Fall has arrived. It started about a week ago, and the sweet-peachy smells of late summer have been replaced by a gentle, smoky musk.
This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience three very important Japanese cultural events: Kurama’s fire festival, karaoke with friends, and the 1200 year anniversary of Mount Koya (Koyasan). On top of that, I also got to work at an elementary school to help them with Halloween celebrations and their English. This post’ll be mostly images and videos. Fall is such an incredibly sensory experience in Japan. I don’t want to muddy up the beginning of it with too many words. Plus, what’s the use in talking about karaoke? I know you all want to hear us 🙂
Last Thursday was the first day we felt fall. After school ended, a few friends and I went to the Kurama fire festival: the Kurama hi-matsuri at Yuki shrine. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Getting on the trolley that took us there was difficult enough. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a crowded place. I’ve been on subways cars in Tokyo where the station workers had to push us into the car, but this was something else. The trolley car arrived at our stop and there were already people pressed against the glass. The doors opened and people turned their heads to look at us with wide eyes. There was a brief silence. We looked at each other and decided to get on anyway.
As we squished our way into the trolley, everyone in the car groaned (but in a good-natured way). We had a conversation with a Japanese man about four inches away from my face and we all laughed at how ridiculous our situation was. It was a little hard to breathe but not hard enough to prohibit chuckling.
Once we got off the trolley, we were funneled into and around the town for about 2 hours. From 6 until 8, the festivities slowly got more spirited and the crowds started to disperse. There were people with huge torches on their backs walking through the streets, and the smell of smoke was sweet everywhere. There was one massive fire in front of the shrine, but there were still so many people it was hard to see.
Eventually the streets cleared out so much that our second loop around the town took less than half the time of the first. And this is when the real fun started. If you’re going to receive a kami in your shrine, you better be sure to put on a show.
At around 9pm, they took down two mikoshi (portable shinto shrines) from the main shrine and carried them through the streets.
After that, they shook the shrines around. It was crazy to see this awesome, gold-covered thing being chucked around like that by a bunch of lively guys. And yes, the guy who was riding the mikoshi was still on it that whole time. This was the real deal.
After this, the people carrying it walked over to some carts and slowly lowered the mikoshi onto them. There was lots of shouting and laughter as one of the shrines almost missed the cart. The guy riding it didn’t bat an eyelash the whole time, though. Then, we pulled the shrines through the streets and around the town. That’s right, WE. Anyone who wanted to could grab the rope and pull the shrines for as long as they liked. So, of course I did it. We all chanted and smiled the whole time. It was awesome.
After pulling the shrines all around the town and up a hill, we stopped and turned around. We almost got run over by the shrine on the slight slope down but the people yelling directions at us kept us calm and told us not to let go. No one was hurt and I had the curious feeling that this is what horses must feel like when they’re pulling a carriage. The people who were directing things in fundoshi leaned back on the shrine and had a quick smoke.
Once they finished their smoke, we pulled the shrines back down the hill and through the town. Because it was already 11pm, my friends and I peeled off near the train station and headed home.
I can’t wait to go to more shinto festivals. Shinto festivals provide a level of participation unlike anything I’ve experienced. I just wish I knew more about it. I don’t know why, but it seems hard to find out information about shinto. I’m hoping to take a religion class next semester, though. I’ll report back with anything interesting.
On Friday, I went out with friends. It was a night of karaoke and it was glorious.
The outing was mostly because there are so many AKP students with October birthdays. Because of this, a good chunk of AKP students showed up–and even a few Doshisha students. They were hilarious and graciously handled the all the money when it was time to pay. I hope we didn’t scare them. We ended up being quite spirited.
We rented out a room for 2 hours at a karaoke place on Shijo. It was probably one of the glitzy-est places I’ve visited yet in Japan. The halls and rooms made it seem like we were in a ritzy hotel!
But did we sing ritzy songs? Well, we did sing one Frank Sinatra song, but… Well I’ll let you see for yourself. Here’s the first song of the night:
NAME THAT TUNE
They served us free soda and juice the whole night. Eventually we got so hyped up up simple sugars and high fructose corn syrup that we thought we could take this song on:
We ordered new songs throughout the night on our digital consoles. Those two hours went by so fast. We already have a list of songs we want to sing for next time.
Saturday was the trip to the legendary Mount Koya (Koyasan). I’m not sure there’s much I can say. I encourage you all to look up the history of Koyasan when you have the time. When we went there on Saturday, all of the leaves were just beginning to turn. The shrines and temples were so beautiful nestled in between the trees.
We started out by eating a %100 vegan and freakin delicious lunch at a temple, and then we walked around the mountain complex. At the end of the day I probably visited 7-8 shrines and temples–but that was literally just scratching the surface. We ended the day by walking through the huge and very famous Okunoin cemetery It was actually really fun and extremely beautiful. Almost a happy place. A few friends and I were talking about what a different vibe these Buddhist cemeteries give off.
I thought I should end with this picture, since it’s Halloween in a few days.
On Friday, I helped out in a Japanese elementary classroom. Their job was to interview me with simple questions and write down what I said. They were terrified. And not because of my pumpkin costume that took ~10 minutes to make. That’s ok because I was a little scared too. Especially after one of the kids wouldn’t stop touching my chin and a tiny Batman called me Captain America right before punching my thigh.
But they were pretty good by and large.
After they interviewed me, I went downstairs to my station at the “stamp rally.” The kids had to circulate through various stations and get stamps from each of the people in charge.
My station was “listening comprehension” and it was obviously the most popular.
Out of all the stations it took by far the most time. They each had a sheet with some sentences, and as I said each sentence they had to fill in a blank of their sheet. The words that filled these blanks were “Van,” “Bed,” and “Cat,” among a few others.
And they were impossible. The teacher later conceded that it was a lot more difficult for them to understand the words than she was expecting. I don’t think a single kid got any of the words on the first try–even if I pronounced them like, “vvvvvvvvaaann.”
English is tough.
This week was a break for the kyudo sensei, and that’s probably good since my weekend was so full. I hope I can do it again this weekend, but we’ll see. I’ve got a lot of homework and midterms.
I don’t have any plans for next week yet, but I’ll see what comes my way.