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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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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Sumo Wrestling in Fukuoka

Every year there are six grand Sumo tournaments in Japan, held in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. Each tournament lasts for 15 days, and we were lucky enough to see the second last day of the Fukuoka tournament in November.

A quintessentially Japanese experience, the sumo tournament begins at 9 and lasts until around 6, making for a very long day for the spectators. The lower ranked wrestlers compete early in the day, with the matches leading up to the grand champions in the the evening. Many attendees don’t show up until around 4, just in time to see the higher ranked wrestlers compete. We were there around 2, as we wanted to have time to explore and learn a little about Sumo. It gave us a chance to see the Sumo wrestlers walking around outside in their traditional uniforms, and marvel at their sheer size. As well we had plenty of time to buy Hello Kitty’s dressed like Sumo wrestlers, Sumo magnets, Sumo ear cleaners and other hilarious memorabilia.

As the sumo wrestlers enter the ring, they take their place around the circle and are introduced to the crowd. Wrestlers compete in two groups – east and west, and are paired off with someone else in their skill level from the opposite group. Every day they compete against a different opponent, and the scores from the tournament are added up at the end to declare the grand champion.

Each bout lasts only a few seconds, and the first wrestler to touch the ground outside the marked ring loses the match. Thought the matches were often short and anticlimactic, the mental preparation component before the bout could last up to four minutes, with each wrestler stomping his legs, shouting and throwing salt in the ring.

Sumo has faced many problems lately: allegations of match fixing prompted organizers to cancel the spring grand tournament in Osaka and attendance at tournaments is declining, as most of the fans are elderly, with few young people interested in the sport. However, I thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Fukuoka tournament, and would go again if I had a chance. One of my favourite parts was the advertising. Instead of traditional sporting event advertising of billboards or panels, Sumo wrestlers carried out banners advertising many Japanese brands, and of course, McDonalds.

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Koinobori

May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan. It used to be known as boys day, but because girls day, in march, is not a public holiday, they changed the name to be more inclusive. Families with boys hang these kites shaped like carp, Koinobori, outside of their houses.

The carp was chosen because it represents determination and strength. The Black kite represents the father, Red, the mother and the Blue, the children. I am not sure about the multicoloured kite on top, and no Japanese person I’ve asked yet has been able to explain it.

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Kurume Fireworks Festival

On the day I arrived in Fukuoka, my supervisor and Vice Principal picked me up from the airport. After taking me to the school to meet the Principal and staff while I was still soaked in sweat, they brought me to my apartment for the first time.  The apartment, or Jutakku, as we call it, is a large cinder block building located next to a junkyard of some sort. My first impression was… a year? here?

Luckily, there are 8 other ALT’s living in my building and I was not forced to suffer alone. Four of them are in their second year and immediately they took us under their wing and brought us to a festival in the nearest town. A fireworks festival. One of the largest fireworks festivals in western Japan.

Japan is obsessed with quantifying statements about tourist or other attractions. I have seen ‘one of the three best castles in Japan’, ‘one of the three best views in Japan’ and ‘one of the largest sake festivals in western Japan’. It reminds me of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival ‘the world’s largest outdoor, one day, maple syrup festival.

Anyway, the Kurume fireworks festival was an excellent introduction to the festival culture of Japan. We’ve been to a lot of festivals now, but the first was something special. Rows and rows of food I actually recognized as Japanese food, which was not the case at the grocery store, festival games, and beautiful, gigantic fireworks. Women and men were wearing yukata, or summer kimonos, and pensioners were showing us to seats along the river bank.

Festival Stalls

When the fireworks began, we Japan newbies were astounded by their length and beauty.  The show had two central points along the river, so people around the bend could also see. It went on for an hour and a half, and the finale was spectacular. Of course, on the way home I got completely lost trying to find that cinder block apartment, and wandered around my new town for over an hour. By that point I was glad to see the building and I have been happily, mostly, living there since. Just don’t get me started on the bugs…

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