Helloooo! It’s been too long…
It’s certainly been an interesting few weeks!
At the beginning of the month, as part of my Intercultural Class, I got to visit a Primary School in Akita city. We had lunch with one of the classes, then split up to play ‘English games’, tell them about our country’s own Primary Schools (in Japanese) and play with them at lunch time. I had a fab time meeting some of the cute Year 1s, teaching them some really simple English and surprising them with my Japanese!
The unexpected part of the trip was, that on our way into the city (while going through a nearby town) we drove past a bear on the side of the road. It was only about the size of a Saint Bernard Dog, but it was still pretty cool. It was also my first time of seeing a bear like this in the wild!
The weekend after this, I had the opportunity to go to see a Kabuki play (something I have been wanting to do while I’m in Japan). Kabuki is a traditional Japanese play form where the actors (all male) wear elaborate make up and costumes. The plays are often traditional stories and can last for hours because of lengthy set changes. Feminine looking males are prized by the trade because they can play the female characters well. Obviously we weren’t allowed to take photos during the play, this is the poster.
There were 3 plays in total, the first one being two beautiful dances by a wife and a concubine. This one was my favourite, because they were so elegant and feminine (despite both actors being male).
The second play was just a line of people introducing themselves in very lengthy keigo speeches. They were really hard to follow…the only good bit about that one was that one person just lost in and started laughing. It caused a domino effect of the giggles – all the actors had bowed heads, so all you saw was the shoulders going up and down, and then an apologetic bow! The audience loved it.
The final play was the story of a village idiot who wanted to be a sumo wrestler. He was helped out by a prostitute who was drunk, and thought he was funny. 10 years later, he has become a mob boss, and so repays the prostitute and her family(who doesn’t remember who he is until the very end). It ends in typical Japanese style, with the main character regretting that he could not become a sumo wrestler like a promised. It was this play which I understood the most. We were given summaries in English, but the rest of the play was guess work!
During the scene changes, a beautiful curtain was pulled across the stage:
Lastly, this weekend we revisited the lovely peninsula Oga – where we had a trip to in October. The, rather early, morning took us first to Oga Aquarium where we could see seals, penguins and a polar bear. The funniest part of it happened while I was standing next to an octopus tank – a Japanese couple looked at it and though it looked, and I quote, ‘tasty’…
I also got to see a cute seal, just chilling in his pool, and looking remarkably like me when I go swimming!
(casual seal selfie)
After this, we went to Cape Nyudozaki (which lies on the 40th Parallel) to have our lunch. I may have done a bit of rock climbing, taken more time than I should, and then run back up the cliff barefoot so that I didn’t miss the bus! Scraped up my legs a bit, but it was pretty good fun!
Next was the return to the Namahage museum (where we went to see the Namahage Sedo Matsuri) to watch a short Namahage performance – it was fun seeing my friends, who didn’t know about Namahage, get scared when they jumped out!
The museum itself takes all of about 5 minutes to walk through, so the hour a half we had there, was mostly spent eating ice-cream out in the sun!
Finally, we headed up the Mount Kanpu (another revisit). This time, the weather was a lot less windy and a lot more sunny! There were loads of paragliders jumping off the top of the mountain, and beautiful scenery everywhere!
That’s me pretty much up to date for now. It’s slowly becoming more obvious that my year abroad is coming towards its conclusion. Last week I had my ‘End of Semester Orientation’ meeting, letting us know what we have to do before we leave. All quite sad, really!
Well, until next time またね！
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！
I’m sorry to inform you that winter is no longer coming…..it’s here!!!! The first snow (hatsuyuki) has fallen….and gone again. Literally within the last few days it has rained torrentially, snowed, snowed again, melted (in a rainstorm) and it was both eerily misty and autumn-like sunshine today….you explain that one!
Apart from the snow, I’m sad to say that not many interesting things have been happening lately. Our attempts to celebrate bonfire night ended up being 5 Brits and 1 American sitting in a bar, playing blackjack and drinking hot sake. We also had a Hello Kitty burning on a fake bonfire:
Not bad for being made at a bus stop!
We also had a bit of a cultural experience at the shopping centre nearby. They were celebrating their 10th anniversary and so had a wonderful Namahage performance by a group from Oga (where we went for the other Namahage performance).
All the parents and kids gathered around to see it and we had to laugh when several were dragged away in tears because of the scary Namahage. They are an interesting local deity, part-demon, part-god who are supposed to be good luck. These Namahage actually went around the crowd and shook many hands…
I think I’ll leave you guys with a lovely image that I was faced with this week – a good omen? I’ll let you decide, またね！
So, the main event! (thereby losing all credibility on being punctual with my posts….)
We arrived at the Oga festival hall and the outside area had such a festival atmosphere (as we were to find out later). The show itself was an amalgamation of traditional Japanese dances and songs from all over the country (I initially thought it was just Akita, but as it transpired, it wasn’t). The program included:
– Folk songs from Akita
– Sado-Okesa (a traditional dance from Niigata prefecture)
– A Lion Dance and Eisa (drums) performance from Okinawa
– Namahage-Daiko (by far my favourite) which was a a drum performance by people dressed as the local demons/deities called Namahage
Here is (hopefully) a video of the performance:
After the performances, we stepped outside to the sight of all the performers lining the entrance and applauding (shouldn’t it have been the other way around?). We were just getting over being overwhelmed by this fantastic group of performers when the fireworks started going off. Now these weren’t just ordinary fireworks – they were amazingly complex!
Even after this, we were allowed 20 mins at the festival outside where there was a giant (and I mean about the size of a double-decker bus) drum with people sitting on the top.
On another side, there was a display of Kanto. This is a traditional Akita display where the males balance reeeeeally big bamboo poles with lit lanterns on them. It sounds easy, but these things way at least 9 kilos. The females beat a complex rhythm on a huge drum and play numerous flutes to direct the other males who are chanting.
Next time: AIU Festival! またね！