Uozu

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.
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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.

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Winter in Toyama Prefecture

There’s something about the humidity in Japan that makes the cold feel much colder. I’ve spent a lot of nights huddled under my Kotatsu and days layered in heat-tech. Apparently Toyama used to get feet of snow in the winter, but in the last few years it’s stayed very tame. Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetWhile we’ve had a few legitimate snowstorms this year, the snow has generally stayed minimal to nonexistent. Luckily for me, as a Canadian with lots of experience with snow I don’t mind the weather too much. But, I do miss having central heating… One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard about living in Japan (or anywhere cold really) is to learn how to thrive in the winter. I’ve kept this idea in the back of my head this winter.

We’re lucky to have some amazing ski hills South in the prefecture. I went with friends last Saturday and I think it’s the best conditions I’ve ever had. There was a ton of powder from the snowstorm the day before, and almost no one on the hill. I’m not sure how that happened, but it made for an awesome day. It was also Valentine’s day and the man operating the top of the lift very kindly gave us all chocolate. ❤

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When it isn’t snowing or raining I try to walk to and from school. Last week I took a longer route home so I could walk along the water. There’s a strange feeling about seeing a shore or beach in the winter, at least for me. But it was really beautiful and made me appreciate the winter weather more.

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Winter #waves on my walk back from work. 🌊🌊🌊 #Uozu #Japan

A post shared by Melody [秋] (@melody_aki) on

 

Uozu’s Tatemon Festival!

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I really had no idea what to expect from the Tatemon festival. I knew that

1) It’s Uozu’s biggest festival

2) I should definitely wear running shoes

3) Everyone chuckled when I told them I was participating and pointed to their arms saying “Pain!”

We arrived around 6:30 and met with the other volunteers to put on our loaned Happis and gloves and to be briefed on how everything would go down. At 7:30 we headed out to our Tatemon and watched the fireworks over the water. Then, we got into position on the rope. There were about 20 men pushing the Tatemon on the beams and maybe 30 people pulling the rope.

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The Tatemon themselves weigh FIVE tonnes and have no wheels. They’re essentially sleighs being pulled and pushed on concrete. The leader would blow the whistle, we’d get into position and all yell as we moved forward, eventually getting enough momentum before we’d run for about 20 seconds and then stop. Repeating as we moved down the road.  It became pretty clear that even though all of us pulling were exhausted (lying on the ground between pulls), those pushing were doing 90% of the work. Sweat was literally dripping from everyone.

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Once you arrive in front of the shrine, all the pullers leave and the pushers turn the Tatemon three times. Some of the guys get to run around the Tatemon holding the the ropes attached to its top. They run till they pick up speed and then leap into the air, flying for a few seconds George of the Jungle style.

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Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with g3 presetWe finished pulling about 11:00 pm feeling very accomplished. It was such a fun experience and truly a group effort. Each time we stopped for a break everyone would look and nod in exhaustion “I know that feel…”.  I took all these pictures before we pulled, so they don’t at all capture the energy and business of the festival, all the yelling and Taiko drumming.

If you want to see everything in action, check out the video below from 2012 (5:12 for the Tatemon spinning)!!!

Veggie heaven at Uozu city welcome barbecue

For all the greatness that Japanese restaurants provide, you’re hard pressed to find a large portion of vegetables. So, when the new arrivals in Uozu were invited to a welcome barbecue I was expecting mostly red meat. I was overjoyed when I was pointed to a grill with heaping platters of squash, mushrooms, green peppers and onions!

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We cooked the food outdoors over large charcoal grills, giving the vegetables a mouthwatering smell and smokey taste.

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Another grill was preparing piles of soba noodles, which were passed around as a side. After dinner we were given grapes and large slices of watermelon, truly a pleasant surprise as they sky high prices have had me avoiding many types if fruit.

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The savoury lunch left us all full and content, certainly a warm welcome to the city!

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