September 15, 2014
Our First Matsuri in Tateyama!
Yesterday (9/14) was our first festival since we came to Japan, but it also happens to the biggest festival of the year. I had hoped that I would be writing this blog post using our new internet, but seems that the internet gods still have not relented.
The festival we went to is supposed to be the biggest one in Chiba prefecture. Sugimura Sensei, a teacher I work with, told Sam and me that many people will check into their hotels and then immediately book their room for next year as well. The whole event is apparently sold out every year!
For the weeks leading up to the festival, Sam and I would often walk past a street that was filled with the sounds of taiko drumming. It was fantastic to hear, except when it woke me up on Saturday morning, the first day of the festival. For Japanese festivals, because many people work over the weekend, the events take place over two days.
Even though I was working on Saturday, the whole town had portable shrines that were traveling through the streets, often backing up traffic. These shrines are the American equivalent of floats (and I will refer to them as such), but are being pulled by dozens of people, usually in high school or junior high students. It’s a real statement about the Japanese that even their festivals and celebrations are a test of group dynamics! That’s not to say I don’t whole-heartedly endorse this practice; it was amazing to witness!
On Saturday, many of my students were late or absent because of the matsuri (festival in Japanese), but Mai and I were able to walk outside to see one of the floats travel past our school and saw one of my students enthusiastically waving from the back of the shrine! It was one of the cutest things I have ever seen! We were both so excited and kept talking about it for the rest of the day.
For the second day of the festival, Mai, Sam, and I had made plans a while back to check it out together. None of us had ever seen it, as we’re all relatively new to the area (Mai has lived here for a little under a year), so we were all pretty thrilled! We agreed on meeting at the shrine at noon. Teren, after being relentlessly hounded by me (and partially Mai) agreed to join us, but took a later train from where he lives in Kisarazu and showed up at 3. So, before Teren showed up, the three of us checked out the shrine, prayed (for internet on my part… it didn’t work…), and ate a smattering of delicious festival foods. We didn’t think to take pictures of everything, but I can tell you about them!
Mai, who is notorious for loving sweets, had but a single chocolate crepe. Sam and I split a chewy, but delicious, yakiniku (grilled meat). I also bought a bag of barbecue seasoned fries, which had very different seasoning than American barbecue seasoning, and some gigantic and super filling takoyaki (octopus balls).
Sam bought a chocolate covered banana but, after a game of jan-ken-pon (rock paper scissors) he managed to win a free one for me too (those were super cute, so we did take a picture)!Japanese chocolate covered bananas are actually pretty different from the ones you find in the States; they aren’t the least bit cold. They can actually, depending on the weather and exposure to the sun, be quite hot! It was quite tasty, but I would say that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the temperature of the whole thing. American chocolate bananas are too cold, but Japanese ones are too warm. I think a refrigerated banana would really be the best of both worlds.
After we ate, we all hung out in the wooded area of the shrine, discussing many things (such as the differences between our nationalities when it came to chocolate covered bananas). Soon the floats began returning to the shrine for part of the ceremony. Mai missed the first one, as she was grabbing something from her car, but we recorded it on my phone so she was able to see some of it. However, we hadn’t realized that the floats returning was an hour long event in itself! By the time the last one had charged up the main path to the shrine, Mai had left for her afternoon plans. We also found Teren towering over the rest of the crowd that was wandering in behind one of the last floats.
After a quick water break, Teren, Sam, and I went back up to the shrine. All of the floats had been parked and some sort of ceremony was going on. Suddenly I heard my name and turned to see one of my students and his mother! Let me tell you, this kid was such a terror from day one! He always takes things during class, does his best to ruin/manipulate any activity, and is an overall menace! But, I swear to god, that little jerk pried his way into my heart in a mere two days. He loves to have one-on-one attention and takes helping his sensei very seriously. Even during the class after his, he was trying to get into my classroom so he could give me an orange flavored mento! Ah!
So, I see my little terror at the festival and, of all my student I’ve seen outside of class, this is the guy that is visibly excited to see me! We both climbed under a nearby structure so we could have a very basic English conversation, pose for a picture, and have a solid high-five. Only later did I find out that he was also on one of the floats! I snapped some pics, so feel free to guess which one is my little tyrant!
After seeing my student, we stood and watched as all of the floats pulling out of the shrine, often having to do a man-powered three-point-turn! Before each float would begin to leave, they would pull up in front of the other floats and the people in the front of the two floats would lean forward and shake hands. They would then commence their complicated exit.
Teren doesn’t seem like he is all that interested in festivals because, afterwards, he suggested we all go to Hamazushi, one of our local sushi-go-rounds; It’s very close to the shrine, has good food, and is incredibly cheap. So, we exited the festival grounds and are dinner for around 2 hours. When we came back out, the sun had set and Teren only had a short while before he would have to leave. We checked out the shrine again, but quickly left to make sure he wouldn’t miss his train. When we got to the station, low and behold! All of the floats had showed up and were transformed into their expanded forms! Teren parted, but Sam and I stuck around for a little bit to listen to the taiko drums, flutes, and whistles. We went back to the apartment to drop off our stuff, but decided to stay since we had been out for most of the day and most of the merriment was still audible (and often visible) from our apartment windows.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. Out of everything, I would have to say that seeing my little students up on the portable shrines was worth every moment my feet complained!
Answer to which one is my student: