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！
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！