the food. Okonomiyaki, yakitori (grilled meat), yakisoba (grilled noodles), fried chicken, and tacoyaki (fried doughy balls full of octopus) are cheap and delicious. For dessert my favourite is Taiyaki – a pancake shaped like a fish and filled with custard or chocolate.

This poster is for the Setaka fireworks festival. Each of these men is on the planning committee. I think it’s the most hilarious poster.

Today I will be attending Yamakasa – an ancient festival in Fukuoka city where mostly naked men run around pulling carts and getting splashed with water at 5 am. Next week I am going to a fireworks festival and a dragon festival! Bring on the shaved ice and the okonomiyaki!

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Happy Hands

It’s the little things that I will miss most about Japan.

For example, my sweet tap penguin. The tap in my bathroom is connected to the toilet, and this little guy waves his arms every time the toilet is flushed.

Good times in the bathroom!

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Japan’s weird food: Karinto Manju

My new favourite obsession is this snack, availible at the utilitarian bakery near the train station in Chikugo.

Karinto is deep fried flour and sugar, and manju is a sweat with bean paste in the middle. Combine them, and you have this wonderful treat.

Crunchy on the outside, sweet on the inside, I was in such a hurry to take a second bite I didn’t even get a good picture. Sorry.

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Daijayama – Fire Spitting Dragon

This weekend, we were lucky enough to get a preview of a float from Omuta’s biggest festival – the Daijayama festival. Kids tell me it means giant snake, but in a less literal translation, it’s fire breathing dragon. It’s next weekend in Omuta, and I can’t wait!

One of my Oba-san (grandmother) friends took me to see her Karaoke teacher, who happens to make these dragons in his garage. It’s made out of Bamboo, paper mâché, and straw.  I am holding the tail and the eye, and Scott has the ear. These parts are saved after the festival and given as good luck charms to people in the community who have babies, get married or retire in the next year. It takes this guy four months to make each dragon and most of the dragon is burned after the festival, and they starts all over again the next year. Craziness!

 

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Riding the Yufuin No Mori

For Scott’s birthday we took the day off and traveled to a nearby hotspring town, Yufuin, in Oita Prefecture. While Yufuin was lovely, full of quaint shops, natural hot springs baths, and delicious food, the highlight of the day for us was taking the train.

Yufuin no Mori, meaning Yufuin’s forest, is a luxury train that travels from Fukuoka to Yufuin and back 4 times a day. At the time we had no idea it was a special train, but knew that it took about half the time as the local, and cost only $10 more.

It quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary limited express. The interior of the train was covered in wood, and the area in between the carriages were large open spaces, and the seats were wide and comfy. After departing, an attendant came around with props to take pictures of tourists, on their own camera. Whenever we passed a scenic area, announcements were made in English and Japanese and the train slowed down as we passed.

This week is Tanabata – or festivals of the stars. Legend has it that there are two star lovers who are separated by the milky way and can only meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. People all over Japan make wishes for clear weather so the stars can meet, and also wishes for themselves. They write these down and hang them on trees. The train ladies were happy to explain this tradition and help us to fill out our own wish and hang it at the station.

Because it was Scott’s birthday, they gave him a free drink and a little card, and on the way back, the girls counted 27 candies into a cup and presented it to us as we left the train.

Being extremely visible minorities here, along with Japan’s tradition of amazing customer service, has meant that we received special treatment a lot. It’s a strange feeling, to be so easily picked out as different.  A little unnerving, but people have been nothing but extraordinarily kind to us here, and I am going to miss interacting with Japanese people a lot.

 

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