Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A drunken brawl better known as a festival

Been a while eh? No it hasn’t! My fingers still bear the scars of last week’s relentless updating, but at least me being busy updating the blog doesn’t give me much to talk about for that week I suppose ☺ So ya I’ve been back in Japan for about a week now, most of that time was spent getting back in the groove of things; after posting the one blog entry I had to send out like 30 emails which took well over an hour :S I hope you understand if I feel the need to get away from the computer; I’m glad I didn’t write an update on Monday during my day off ;)

So ya back into the same old same old at work; playing English games in class, having students yell “I love you” then run away giggling after, teasing students with ridiculous questions to test their comprehension. (“It’s hot isn’t it?” when there is snow on the ground) My third years at Tatsuno started making Christmas cards before the break, which are now done; they had to individually present them to me as if it were for me.

A prevalent theme of the cards were snowmen and mice (2008 is the year of the rat on the Chinese Zodiac) One card had a man crying while surrounded with pretty hearts because a mouse was eating his Christmas cake (in Japan KFC and cake are the most festive things for Christmas)

Speaking of cake, single women over 25 are referred to as stale cake or Christmas cake. As in cake that hasn’t been bought yet so it’s starting to go bad and you can get it for a discount. There is a double meaning to the Japanese word for that as in “desperate to be wed” or something. I don’t know if this expression is very common anymore but it’s still strange nonetheless. Men are excepted from any kind of forced stereotype like that of course ;) For any of my gaming friends reading this: the cake is a lie! :O

Friday was a party at Patricia’s in Ina, which was a good chance to catch up with other JETs, who all went their separate ways for holidays. Some went to Cambodia and Vietnam; others back home (South Africa, the states, Scotland) while others bummed around Japan (I think I covered most of the people there…) While Jake and I related our Korean adventures. (pictured: things I miss. Oh egg nog and chocolate milk where art thou? Just joking, John Patty Melissa I hope you are doing well)

Cambodia sounded similar to China in that after hours, 50+-year-old Americans would sit around a bar while seedy girls made their rounds seeing whom they can get money from that night… wink wink. Chris and I saw that at the Hard Rock Café in Beijing and it is something creepy for sure. Vietnam sounds super cool though, where every time you cross the road your life is in danger because there are no cross walks so there is a certain way to cross and be somewhat safe… like keep walking at the same slow pace, make sure you’re visible at all times, don’t hesitate or anything out of line. Apparently the beaches were fantastic too, and Jake was saying North Vietnam is much nicer too. Maybe this will be an adventure for another day, it sounds like some other JETs want to go to Korea with me so there might be another trip in the somewhat near future; I want to see more of Japan first though.

Saturday I had to wake up early to volunteer some English for the students going to New Zealand. I ended up with the same group I tutor Thursdays and it was a lot of fun. It started off kind of slow with “what did you do over the holidays” and other maybe more common questions until it slowly migrated into something they cared more about “who would win in a fight: Pikachu (game character) or Geroro (anime character)” and “where can I catch a Pikachu?”

“Toni chigao!” (tony that’s not it!) Is something I hear often, usually in response to one of my dumb questions. It was fun; I think the Pikachu questions stemmed from asking what they played when they were kids. I told them I played Barbie with my sisters when I was little because my older brother John would beat me up instead of playing together and wondered what kinds of things Japanese kids play when they are small. (Speaking of which, what DID John do when he was younger? He didn’t do much with his younger siblings :P) I don’t know if they understood though as the one student, Ryu, said “metal gear solid” (a video game that is maybe 5 years old) and another, Aya, said “play Pokemon”. She even remembered the price of a pokeball, 800 yen, which I might be able to catch a Pikachu with.

After the organizers had us all do some town dances together. My students helped me through it and I think I did ok. The one town dance had you catching fireflies (Tatsuno is famous for its firefly festival) and the other one… I’m not sure what we were doing but there was a fancy footwork part of it that had me looking pretty silly.

It was fun and all, and the rest of the long weekend (Sat-Mon) was spent either playing Metroid 3 which I got for Christmas (thanks mom) or shopping for provisions. I cancelled out on a ski trip and a trip to the shrine along with other things I probably should have got done (study, clean, etc) for this opportunity to relax and get my fill of Vitamin G. Oh and I played with Otaku who has gotten fat now, she has grown a lot but is still super cute.

So ya, that would be it for my update normally, BUT aren’t you glad I picked Wednesday to post instead? Last night, Tuesday, I went to “one of the craziest things you’ll see in Japan”. In Nozawa Onsen at a festival called dousoujin matsuri (?) there was free Sake and people lighting a large… thing on fire. That is the quick summary, it’s hard to properly describe something this large and obscure… let me try.

In Japan apparently people have “bad luck years.” For girls the age 19 and 33 are years for bad luck and for men 25 and 42 (my number is up in 2 months! Oh noes!). On those years you are to visit a shrine and try to pray away the bad luck or something. One of my teachers related it to me just recently how when she was 19 she had appendicitis and had surgery and when her dad was 42 he broke his leg skiing. Fuel for the superstition fire, I know, but still a weird coincidence. Anyways at this festival, boys that are 25 years old carry fire from a large pile and try to burn down a fort-like shrine or something that the town spent all year building for this event. The fort is defended by 42 year-old men. On top of this fort are “bird-men” who sing songs, about 6 meters off the ground.

Atleast that is the clean/clear way of explaining it, what actually took place was a little different; maybe in part to all the free Sake (Japanese rice wine). The birdmen sang for a while but soon were too drunk to even stand. A couple people almost fell from the roof of this fort and others simply passed out with their legs dangling. They had a rope tied to them so they wouldn’t die I suppose but they looked clearly confused many times. I hear when the fire got started though you could see fear in their eyes. The one birdman (they are wearing a flammable cape made of reeds or something, suppose to be wings?) had some burning sticks thrown on him. His shoulders burnt a bit before he snapped out of his drunken stupor to brush the flames off, get angry and throw the sticks back down to the ground. Later on they were slowly helped down a ladder at the back to escape the eventual bonfire.

So that was the birdmen, the 42 year old defenders were maybe just as drunk but the constant ash in their face, the smoke they were breathing, and the fists they were throwing probably helped keep them from passing like their neighbors on the roof. I guess it helped that they also had ropes to hang on to, to keep their balance. Some of the battles got really intense and there were ambulances and fire trucks nearby at all times, although I think the ambulances were busier with the drunks they were always carrying away on stretchers; they were carrying them even before the first started! They used the ropes to whip the fire out and to smack the 25-year-old whipper-snappers to keep them at bay. Many of their faces were streaked a dark grey from all the ash they were exposed to.

So those were the defenders, the 25 year olds were trekking from the bird’s nest (they were throwing down the kindling torches) to the bonfire, which was slowly being rolled towards the fort for one spectacular finale. I assume they threw fists at the defenders as well but I think they were more concerned with just getting some fire onto the fort by means of ashes or streaking in while the defenders were busy beating up their comrades. Jake said he saw one guy sneak in past the drunken melee and hold his torch up to the roof trying to light it up before he was discovered and promptly routed.

Eventually the bonfire got close enough and everyone was evacuated while the fort slowly burnt. Large murals nearby with Kanji and other decorations were later thrown onto the fire as well. The roof collapsed a couple times, the first time being the most spectacular as the fire was mostly smoke up to that point; the following heat wave from the 10 meter high fire scorched even my face and I was maybe 20 meters away. This place was pretty packed and with the panic that didn’t help much; I could hardly stand as it was with all the ice running downhill into the fire.

After both decorations were thrown into the fire many people left; after the roof collapsed for the last time even more people took off. We were shocked just how many foreigners were at this event, almost half and half maybe. As is the way with these festivals though, even back home mostly tourists and people like that attend. A coworker told me how she lived nearby this village but never once attended the event. I took a couple videos and pictures which will be posted in due time.

One thing that I really enjoyed from yesterday was simply the drive up on the freeway. Living in Saskatchewan conditions you to long road trips I suppose, where commutes from Moose Jaw to Regina on a daily basis become commonplace. I avoided these freeways before largely because I don’t know the road system that well and I heard they are kind of pricey. But oh man as weird as it sounds it was a nice taste of home just being able to drive again. I have gotten way too tired of the red lights and the 40 minute drives to go 20 kilometers on confusing roads with drivers who will pull to the side (maybe ½ meter shoulders, so they’re still taking up 1/2 of the lane) and many other grievances…

It was scary at first going up to 100km/hr again! That’s how long it has been I guess but like riding a bike it comes back to you pretty quick once your feet are wet. It was so nice that I started saying to Jake: “Oh man this is so nice, it’s like being back home. Minus the curves, hills, other-side-of-the-road, tunnels, bridges, mountains, ice…”

Jake cuts me off saying “so it’s nothing like home?” Hahaha touché mon frier, touché.

Matt and Jake let my plug in my ipod after some clever negotiating on my part. “You’re from Britain Matt, you HAVE to love this stuff.” We were in Matt’s car, mine doesn’t even have a working radio and we listening to some of my 1.5 hour-long trance mixes; good times. (It was a long drive, we never left Nagano prefecture either. It’s a big place).

It was all fun and games until we pulled up to the toll both to get off the freeway and it was $30! One way! For an hour of driving! I find that somewhat outrageous, I can only imagine the amount of money they’re making off this highway robbery. Can you imagine what a normal every-day 7 hour trip from Regina to Calgary would be? $210! Or worse yet, a completely normal and standard trip to Toronto’s airport to pick up your friend who is visiting, or a trip to Montreal to go shopping on the weekend? I am outraged ☺ Tell James in Canada I say hello, ask him why can’t I buy any Canadian beer in Japan? :’( I mean we are Pacific neighbors, the least they could do is some kokanee or pilsner…

Maybe this is some kinda big fun conspiracy that keeps us from traveling exotic places like, oh let’s say Japan, and keep us glued to the TV while playing Metroid 3 for maybe 30 hours on the weekend; while money made on said tolls go to the gaming companies to make bigger and better games! I’ll have to test this theory this weekend maybe ☺ Get ready my tin-foil hat, comrades! I needs my Vitamin G…

That’s it for now, time to prep for my next lesson… I am really enjoying the lack of snow and ice around my town ☺ neener neener :P (I have been watching the weather, Tatsuno is a constant 20 degrees warmer than Regina, you better not dip to -21 degrees or I WILL get snow! :P Luckily everything has melted thus far)

"Always do the right thing. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." - Mark Twain



Patricia said...

Aww! You miss me??

Sounds like you are having a good time. I can't wait until you get your little belated xmas package!!

That fire ritual sounds really weird. haha -

Unknown said...

"there was free Sake and people lighting a large…thing on fire" Yeah I'm with Tricia, that Festival sounds weird...but very much something I would like to see posted on youtube...ahem.... ;)

Tnoy said...

Wow 2 comments waiting for me? It must be my birthday :)

Alright I'll post some videos today but the pictures will wait another week for when I can put them all up at once, it'll be more in order that way.

And yes I miss you guys, the winter is a little tough and lonely.