Well I know I shouldn’t be complaining (what with half the UK underwater at the moment), but I’m bored of snow. We’ve had it here for 3 months now, there was a wonderful moment when it almost went away a few weeks ago but it’s STILL HERE! I love snow, but this is just ridiculous…Tokyo had snow the other day, for the first time in years, and it just ground to a halt – very reminiscent of the UK. It also happens to be cold, very cold. However, I can’t complain too much – it’s National Foundation Day here in Japan, so I get a loverly day off (^^)
Now, the main point of this entry, apart from bemoaning the cold, was to talk about the festival (I know, another one) that I went to at the weekend. This one was called the ‘Namahage Sedo Matsuri’ (yes, our old friends the Namahage) and was to take place up in Oga – in the North of the prefecture where we went to see the original Namahage performance.
The idea of the festival is that the Namahage come down from the mountain (flaming torches in hand), do some dancing/drumming, grant some wishes, scare some kids and then go back up into the mountain.
All the while, it was snowing (annoying for taking pictures and general warm-ness) and we hung around a huge fire (nice and toasty). So it was a combination of hair freezing and ashes, but definitely fun!
The bit I wanted to see the most was the Namahage dance, I only got a side view but it was still pretty cool. We had to kneel down in the snow (since we were in the first few rows), so we had cold knees by then end of it, but I felt most sorry for the Namahage. They only had straw shoes on (no socks)!
Since the festival took place right next to the Namahage museum, we got to see a number of different costumes that came from different areas and eras:
I think this video of the procession covers the mood of the festival best!
While I thaw out, you can enjoy this 🙂 next weekend I’m heading off to the Yokote Kamakura Festival – what’s that, you ask? Well, it’s lots of these:
So until then, またね！
So my experience literally was fire and ice, both in the same week!
First off, we had a trip to see the Hi-buri Kamakura Festival (this is literally the Kamakura fire-swinging festival) and yes, we were definitely allowed to participate. Imagine, me + fire…..a fantastic combination! It was happening only about a half an hour from the university and as soon as we got there, you could smell that wonderful bonfire smell (which permeated EVERYTHING I was wearing).
The festival itself is to bring good luck for the new year, so it started with a Shinto priest saying some blessings over an alter filled with offerings. It seemed very sombre (and bloody freezing) and was only offset slightly by the fact that, under that traditional costume, the priest was wearing welly boots!
As soon as he was done praying, they moved the altar away and set fire to the pyre behind it – it was spectacular! People threw all their old fortunes and new year things onto the fire (to send away the bad luck) and then bales of straw, attached to a rope, were lit from it. You took the straw and swung it around your head for good luck. It’s a lot harder than it looks (I totally didn’t almost set my arm on fire!).
When we were done, we all had a nice cup of local sake to keep us warm (and get a little merry). Then it was back home to stick everything into the wash….seriously, it stunk of bonfire smoke!
The following weekend, while fighting a cold, I had another outing – this time to go ice-skating with some high-schoolers from Akita city. We were supposed to be practicing English with them, but as I seem to be finding, none of them seem very inclined to talk much – we got some conversation done, but it was minimalistic. The more fun part was the ice-skating bit. The prefectural ice rink is HUGE – literally a rugby stadium size of huge!
We all got our boots when we got there – I had to change mine several times to get the right size and even then it was tricky. The boots are not rigid like the ones I’ve worn before…so it was hard on the ankles. However once I was on the ice it all came back to me! We were there for two and a half hours and I didn’t fall over at all! I even managed to pick up some speed!
(I’m holding up the girl behind me at this point!)
Tired and with sore feet, we made our way back to AIU where, an impromptu snow battle began – nobody was spared. Even Dr Ashmore (who happened to be at the bus stop) joined in! I ended up in a dog-pile face down in snow at one point! It was brilliant fun!
(by the way, us lot on the back row are standing on about a foot of snow)
Oh…and this happened:
So until next time: またね！
So after all the fantastic weather last week (i.e. the snow), this week was mostly torrential rain and ridiculously violent thunderstorms. The worst of those was around 5/6am on Thursday morning – I swear it waited until it was the day I had an exam. Said thunder decided to be so loud that it shook not just my cabin bed, but the entire room! It was freaky and cool at the same time!
On Tuesday evening, we also had a bit of an issue with the thunderstorms…..it was about 7.15 in the evening, normal night, when suddenly the lights went off. I was glad at this point I had my torch next to my desk. Not long after they flickered back on again, but within a minute they were off. It wasn’t only our room. It wasn’t even just the campus (even the street lights were off). It was the whole of Akita city as well. We heard a number of announcements about the power outtage (i.e. that they had no idea what had happened and that if we were cold we should go to Komachi hall or the Cafeteria). The most amusing part of this was the fact that, because of the power cut (teiden), none of the toilets would flush. Oh Japan…..
After a while of attempting to do homework by torchlight, I decided (prompted by Callum) to go to Komachi to what was happening. It was fantastic! I thought we were going to be rubbish without the internet (we are of that generation) – even our phone service was out. However people were sitting around tables in candlelight, the foreigners brought beer, someone brought a guitar and started a live session. I went back to my flat and got my Uno cards and played Uno with some friends and their room mates by candlelight!
Eventually some of the staff came in to let us know that basically a lightning strike had hit the power station and set it on fire. We were dancing a little at the fact that if the power didn’t come back on soon, we wouldn’t have classes the next day. However a little under 2 hours later, the lights came back on and everyone returned to being a normal technology-obsessed student. I did have to laugh at a line of people in the cafeteria who were still working on their laptops during the power cut.
On a lighter note, I had a couple of big events this week! I did an open mike on Thursday night – my first 3 songs were a bit rubbish (because of nerves), however my last song (a great reminiscence of home) got the crowd going. I was surprised by how many people knew the words! If you haven’t guessed already, it was 500 miles (by the Proclaimers). Here’s the tail end:
Finally, today I had a speech contest! It didn’t go amazingly well (I never expected it to) but it was a lovely experience! I met lots of new people, I had to work in a team at one point with several lovely old Japanese people – we had to guess which country a picture full of food came from.
Afterwards, when walking back to the bus stop, we saw the lovely Christmas lights along the main road in Akita! It reminded me that it’s only a month until Christmas!! So, on that happy not, til then またね！
Oh, and this is Elena and I eating ice cream…in the middle of November 🙂