toyama

Japan in 12 Photos: a Third Year in Review

At the risk of being repetitive, I still have to say – time has flown. My third year in Japan felt not like another year on an overseas adventure but like another year of life – though still in a beautiful, exciting place. Over time my comfort zone has gotten bigger and bigger – and in the past year I pushed it even more to try new things both in Toyama and beyond. And now in September back in Canada, I have so much to reflect on.

August – Summer Camp

11898676_10156133325480727_1077846256776061135_n

In the summer, many schools have an English summer camp. Students and their teachers go far away into the mountains to these little buildings (I think they are usually used for company bonding retreats?) and have full days of English lessons and activities. I’ve been to over a dozen in my time in Japan and they never fail to be hilarious, fun, and a great chance to get to know students on another level. Not to mention… so. much. food.

September – Silver Week in Seoul

By good fortune, the elusive 5-day Silver Week holiday fell during my time in Japan. My friends and I took a trip to Seoul where we spent a few days eating, walking, eating, going to museums, and eating.

October – No Face in Toyama

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

October came and gave me one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The previous year I had made a No Face costume to wear to some events. This year, I couldn’t let it go to waste and so my friends and I dressed up and took him on a little trip in Toyama city. It was hilarious to see the reactions to his appearance and it felt great to be a little bit of excitement in peoples’ day. You can watch the video we made here.

November – Kyoto leaves

_DSC0031

In November I went to Kyoto for the long weekend and saw the fall leaves at Kiyomizudera. I had such a wonderful weekend with friends and loved seeing one of my favourite places in colour. A word to the wise, if you want to see the leaves in Kyoto during that weekend make your bookings months in advance… it gets busy!

December – Tokyo

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

In December I went down to Tokyo for Christmas! It was magical going to Disney and seeing the illuminations around Roppongi. Mostly it was special spending time with friends in a city with never-ending adventure.

January – Toyama winter fun

 

Toyama was COVERED in snow for part of last winter, so much so that the trains were delayed (that’s how you know it’s serious). There were a few weekend days where I didn’t even dare go outside due to wind and snow. The upside was seeing Toyama in this beautiful white blanket and doing some fun things like ice skating!

February – It’s Raining Ramen

12806144_10156767545665727_9218909633353146302_n

February was the return of the Nyuzen Ramen Festival, an event I can honestly say I waited a full year for in anticipation. I chowed down on some delicious ramen and remembered to bring a bottle of water, because oh man, water sells out fast at this event.

March – Solo to Hiroshima

In March I took a solo trip to Hiroshima, stopping in Kobe, Okayama, Naoshima, and Okunoshima along the way. Going by local train was absolutely the slowest way of travelling but it was a wonderful experience that tested my own travel skills and helped me learn new things.

April – Hanami Forever

Cherry blossoms are one of the most characteristic images of Japan, and a tourist magnet… for good reason. Despite my skepticism of anything with so much hype surrounding it, cherry blossoms are just as magical as their reputation would lead you to believe. I spent the beginning of April seeing as many as I could, whether that be in the beautiful daylight of Takaoka park or on a cold evening huddled under the trees.

May – Yosakoi, Yosakoi

13260235_10157140086220727_917230070236191070_n

I joined a Yosakoi team in October, and every week, two nights a week, went to practice. After months of practice, May was when I first performed with my team and fell completely in love with Yosakoi.

June –  No Rice No Life

June was the second annual International Rice Planting competition, the most fun I have ever had standing in mud. We joined teams and planted a field of rice the old school way (they have machines for that stuff now!) and were judged for accuracy, speed, and overall positivity.

July – Toyama and beyond

July (and June too, really) was the month of sad goodbyes, but more on that later. In July my sister came to Japan and we spent a few weeks in Toyama before embarking on a final hurrah around the country.

Advertisements

Summer Festivals in Toyama-Ken

When I think of summer in Japan I think of two things: heat and festivals. I’m a much bigger fan of the latter but at least I’ve now adjusted a little to the humidity. And frankly, now that it’s started getting cold again I feel myself missing the heat. And I already feel nostalgic for festivals even though I have another season in store for me next year. Festivals vary in their purpose and meaning but there are a few essentials found at almost all of them: beer, food stands, and games. If it’s special it’ll have some sort of fireworks, dancing, or floats being pushed and pulled around. Families come and hang out, fanning themselves with the plastic advertisement fans handed out by companies and kids run around with shaved ice. There’s a sense of occasion but everyone is pretty casual at the same time. I went to a lot of festivals this year but that only comprises a small fraction of the dozens that take place in Toyama.

TOYAMA FIREWORKS

On August 1st every year, people come to a river in Toyama to watch a big fireworks show. We had to wait in line for shuttle from the station to the river, and the whole area was super crowded, especially in the surrounding streets. After the fireworks we did Purikura and I ran into tons of students.

TAKAOKA TANABATA

Tanabata festivals are held all over, but this was my first time being to the one in Takaoka. There wasn’t anything too unique about it, but it was pretty big and I ate some good food.

SummerFestivals_DSC0002

UOZU TANABATA

Honestly I’m still confused about what exactly this festival is, and there seemed to be only about one hundred people there. Some people carry a float around the streets of Uozu and are followed by these costumed demons and a crowd. These demons chase kids around to scare them but it’s considered lucky if you shake their hand. I shook one of their hands and he reached over and stroked my head after. I hope that’s good luck.

SummerFestivalsIMG_4724

UOZU TATEMON

My last blog post was about this. This is my favourite festival that I’ve ever been to and so much fun. We got to wear happi and help pull the floats. This year was extra special because we organized for more ALTs from different cities to come and join. In total we had about 20 foreigners pulling together and at the end of the night got interviewed by the local news station. It was really nice to have everyone come to our city and I felt such municipal pride being able to host everyone in such good spirits.

_DSC0036

UOZU CHUOROKU

This took place the Sunday after Tatemon and it was a nice way to relax. There was a big parade of dancers down the centre street in Uozu. There were different groups of dancers – some actual organized dance teams but most were local businesses or organizations that joined together. It went on for at least two hours and I saw a few people I knew dancing! I also got to see my school’s brass band play.

SummerFestivalsIMG_4984

KAMIICHI OBON

This was the first festival I ever went to in Japan! We watched the dance performance and then went to watch the fireworks and fires down by the river.

SummerFestivals_DSC0009

KAZE NO BON

Kaze no bon is Toyama’s biggest festival and a huge tourist attraction. The images of its dancers are everywhere and have become a symbol of Toyama.

Happy Halloween from Kiki

11205056_10156367295570727_6427321042565507384_n.jpg

Happy Halloween! After making a No-Face costume last year I wasn’t sure what to follow it up with. It’s hard to think of something that is so easily recognizable and that gets as much of a reaction. There was also the question of time, as in, not having enough of it. I do this every year – promise myself I’ll think of something awesome to be for Halloween and then realize it’s the week before and the best idea I can come up with is being a cat. So I decided to simplify and do something that would take less time and ideally no money… and success! I decided to be Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. I had a blue dress and a blue shirt that were the right colour. My work happened to have a broom that worked perfectly for the costume and they let me borrow it. I had also seen a card / coin purse of Jiji (the cat) sitting on one of the shared desks in the office. I hesitantly asked to borrow it not knowing who it belonged too. Luckily it had been left by a graduated student a few years before and I was told I could keep it! I pinned it to a stuffed cat I already had. All that was left was t0 find a red bow which I bought at the 100 yen store (with tax… 108 yen, just over a dollar). All in all my last minute costume worked out very well and I plan on wearing it to work on the 30th… we’ll see how it goes!

Uozu Tatemon Festival 2015

Last weekend was my second time joining the Uozu Tatemon Festival, the biggest event in Uozu of the year and something I had been looking forward since the first time. There were two nights on the Friday and Saturday. I went on Friday just to watch and while there was a smaller crowd than Saturday, there was still a lot of excitement and energy.

There are 8 floats, all weighing around 5 tonnes that get pushed and pulled along the water. Big groups of people are organized in teams and wear matching happis. Usually the strongest people get put in the centre of the float to push it (there aren’t any wheels!) and everyone else pulls from ropes at the front. After going down the street the Tatemon get pulled into an open area one by one where they are spun in a circle. A few lucky guys get to run with the ropes extended from the top; leaping in the area as they spin the float around. Once this is done the team members visit the shrine.
_DSC0069 _DSC0017_DSC0048_DSC0164_DSC0036

The best part of the festival is seeing everyone from the city come together. The floats are all owned and stored by families and the team members are usually relatives of friends. Lots of families and groups of people to come out and watch together, eating food and taking pictures.

_DSC0078 _DSC0095_DSC0082_DSC0136_DSC0184