Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Some non-traditional stuff

There was a festival in Moriya, a nearby town, to mark the first anniversary of the commisioning of the new railway line through the area. In addition to the traditional music and dances, there were lots of more modern performances. Herewith find a few photos.

This dance followed a couple of songs by a group of kids. You can see them watching the dancers.

Young dancers of "Moriya Batton Club"

I liked this Marimba and Vibraphone performance.

The Battle of Mobile Suits. These are characters of the cartoon series "Gundam". Japanese kids are crazy for them. Well, I should say not only kids, and not only Japanese :o).

So much for modern stuff, for a change :o). I kept the more traditional stuff for the next post.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Nebuta are huge lanterns made of paper pulp, in the shape of various characters. In Nebuta festival in Aomori, Northern Japan, about 50 lanterns are carried on floats along the streets. The festival is held every year during the first week of August.

Aomori is more about 1000 km away from Tokyo. For the benefit of those who cannot go that far to see them, some cities bring them down and add them to the city festivals. These photos were taken in Tsukuba, about 60 km to the North of Tokyo. About 5 lanterns are brought from Aomori for the parade of Tsukuba Festival , held in late August every year.

First, the smaller ones made by people in Tsukuba.

Now the bigger ones from Aomori. I am not sure how these were brought, they occupy three lanes of traffic.

The floats have wheels, but are dragged along by people. This one is being tilted towards the crowd, to make it more fun :o). Quite overwhelming when you are close to one.

I had just seen the Nebuta festivel in Aomori on TV and was thinking of going there next year. So I was more than happy when I was told about the festival by Iguchi-san, who even took me there and found a good place to watch them!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Japanese Summer Dresses

People wearing Yukata (Traditional summer dress) is a common sight in Japanese summer festivals. Made of cotton, yukata is cooling and comfortable to wear in summer.

Yukata is different from kimonos; kimonos are made of silk, thicker due to inner lining, and are more detailed. However, both Yukata and Kimono are accmpnanied by wooden sandals and traditional-styled handbags.

Children and youth wear bright colors, while older people usually wear dark blue and white patterns. Occasionally, we can see characters like Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse, on young women's or children's yukata.

A few random photos

You can see some other summer garments in these photos.

Japanese youth hostels and most of the hotels provide a Yukata for use after bathing. However, these are light colored and have a thin belt.

Being much cheaper and comfortable than a kimono, Yukata is a popular souvenir among foriegn tourists.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Host Families

Most of the foriegn students in Japan have had a Japanese host family during some part of their stay. As for those who receive Japanese geovernment scholarships, many of them are assigned a host family when they reach Japan. For others, they can find a host family through their universities, town offices or other volunteer organizations.

The host family provide temporary accomodation to the student if necessary, and help him/her with the formalities. Most of the families keep in touch even after the students are able to manage things by themselves. They care a lot; some of my friends receive too much care. :-p

As for me, I was introduced to my host family by the International Liaisons Office of my university. Mr. and Mrs. Iguchi (whom I refer to as Iguchi-san and Keiko-san in my posts) are professional photographers. Iguchi-san, now retired, was a director at Mitsui Corporation, Japan.

Iguchi-san and Keiko-san treat me like a son. In our first conversation, Iguchi-san told me
"If there are things you like to do, or places you like to go, please let us know!"

Spending time with a Japanese host family is one of the best ways to learn Japanese culture and Japanese language. For me, I have more benefits: being photographers, they help me to improve my photography; they take me or provide information to visit places and events that are not so well known (such the horse races in my previous post); above all, I have a family here, who care.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bon Odori - Some Video Clips

Sorry about the poor quality and short duration of the video clips. My digicam can record only 15 seconds of video at a time.

This dance, before sunset, is more modern.

One of the drummers


Monday, August 14, 2006

Bon Odori

Japanese people visit their hometowns and pay respect to the graves of their ancestors during the Bon (also known as O-bon ) holidays in mid August. It is believed that the spirits of the ancestors return during these days.

Bon Odori (Bon Dance) is one of the main events during these holidays. The dance is intended to express peoples gratitude towards the spirits of their ancestors and welcome them. These photos are from the Bon Odori event in Edogawadai, the small town where I live.

In Bon Odori, people dance on and around a multi-level wooden stage called "Yagura".

Taiko, the Japanese drums, are played on the uppermost level. The other levels are for dancers.

The songs, music and the style of dancing varies according to the region.

After the first few songs, everybody is invited to join. Simpler songs are played for children.

There were some modern inclusions too. Some Spanish songs and dances, and "Bahamamama" by BoneyM. :o)

The songs are repeated a number of times, and the dances may not appear all that nice once everybody join. However, the drummers are usually very talented. See the photo below, the arms are quite blurred due to fast motion.

With the traditional music, dances that everybody can join, people dressed in traditional dresses, and the food and toy stalls, Bon Odori has a really festive atmosphere.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Conference Travel - Auckland

Conference are good opportunities for graduate students for travel. For my university, the earliest we can reach a conference venue is the day before the start of the conference.
We have to start returning on the day following the last day of the conference. With some preparation, this is good enough for sightseeing and souvenir shopping :o).

These photos are from Auckland, New Zealand, where I attended my first international conference outside of Japan 2 years ago. The dates were from the 7th to the 14th of August, around the same time of the year as now.

Auckland is known as the "City of Sails", because of these boats.

I stayed in Auckland City Youth Hostel. New Zealand has undreds of youth hostels; much cheaper than hotels, and much more fun as you get to know more people and places.

Even though it was winter, the grass stayed green. In Japan, the grass turns into straw.

I climbed Mount Eden, which is an inactive volcano. The crater is about 50 m deep.

The city was nice with a few old buildings, and some modern architecture around the city tower.

A couple of old buildings

Auckland Museum

City tower and the sky scrapers

Fire and water together

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tanabata - Public Wishes, and Secrets

Tanabata festival ius held either on the 7th of July or the 7th of August, depending on the area.

People write their wishes on small pieces of colored paper called Tanzaku, and hang them on bamboo trees put up in public places. Often, decorative lanterns too are hung on the trees. The bamboo and decorations are either burnt or sent floating on a river, after the festival.

Some of the wishes I could read (with my little knowledge of Japanese) were:

"To be able to eat delicious food that cannot be eaten everyday"

"I love Ryuu-chan - Minami " (Minami is the person who wrote the wish)

"I want my kids to study well"

"I wish to meet a better person than my boyfriend!"

"To have an enjoyable life without quarrel"

Most of the wishers write their given name too. However, it is unlikely that the writer can be recognized using only what is written in Tanzaku.

It seems tat tanabata provides a way to tell your wishes to the world. I think it is one way to have a public secret too, for those who feel like having one.