Last weekend was quite busy. We went to a real festival! Taking place in the city of Kawagoe, which was completely closed off for traffic that weekend, it offered an endless supply of chocolate bananas, takoyaki, dango and other delicious street-vendor things-to-eat. But that isn’t the point of this festival; the centerpieces were the numerous floats which performed musical battles in the evening and put on shows during the day. Never a dull moment in Kawagoe!
But let’s get on to business. Quite a lot of things happened in the past two weeks, even apart from the constant exams in school. We visited a disaster museum, or disaster prevention centre, or something like that (ぼうさいかん in Japanese). It was a school field trip, so we all had the chance to experience a (thankfully simulated) magnitude 7 earthquake and a fire, and learned how to react in those situations. Another thing we did was go into a typhoon simulator (which I hoped to be a tsunami simulator) where wind and rain tried to get us wet, but failed because of giant rain coats we were (sadly, I had my beachwear on) given. Standing in the wind proved no challenge; it was actually quite fun to act like a ski jumper and lean against the wind.
The Fujitsu Guise (patent pending) also joined some volunteers’ Japanese classes at our station. We don’t really get enough speaking/conversation time in school, especially compared to the amount of new vocabulary and grammar we learn every day, and these classes are proving very very useful in that regard. Everyone there is extremely helpful (no surprise there, we’re in Japan after all) and we made a lot of new friends!
With one group we went to a picnic on a nearby hill, which gave us a chance to just talk freely about whatever. Turns out I can have productive conversations in Japanese already. Exciting! We played some games, ate lunch together, then visited a very nice planetarium, where a person who clearly loves his job very much, very enthusiastically explained everything that was going on. His voice was really nice: combine that with the comfortable leaning chairs there and the darkness and you get quite a few people dozing off. I didn’t though, I looked at the stars :D
We were invited to a cafe after one of the “lessons”. What we got was something way better than expected. The family-owned cafe had an exceptionally nice homely feeling and the owners were just fantastic. A maiko maiko (geisha in training, but take my interpretation with a grain of salt) served us food and cake (obviously not as a maiko at that moment), then we looked through her photo albums of her days in training. I don’t think I’m able to express how nice a time we had there in writing, I can just say we’ll definitely be going back. Oh, we also got a maiko-meishi sticker (think business card, but not), which is very cute.
As for this post’s observation of life in Japan: the cars here are a bit peculiar. On one hand you have a bazillion of these snub-nosed cars-but-not-really-cars that exist to avoid some legal categories, and on the other you have a lot of sports cars, expensive cars, nice cars. I’d describe it as an inverted bell curve, with the cars you’d expect to be the most common actually being the least common. Another thing is the amount of hybrids: there are a lot. Maybe Slovenia is just a bit behind the times on that front, but there really are a lot.
Returning back to the topic of the post (always the smaller part, I guess), the festival! Because we spent the whole day in Kawagoe, we got to experience not just the festival proper, but also the city and its nearby attractions. Every street was full of food stands (I like the jan-ken-pon choco-banana ones), festival games and tiny shops selling souvenirs.
We visited the Kita-in temple, which was the birthplace of the third shogun of Japan. It has a nice garden.
Attached to it, there’s a place with 538 statues of disciples of Buddha. Every one of them unique. That makes for a lot of statues! The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac are hidden among the statues, and we spent about half an hour looking for ours, so we could rub its head for good luck.
A thing of note is the person who checks your ticket before you enter that place. You’d usually expect them to just rip your ticket and send you on your way, but this one was special. Speaking with incredible English (especially for the guy’s age), he explained what we should look for on the statues, that we should find our zodiac animals, all while being extremely careful that we really want this information—confirming whether we want to hear about things, but then enthusiastically explaining them. A really nice guy, I wish more people-who-check-your-ticket were like him.
The festival proper was very crowded. Even during the day, there were a lot of people in the city, but it really got packed in the evening. Seriously, think Japanese trains, but put that on a three-lane street. We couldn’t move when the float battles were taking place! Everything was very flashy and very exciting, and the floats were all quite different from each other; some being a bit more mellow, the others more aggressive in their appearance and songs.
All of the floats followed the same general design of a moving tower, but had quite a lot of differences when you actually looked at them. They were also not motorized. People actually pulled them with ropes. To turn, they did some magic with some sticks under their wheels, which left a mark in the asphalt. The processions were fun, being led mostly by kids in festival attire.
The whole city made a very nice impression. Even more so that day, which was mostly without a cloud in sight. This was my first (Japanese) festival and I really hope I am able to go to many more different ones in the future.
Everything is just so nice here. I like Japan.
See the full album linked to this post here (click)!