Happy Halloween!!!!

Its that day again, the day that you have permission to eat ridiculous amounts of candy, and face a sugar headache the next day. I’ve been teaching halloween classes for the last week and exposing my students to the wonder that is trick or treating. Last week I helped out at a Halloween party for the town next to mine. It was almost too much cute to handle.

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Chousalicious

A couple weeks ago, my town had its annual autumn festival. To be honest it puts the Fruita Fall Fest to shame. After looking at the pics I think you will agree with me. The whole festival is centered around structures called chousa, which are found exclusively in western Kagawa. The festival was a great time but I have found it difficult to find english websites explaining the why’s and details of the festivals and chousas so I’m going to do the best I can.

 

A chousa is essentially a portable shirne. It measures about 16 ft tall. The top is elaborately decorated with gold paint, wood carvings, and textiles. It is actually hallow  and has a drum inside which is continuously hit by a child that has been selected to spend 72 hours locked in the small space. (ok maybe this sounds a little slave like but I think they rotate drum pounders, I’m still pretty sure they stick children down there). Each chousa weighs in at 2 metric tons or about 4400 lbs.

Each neighborhood in my area owns a chousa.  All the families pay a yearly due to fund the shrine. It takes a few decades to save enough money to buy a new chousa as they cost around 600 grand. That’s in dollars, not yen. The chousas are the neighborhood’s pride and joy. Each one has a name, and rivalries has sprung out of the  festival.

 

the sakamoto chousa during the rainy friday night tour

Once a year the chousas come out to play. Men over the age of 18 are recruited from each neighborhood to carry the chousa. That’s right I said carry. Oh yeah remember they weigh in at 4400 lbs. I’m pretty sure that’s more than a car. It takes about 80-100 men to manage the giant “floats.” Friday is the first day of fun. The chousas are pushed and pulled throughout town to show off their beauty and size. The big festivities begin on Saturday. In the morning the chousas are wheeled from their “homes” the the Kotohiki Temple, or center of the festival. That’s where all the magic happens.

stick squid

Once again the streets are lined with my favorites of the festival foodage. This time around I opted for the squid on a stick, and of course, a taiyaki. At the temple each “team” takes turns showing off their tricks.

Back at the temple the teams carry the chousa, lift it above their heads, and sometimes even toss it. It isn’t just the weight that makes these tricks interesting to watch. In order to pull even the simplest of tasks off you have to coordinate 80 men to work together at the same time. In addition to the weight of the structure, each chousa usually has about 4 men riding on them to “cheer” and call the tricks. One of my friends had been carrying the chousa for many years. Chousa carrying in his words: “Its hard. Its soo soooo hard. So we drink. We drink a lot of sake, a lot of beer, and more sake so we can continue.” So in addition to coordinating 80 men, most of them are drunk. When the chousa’s travel though town you can see a truck following behind with “supplies.”

chousa cheerlearder

Unfortunately this year it was raining. So for most of the time clear tarps were covering the chousas. While they were still nice, it was kinda like looking at them through mosquito nets. My friend said they looked like brides. I like her explanation.

 

After 5 hours of exhibition the chousa’s take off to parade around town again. A couple hours latter they meet in the town center. By this time it was dark, and things got a little bit roudy. There’s less space so its a bit more crowded and the men carrying have been drinking for several hours and seem to have no problems testing the limits of their floats. Luckily this isn’t one of the deadly Japanese festivals like naked man. Lit up against the dark sky the floats seemed even more spectacular.

I ran into more friends and students around town and they gave me the lowdown on chousas. Most of it was in Japanese so I didn’t understand much and forgot what I understood. All in all a good time.

brushing up

Think brushing your teeth twice a day is enough? Not, if you’re a Japanese elementary schooler. Each day after lunch the kids spent time polishing their chompers.  I had heard about it in training but none of my schools brushed their teeth after lunch, or I never noticed. But out here in Kagawa teeth brushing is a group activity. With about 5 minutes left of lunch, the kids pull out their tooth brushes and cups, and the song begins. The students are lead through the areas of the mouth to brush by a little jingle of a song. This is the same song for all 7 of my schools. I don’t understand every word, just left and right, and up and down. But that’s ok because the younger classes have older students come to guide them through the process. At the beginning of the year the school nurse had a giant mouth model and toothbrush to show the students proper brushing technique. At first I thought it was a little strange, but after brushing with the kids I really enjoy feeling fresh and clean after lunch. Proof that Japan likes to do everything together, they even turned toothbrushing into a team activity.

A little bit of this, A little bit of that….

A couple weeks ago I shared the magic that is Rajio Taiso. Although the video isn’t the most inspirational workout video I’ve seen, (not everybody can be Richard Simmons,) I thought maybe they are onto something. So I’ve decided to include rajio taiso into my morning routine for the next 10 days. Healthy diet/ more active life-style / fear of the sun – pssssh, I’m pretty sure that the taiso is the secret to Japanese longevity. (just incase you forgot the magic….)

 

While in Hiroshima I found the single greatest restaurant, EVER. Yes, I know that its bold statement but you haven’t heard my discovery yet. Ok, here it is…..MOSDO, a mister donut / mos berger hybrid. That’s right you can get your teriyaki burger for a delicious meal, and follow it up with a misdo donut. There aren’t many other places where you can get the perfect fat/sugar fix.

 

I love when my snacks include ME in the packaging.

 

Another reason I love Japan, the epic roadside rest stops. These are so much more than the dirty bathrooms and vending machines from the side of Interstate 80. These have a convenie (of course) restaurants, the cleanest bathrooms I’ve seen, gift shops, and food venders during the day. Its a little added bonus while taking the bus. At this stop I got fresh tacoyaki たこ焼き and  なしソフトクリム (pear) ice cream.

 

Fantastic signs from my Hiroshima hostel.

sign above the urinal

save water shower with a "friend"

Hiroshima, my 2nd home

Its safe to say that Hiroshima is my second home in Japan. Well, maybe more like 3rd home since I have already had 2 homes. Between work training sessions, getting my drivers’ license, and weekend get aways, I have spent about a month in the city, that’s is a pretty considerable amount of time since I have only been in Japan for about a year. Maybe its because I know it pretty well, or just because its awesome, but Hiroshima is one of my favorite cities in Japan.

It continues to amaze me the way that the city rebuilt itself after the terrible destruction from the atomic bomb and the strong stance the city has towards peace. In addition to the peace park I have visited each art museum in the city and the modern art museum is by far my favorite. If you have a chance there is currently an exhibit by Yoko Ono that is incredible.

 

Last weekend, some friends and I returned to partake in the Saijo Sake Festival. As I’ve said before I love festival food. My new favorite (get ready for this one) bacon wrapped rice ball covered in mayo and green onions. Its just as good as it sounds.

Honestly I’m not really a fan of sake and the festival didn’t really turn me into a believer, but I did get to see my friends from around Japan, and make some fantastic new ones.

 

Hiroshima, I’m sorry but you’re not done with me yet, chances are you’ll be seeing me again sometime soon.

happy birthday patrick

Its been a year since I brought home my storm trooper of a camera, Patrick. We’ve been through quite a bit this year, and hopefully its just the beginning of a very happy and enriching relationship. So thanks Mom and Dad for one of the greatest christmas presents I’ve gotten. (the dollhouse will always be number 1).

Hyper M

Hyper M. I guess you could call me a Hyper M-er. What is a hyper M you ask? I don’t really know, but its the name of my volleyball team. That’s right I’m on a volleyball team. Please don’t laugh too hard. I am well aware that I am lacking any kind of skill in the volleyball department. My own friends wouldn’t let me play when we went to the park in high school. Malinna was so frustrated with me once she kicked me out of the game. But somehow my lack of skill didn’t really matter. My friend Takaio has been playing on a team for a couple years and invited Scott and I to join them. I thought it was a one time thing. Then they asked me to come back. The next week they asked me to come back again. And it has continued that way for the last 5 weeks.

 

The team is super laid back. Think rec-league softball status, we warm up and do basic skills then play games against each other for the last part of each weeks’ practice. Then after each practice we go out for food and drinks. We spend just as much time at the restaurant than we do actually practicing. I’m pretty sure that’s the real reason most people are on the team.

 

karaoke night with the hyper M'ers

We had at tournament last week. I wasn’t asked to play, I was told that I would be one of the “cheer girls.” Apparently my skills haven’t improved much.

volleyball cheer girls, I wasn't the only one

But I’m ok with that. I really just like the people. Although most of the them don’t speak much english and I don’t speak much Japanese, we seem to get on just fine. My japanese skills have improved by leaps and bounds, and it has been a good time so far.

 

my girl Takaio

On Sunday I found out I get a Hyper M track suit, and team shirt. That means I’ll be playing in the next tournament. That means I’m part of the team. I may be an official bench warmer now, but at least I’m official. And I get a sweet track suit.

life salad, a few things lately

Last week I had an unplanned mini break from school. Sunday was sports day and two of my schools took days off to compensate for the students coming to school on a Sunday. Unfortunately another typhoon decided to come through town on the same days. While not as dangerous as previous typhoons, it was still bad enough to keep me indoors. On the upside I have gotten quite of bit of knitting done.

 

During one of my days off I had the chance to go fishing with some of my students. A net was thrown into the water from a boat about 100m off shore. Meanwhile about 30 people stood on shore and pulled the net in. It took about 10 mins to get the whole net onto land. Experienced adults pulled out the edible fish while the children pulled out small fish and squid to play with in the water. We brought the freshly caught fish to a park and had a BBQ.

I dragged in the catch of the day

In other news I recently got to catch up with some out of town friends. Danika came from Kure to explore the riches that Kanonji has to offer. I still can’t get over the fact that we are both in the same country, and close. Danika is my longest friend, we met in pre-school, that’s right we have a 20 year relationship going.

I also got to see Heather and Miguel, during a short trip to Matsue. We took in the beauty of Mt. Daisen, and enjoyed some micro-brew beer from around Japan.  Of course it was a good time, I was with Heather and Migs!

 

art collector

I consider myself an art collector. No I’m not fithy rich, I just happen to teach hundreds of kids that love to draw/ give me pictures. Its a good system, they love to give me stuff, I love to get stuff.  When I’m lucky its art, most of the time its leaves, smelly fruit, flower ring, or rocks.

the ellie sensei portrait. I was strictly instructed to pose for this drawing, it was rough, I couldn’t make faces or move. This was the most professional 6 year old I’ve met.