Before I start this post, I want to wish you all a Happy National Cheesecake Day! Any excuse to buy yourself a cheesecake. Haha! The weather today has been a non-stop battle between sun and rain. It took me a long time to figure out the best time to escape my apartment to buy myself a cheesecake, and I managed to time it perfectly! The sun was scorching hot on my bike ride to the bakery, and then as soon as I arrived back home there was a huge thunderstorm.
So one of the things I love about Japan is the festivals (matsuri) which are held all across Japan at different times of the year. Back in April I managed to attend the drum festival in Ohtawara and also the cherry blossom festival in Kuroiso. Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to catch a ride with a friend to Karasuyama, around an hours drive from my town. They were holding the Yama-age festival there for the whole weekend, and a friend of mine encouraged us to go.
What I really love about festivals is the fact that it brings small communities so close together. Little towns have a chance to shine and show visitors from other areas what makes their area so special. It’s also a great chance for people to remember their heritage, and to celebrate history and culture.
When we arrived in Karasuyama, the streets were crowded with people. I did not do any research prior to arriving so I had no idea what to expect. I saw a huge wooden board with what seemed to show a mountain with a waterfall. As I squeezed through the crowds I managed to see even more huge mountains boards close by and also a small float which showed a house of some sort. Turns out that the wooden boards were the yama floats and mikoshi floats which were being used as a background drop for a play being performed.
As we made our way further into the crowd, we could hear live ancient Japanese instruments being played and accompanied by live singing. We made it just in time to watch the performance. The performance is known as the Kadaki drama which depicts Suketane Nasu, the lord of the Karasuyama castle, worshipping the brother of the Su-Goddess to drive away the plague. In all honestly, I was slightly freaked out by the make-up and costumes! They were very scary-looking! Not something you want to wake up to in the middle of the night! But at the same time, they were very beautiful!
With there being so many people, we had no choice but to watch the performance from the side. We met with a friend and he told us that the performance is supposed to be seen from a distance, as that way the floats in the background can all be seen. It was really interesting to see how those floats, which at first I had no idea what they were for, formed a layered background for the play being performed. After the performance ended, the floats were then taken down and folded away. These would then be transported to a different part of town and the play would be performed again.
There were many mikoshi floats around with people playing the taiko drums. This reminded me a lot of the drum festival I had previously attended in Ohtawara a few months back. There were many different groups of people wearing different designed yukatas.
One thing I love about festivals is the foooood! The food is always really good and it’s pretty cheap too! I couldn’t help myself and bought yakitori to eat. It was soooo good!
We met up with a friend who took us into town to a sake store. They were doing a sake testing event where you could try all different types of sake. I thought to myself… why not?
Each sake had its own method of being made, which really made a difference in the taste. We were given loads of different sake to try and had the fermentation process explained to us. Honestly, I don’t really know how to appreciate the taste of sake as I’m not really a drinker. I could taste differences in the texture of the sake, but not so much the taste! Although I did enjoy the plum wine! Some bottles of sake had been kept in caves to help the fermentation process. We tried so many types of sake, I was almost starting to get tipsy! There were a few people there who were already really drunk, and tried speaking English to me and my friends.
My friend knew a lot of the people taking part in the festival. He knew a man who was in charge of one of the mikoshi floats. Apparently this man spends his time making taiko drums for the festivals! We watched as they prepared their mikoshi float and practised their drumming. The man in charge was kind enough to let me and my friends push the mikoshi float with the rest of the group. It was a really nice way to end the day!
Fureai dance festival at Nishinasuno
Yesterday I had no idea that my own town was holding a festival. It was the Fureai dance festival! Unfortunately I had already made plans yesterday to go to Utsunomiya so I missed the first part of the festival. I noticed all the food stalls as I made my way to the station.
Turns out that the Fureai festival happens once a year in my town and celebrates dance! There was a stage set up near the train station and students from various schools in the area went up to perform. A lot of my students were around which was really nice! There were times when I could hear parents whispering to their children ‘Tim Sensei’. It’s a nice feeling to be recognised in town!
A lot of children were taking part in this festival, and there were many students parading the streets! My school performed too, which I was really unfortunate to miss. They did a parade which they did for sports day, and I could hear it as I was getting onto my train. I really wish I could have been there to show my support!
After spending most of yesterday at Utsunomiya buying last minute gifts before flying to the UK, I made it back for the last part of the festival. The streets were so lively, with music and dancing! I took photos as I was walking out of the train station.
I then went down and stood at the side of the street to have a closer look at the parade. There were many different groups of people dressed in different coloured yukatas. Each group had their own dance and they would dance along the streets. I saw a few of my students taking part in the festival!
It was really difficult to get clear shots as it was night time and people were constantly moving around! But I did feel a sense of pride seeing my little town hold its own festival! The energy was incredible!
If any of you are planning a trip to Japan I strongly suggest checking to see if there are any festivals being held around the areas you plan to visit. It’s a really good experience, and it’s really nice to get a taste of local culture!
That’s all for now! Hope you guys had a great weekend! It’s time for bed now! Until next time!