Christmas Season in J-Land

Merry Christmas everyone!

I know it has been A LONG time since I have updated the blog with any recent events and I’m sorry about that. Let’s see… well winter has definitely arrived in Ehime-ken. The top of the mountains are covered in snow and with the lack of central heating, all the houses are pretty cold. The other night it was so cold I was wearing my jacket, mittens, hat and scarf inside my house!

Now is 2 days before Christmas and most people are either in Thailand, or home for Christmas. I work until the 26th of December so I’m still around. Being away from home at Christmas has definitely been hard for me. I love Christmas and now I realize that I love Christmas in Canada. The lights, smells, and sounds of Christmas are something that I have for years taken for granted. I know this is going to sound crazy but I even miss the 24 hrs a day Christmas music radio station! But mainly I miss my mom and close family and friends. For the last 10 years I have spent Christmas Eve at Nona’s and Christmas Day with the Neglia’s, and I always look forward to those 2 days during the holidays.

Christmas in Japan is a little odd. To begin with most of the Japanese population is Buddhist, so they really don’t celebrate Christmas. However, they put up Christmas trees and the children receive gifts from Santa-San. They also know a couple of popular Christmas songs including ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ which the children sang for me the other day and was one of the cutest but also oddest things I have ever heard. At the same time, they don’t like English Christmas songs and always keep asking me “what is this?” when I play Christmas songs in class. So quite honestly it doesn’t really feel like Christmas over here. I decorated my house and Tricia was kind enough to decorate the classroom, so we try to keep alive the spirit of Christmas.

On the 28th I will be leaving for a week of snowboarding in Nagano. I’m getting really excited about it! My mom being the wonderful woman that she is sent my snowboard all the way from Toronto so the least I can do is actually make good use of it. I will be there for 3-4 days. I will make sure to take lots and lots of pictures and to show you all what is known as “the roof of Japan.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

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Matsuri! (Day 4)

By the time the last day of Matsuri came around I was exhausted!

The last event of Matsuri took place on Sunday evening. I went to Niihama and a couple of us made our way to Ikku Shrine in Downtown Niihama. This last event is also a Taiko Competition and the event in which taikos get into fights with each other.

To be quite honest by this point I was pretty tired, so I decided to go see the competition because I felt like I needed to see everything during the festival, something that I might need to reconsider if I decide to stick around for another Matsuri. The competition was super exciting! Basically the Taikodais come into the shrine and then the men lift the taikodais and the men standing on the poles that support the taikodais, start jumping up and down while trying to keep their balance. Is crazy difficult! and I still don’t knowhow they do it. That part of the event was really cool, but most people show up to Ikku Shrine to see the fights between the Taiko teams.

I personally found this extremely boring. First the members of each taiko team start shouting at each other and just try to build up the whole atmosphere for a fight. Then they move the taikodais so they face each other and after much fanfare they eventually run full speed towards each other and try to either break the taikodais (or some part of it), injure the members of the taikodais, or get on the other teamn’s taikodai and do some sort of damage. All that sounds pretty exciting in theory but for them to actually run towards each other takes forever! I must have been standing there for at lest 20-30 minutes before anything exciting actually happened, and then I couldn’t see anything because I was being crushed by the crowd! The funniest thing however was seeing all the people take out their cellphones the moment they heard that a fight would start. I wish I had taken a picture of hundreds of cellphones up in the air with their video cameras ready to capture the action. Japanese culture at its best.

Since I really couldn’t see anything, and I was falling asleep standing up I decided to call it a day and drove home, got into my pj’s and slept for 12 hours straight. Matsuri came to an end, but I definitely had the most amazing time and just as I was told they would be, those 4 days were probably the most exhausting but fun days in the last 6 months.

Keeping you posted!

Matsuri! (Day 3)

The third day of Matsuri was probably one of the best days in the whole time I have been living in Japan.

The night before we all went out for raman and we didn’t get home too late, so we actually got a decent night of sleep. This was surprising since I had visitors at my house for 5 nights straight and we all had to share beds, futons, blankets, etc… but as per usual we all managed just fine!

On Friday night Dani, Heidi, Joe and Liz stayed over. We all woke up and got ready to go to Niihama for the Taiko competition. Traffic was pretty bad, but because I work near to where we needed to go, I managed to find some parking pretty close to the place of the event. Unfortunately as we arrived and I tried to take a picture I realized that I had left my battery charging at home. I wanted to go back home and pick it up but knew that if I tried to do that I would miss the whole competition. Thankfully Ty was around to save the day because he very graciously offered me his camera for the day. I guess that since he has been around for a couple of Matsuris it wasn’t a big deal if he didn’t take pictures this time. So I grabbed the camera and basically disappeared for the rest of the evening.

First I walked up the mountain and pushed and shoved my way through throngs of people to be able to get a decent view. We arrived just as the event was about to begin so I couldn’t be too particular about where I got to sit and because I’m small I think I got pretty lucky. So I took a lot of long-shot pictures from up there and then moved my way down to the middle of the action.

Now Taikodais are huge structures, so one needs to be super careful when they are around as the men get tired and drop them since they are so incredibly heavy. Also when they turn they make wide-angle turns, so people really need to get out of their way. Dani almost got trampled by one the day before while she was trying to eat her breakfast and I had to literally pull her back because she wasn’t paying attention. But no pain no game right? So I decided to be adventurous and just ran the whole afternoon between taikos taking pictures. I have too many to post, but I have selected what I think are some of the best shots of the day. I had a fantastic time getting all of these photos so I wanted to share them with you.

Keeping you posted!

Matsuri! (Day 2 Continued)

The second day of Matsuri went on forever!

So as mentioned on Matsuri (Day 2, see below) the second day of Matsuri began at 3am in Niihama. We  finished at around 7am and went home to sleep. To this day I do not remember arriving home. All I remember is getting home and dropping on my bed. We slept for a couple of hours (not nearly enough) and got ready for the finale of Saijo Matsuri.

On Friday afternoon we headed down to Kamogawa River to see the end of Saijo Matsuri. On this evening all the danjeres gather at the bank of the river and only the best get to actually go into the river. I’m not quite sure how it is determined which danjeres are the best though. Must investigate. Anyways the best go into the river and there is a special portable shrine which is believed to carry a god. The danjeres begin to chase this shrine while in the river and once it is believed that the god has escaped, the festival comes to an end. Is somewhat difficult to explain as I myself was quite confused, and it was difficult to really see what was going on because there were so many people and I quite honestly had a difficult time watching what was going on, but to see all the danjeres in the water is quite something, with all their lanterns lighted as it becomes dark .

During this time we were lucky to have Olivia’s parents here who were visiting from Toronto. They were an absolute blast to have around and total troopers as they were up every night, attended all the festivities and put up with all of our craziness!

For me the best part of Matsuri was being able to hang out with everyone. Because we have such different schedules from those in the JET program we don’t get to see each other during the week, but during the length of the festival we were all around each other and quite simply had a great time!

Keeping you posted!

Matsuri! (Day 2)

The second night of Matsuri was my favourite!

On the second I arrived at Olivia’s house at midnight, took a nap and was ready to go by 3am.

At Niihama Matsuri there are no Danjiris but Taikodais, which are these massive shrines that up to 200 men carry on their shoulders! They are also incredibly heavy  (2 tonnes) and sometimes the men cannot carry them any longer, so they collapse under the weight. On this second night, we followed one of the Taikodais up to a shrine in the mountain, and it was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen!

The reason I enjoyed this evening more than the first night of Saijo Matsuri is that because the taikodais are so much heavier and much bigger than the danjiris, the men are so much more focused and to me it was much more impressive to see them carry a taikodai… especially up a hill. Also when lit at night the Taikodais look so beautiful with all the details that go into them (My favourite was a gold dragon with red fire coming out of its mouth!).

We all had a great, great time this night! We had so much energy and were just so excited at what we were seeing that  a few of us decided to stay to the very end, sometime around 7am. We followed the last taikodai down the hill, and it took them a very long time to make their way down (I think they were very tired). Once again we went home, slept, ate and got ready for the finale of Saijo Matsuri that same evening.

Keeping you posted!