Sorry for the lack of recent updates… I’ve started school and been extremely busy!
The weekend before we left for the US was our city’s annual festival, affectionately called Fujimatsu, a mashing of Fujioka Matsuri. Once again, Kenji and I were signed up to help carry the mikoshi for the Board of Education. I was looking forward to another year of riding around on top of it, but this year the weather had other plans!
The day started brightly enough, though, as we drove on over pretty early to get ready, eat, and watch the parade.
The parade. The ladies in blue are Fujioka ambassadors; basically the prettiest young women they could find!
I also insisted on getting a jacket. Usually the girls don’t wear them, but I noticed last year as well as in pictures of previous years that, well, often the girls DO get them! So like last year I insisted, only unlike last year the girls were stark and traditional this year and didn’t go for the jackets. I was glad I did however!
By the time night started to fall, fat raindrops were starting to fall as well. We got as far into the festival as we could, covering the mikoshi, lanterns, and fans with plastic bags, but the weather proved too much.
At one point, it started POURING in a way I haven’t seen since one summer in Texas where we got some serious rain and everything flooded. It is a rain I have never experienced in Japan before. This wasn’t any wimpy rain, oh no. This was a storm determined to end things. We tried, but eventually gave up and gathered under an awning as best we could. I had ridden on the mikoshi for a bit in the rain, so I was absolutely soaked, and glad for the double layers. At once point, I went back into the maelstrom to grab plastic bags for the cameras, and found the majority of Fujioka holed up in the Piago grocery store. Dodging students and acquaintances and shedding water all over, I grabbed a few bags and went back out.
We tried to wait it out, but eventually authorities decided to cancel the rest of the night, so we took the mikoshi back. I got another chance to ride, but was disappointed it didn’t continue. Damn you Gunma weather!
Oh well, next year will be nice I hope! We cleaned up and went off for the night and prepared for the next morning.
The next day was the dashi, and at first we were not going to pull for icchome like last year. For one, we no longer lived in icchome, and two, hadn’t been asked. I wore my brand new yukata, and we camped out at Kenji’s barber’s store again to watch the crowds go by, then at once point walked around and passed the icchome station… whereby Oyaji caught sight of us and asked us to help pull again this year. Well… alright! We were planning on leaving a bit early, as the next day we were flying to the US, but we helped for a little while, then left. The clouds threatened, but luckily didn’t pour like the previous day.
Clouds and crowds. My, it looks threatening doesn’t it?
So that was Fujimatsu. A bit different than last year, but still really fun, and one of my favorite activities to look forward to in summer!
Also that weekend was the Onish Matsuri, which we also went to last year. This year I wore yukata, as did Kenji. There were a ton of students there, and overall it was really fun!
We didn’t stay super long. We walked the food stalls (of course), watched the dashi for awhile, saw the short fireworks, and then left to beat the crowds. It was short but sweet!
The weekend of the 9th/10th was busy indeed. We had planned to go to a famous and special festival in Nagano for Sunday, when we got invited to go watch a balloon festival Saturday night. We decided to do both, and hit three different prefectures in two days as a result!
First was the balloons. We drove with Scott and Naomi, and their two nieces, to her brother’s house in Tochigi to see the balloons. Unfortunately, we missed the 5pm ceremony, so we settled for the 7pm light up instead. I don’t know if we missed them lifting off totally or not, but the next day was the actual race, so we felt a tiny bit let down. Definitely on the list to see next year!
The balloons were going up one by one, and being lit up as they fired the hot air into the balloon. Every once in awhile they’d do it all at once!
Sunday morning we woke up and drove to Nagano to see the famous Onbashira festival. This festival is held only once every seven years, so needless to say it was PACKED with people determined not to miss it! Basically, they chop down a few trees to erect in front of the shrines in the area. The first part of the festival is to get the giant tree trunks to the shrine. And what better way to do that than to ride them down the mountain!
No I’m not kidding. It is a short ride, but a dangerous one, hence why they only do it every seven years. It is hours of waiting for about 5 seconds of riding, but I daresay it was actually worth it. The second part is actually erecting the giant logs in front of the shrines, which happen a month later.
We arrived in time to “see” one of these infamous tree-riding events, but actually it was so crowded we didn’t actually see a thing! Right after it finished, Kenji left to find a good spot for us to watch the next one, while I checked out them dragging the tree down the road to where it would rest for a month.
Walking about 30 minutes from our parking place, we finally hit a few food booths… and more walking.
I found Kenji after that surrounded by a crowd, so I took that opportunity to get us some food and drinks, then squeezed in beside him. After that it was almost an hour before the next one started.
The crowd behind us
Thankfully no one was badly hurt this round, though we suspect there were more than a few turned ankles. It was an… interesting experience to say the least! But I think that while I’m glad I got the chance to see it, once eery 7 years is more than enough for me!
This is going to be a loooong post… I have a TON of pictures!
Fujioka Matsuri, called FujiMatsu by the kids, is the highlight of summer in the city. I’ve been waiting for this weekend for forever! We went out Saturday morning and caught the preparations going on in the main square for the start of the festival that afternoon!
Preparations at Chuo Kouen for the sumo and dance stages, Dashi out and ready for the next day, and food stands setting up!
We were followed around by a giant cooler of drinks, so we were having lots of fun by the end of it! We didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy the festival though, since we had to be there early at the practice. Thank goodness it was over two days!
The next day even though we were helping our neighborhood pull our dashi, we had more time to see the festival. First we swung by Chuo Kouen to catch the tail end of sumo and the beginning of the dances. We didn’t see much sumo, but did get to see Naomi’s niece dance. She’s so cute! I also caught sight of some of my elementary students!
Kid’s sumo and dancing at the park
I can’t wait for next year’s! I had SO much fun!
And two videos:
I’m SO excited for Fujioka Matsuri this weekend, I can’t wait to post! On Saturday, Me, Kenji, and the rest of the ALT’s will be joining our employers, the Fujioka Board of Education, in carrying the mikoshi, or portable shrine, during the festival. Mikoshi are different from the dashi I took pictures of at Onishi matsuri in that they are actually carried, not pulled.
I will probably be carrying lanterns either on top of the mikoshi or in front, but they guys get the pleasure of carrying it! This is the girl’s outfit:
Blue shirt, black pants and tabi, and a headwrap
On Sunday, we will be joining our neighborhood, icchoume, in pulling the neighborhood dashi like those in Onishi matsuri. I don’t have the outfit for that yet… I’ll post it when I know!
Onishi is a part of Fujioka, but as it was annexed quite recently, people still tend to think of it as its own town. I rather think that despite the fact that it is part of Fujioka, most people think down on it a bit. It is a bit further in the mountains, and doesn’t have a train station. But it is surrounded by really beautiful mountains, and is cooler than Fujioka since it is higher, so I think it would be a nice place to live!
Onishi’s junior high school employs a private ALT, so we don’t ever meet them at the JET orientations or activities usually. Luckily, Simone came to Terry’s party so we were able to meet! I hope she enjoys Onishi and stays… Onishi has a pretty high turnover for ALT’s.
Anyway, no way was I wearing yukata again, so it didn’t take long to dress and get there. We parked at one of Kenji’s teacher’s houses and walked to the festival, then met Simone somewhere along the main street. After that it was wandering around and finding different yummy things to eat, and also saying “hi” to the occasional Nishi or Higashi student we saw! Finally it was time for the main event… BATTLE OF THE DASHI! Dashi are floats drawn by people. They have a small group of musicians inside playing taiko and shakuhachi, and usually a few young men on top waving lanterns. Each had their own entrance preceded by a burst of fireworks, then all 5 came close together across from the mayor in the main square and had a music fight! It was exciting, but had to be tiring after awhile… I know I was tired of getting pressed by tons of people! They finally stopped, the mayor made a speech, and then they each retreated. It was fun!
Walking to the main street
After Tsuchi-to-Hi-no-Sato, we went home and got ready to go to Maebashi for the Tanabata Festival and our friend Terry’s Goodbye Party. He had requested yukata, so we got ours out, and after a few tries I just couldn’t get it right. So we drove to Kyoko-sensei’s and she helped the both of us put it on! That made us a bit late, but at least we were presentable!
Tanabata is a festival held on July 7th and celebrates the only day of the year Altair and Vega (I think) can meet. Usually they are separated by the milky way. The story is really interested and sweet! Anyway, Maebashi was having the festival from Thursday through Sunday, so we combined Terry’s party with the matsuri.
We missed the last train home (of course!) so we found a cheap hotel to spend the night and went back the next morning. I wasn’t feeling well, but luckily had the rest of the day to recover before the next matsuri!
Part two concluded this weekend with another trip up to the Fuji mountain with Kenji’s parent’s this time. They are in Japan to go to his mom’s school reunion, and they came first to see Kenji in Fujioka for a few days. Both Kenji and I have had a cold this past week, so it has been difficult to juggle work and planning Iriomote with trying to get well and still show his parent’s a nice time in the area, but we did it!
They came Sunday afternoon, so we first went up to see the Fuji again, and also peeked in at our kids’ sports meets below the hill at the tennis courts. After that, we drove to Kanna-machi to see the Koi-no-Buri… more on that in a bit. First, more Fuji pictures! They’d definitely grown, but were still not in full bloom. I hope they’re still beautiful when we get back from Iriomote!
Definitely longer than the last weekend…
It had absolutely POURED buckets that morning, then the strong wind blew the clouds away, and the pollution with it. The clarity in the air was amazing, but the wind was still super strong!
We didn’t do the long walk this time, because we wanted to make the drive up into the mountains to Kanna-machi to see the famous Koi-no-Buri. Koi-no-Buri are fish streamers households with boy children put up in time for Boy’s Day in May. I think it’s called “Children’s Day” now, but the streamers are reserved only for families with boys. Every person in the family gets one with respect to their position and age. So Dad’s will be longest, then mom’s, then any remaining children (not just boys at this point). Most houses put it up near them, but Kanna-machi is special because they string them up with the whole town over the river. There are literally hundreds of them, some several meters taller than a full-grown man, so it is really a sight to behold!
And it totally met, and surpassed, expectations. It was really an awesome sight! I took WAY too many pictures, and they don’t do it justice:
Making the drive to Kanna-machi, we passed some gorgeous views of the lake that winds through the mountains and follows the road
Finally, we headed back and stopped a few more places for pictures:
We spent some more time with his parent’s this past week, along with working and recuperating and planning. His parent’s left this morning (Thursday), and tomorrow we leave for Iriomote! YAY!
This is probably another long entry, but I’m trying to get everything up-to-date before I got to Iriomote on Okinawa tomorrow! I’m SUPER exited about it and know I’ll probably take 2847028937408923 pictures, so watch out for that in a week or two!
Anyway, two weekends ago, Kenji and I went up to our local park for the opening of the Fuji Festival. Fuji are wisteria, and planted EVERYWHERE around Fujioka. Not sure if the town was named because of this, or they were planted because the town was named after them… chicken and egg, I guess. Either way, it is a GORGEOUS time to be here!
When we went, they weren’t even near full bloom yet, but you can see the hint and promise of spectacular flowers to come! We decided to bike there, since it was a beautiful day, and took some pictures on the way:
Barbed wire and roof tiles at an abandoned house
Those Fuji smell WONDERFUL I tell you! After we hung around the Fuji for a bit, we decided to do one of the hiking trails around the hill to get back into the practice of exercise! Right now the new leaves are showing, so everywhere you look is a lovely bright yellow-green color. Japanese has a color word for that, Moegi-iro, which means “New leaf color”. So we walked through some pretty trees to a look-out with a nice view, then even further to find a pretty pond, and then we came to the other side of the path and walked back! It was tiring, but nice! I miss hiking, I can’t wait to do it more often!
Some hazy views of the area
Next up is this most recent weekend!