Thursday, December 29, 2011

The adventure begins!

This will be a short post, but


Nick came in last night and Miranda came in this morning, and, to be honest, both of them held up pretty well today, despite the excessive jet lag.* (Well, Miranda's jet lag was worse.  I don't even want to think about how long she was traveling.)

Today we tried to go to the Higashiyama Botanical Gardens, but found out that they are closed until the New Year, and then we went to Shiroyama Hachimangu, Oasis 21,** and Sakae.  Also, I made them try Beard Papa. Which is a cream puff place.  It serves essentially the best cream puffs.  I am a fan, I must say.

It's been exciting translating.  I've managed not to screw up horribly so far, so yay for that?  I keep forgetting that some people don't read as obsessively about Japanese culture as I do, though.  And not everyone knows when you have to take your shoes off.
DEAR WORLD: If there's a step up (inside), take your shoes off.

Also, so far we've managed to find them food without too much horror and suffering.  YAY.

I am TIRED so I am going to finish my yuzu cha*** and then hit the hay.  G'night, everyone!

*Neither of them managed to injure themselves horribly!  Although Nick kept whacking his head on low doorways.


***Yuzu tea.  It is the greatest.  Mary has got me addicted to it, which is too bad, because apparently grocery stores here don't sell it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas and Boxing Day and...the day that comes after Boxing Day

Welp, I guess I better update you on my last few days in the STD capital of Japan.*

By the way, if you want to see my half of the blog-swap with Mary, it's over here.  And if you want to see Mary's blog about Christmas and Boxing Day, it's over here. WHOO.


Our Christmas was pretty laid back.  We opened presents, drank copious amounts of tea, and then hopped on a train over to Saga (the city, not the prefecture) where we had lunch with a bunch of Mary's ALT buddies.  SO MUCH HAM.  There was a white elephant gift exchange out of which I got a yearly planner and a calendar.  (I contributed a Totoro washcloth.)  Then we ate Mary's pumpkin pie (OM NOM NOM) and got on the train back to Takeo.

And then I made Mary watch Misfits, because I am all about Misfits.

Also, since I didn't have pictures of them before, here are the cups we got from Tatara-san!



Here's Mary's cup.  It doesn't have The Little Prince on it, so it's not as cool.

Mary had extra pie dough so she sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar and maybe some other stuff I forget and then baked it and it tasted really good but probably clogs your arteries.

Mary's super tiny Christmas tree!

Also, you can totally see the Yubaaba cell phone strap I gave her hanging on it.

Anyway!  We also had Christmas cake that evening.


The next morning we decided to make cinnamon rolls, which was exciting, because the cinnamon roll dough was more interested in being glue than dough.  So after thirty minutes of cajoling, begging, pleading, flouring, and punching, I finally managed to turn it into a semi-dough-like substance...only for it to turn back into glue after it rose.  AUGH.  So then there was some more negotiation and it finally decided that maybe it was in its best interest to at least somewhat resemble dough.

By the way, unbaked cinnamon rolls look GROSS.

But baked ones look delicious!


So then we called up Tatara-san and said, "Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey, we have freshly baked, homemade cinnamon rolls for you mwahahahahaha."  And we thought we'd won this round, 'cause, seriously, there was no possible way she could give us anything back...and then she showed up with salmon for us.  I DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW SHE MANAGED THIS.  So much for our counterattack.

So then we went out and managed to somehow get lost in the mountains, but we didn't get eaten by bears, so it was all good.
I did, however, wind up tying Mary's scarf around my head (because it was COLD), which meant that I looked like a giant dork.

And then I made us dinner (with the salmon from Tatara-san) and we talked about Supremely Serious Things like werewolves and weremosquitoes.**

Today I just hopped on the train back to Nagoya, got really excited to see snow in Gifu, was mildly disappointed to discover that there wasn't really snow in Nagoya, was super excited that my Christmas package arrived from home (I am going to wear ALL MY SHAWLS AND SWEATERS AT ONCE; I will be so elegant), and now am definitely not counting down the hours until Nick arrives.***

I am totally not excited at all that I'll be kidnapping Nick and Miranda for the next few weeks. Not at all.  NOT AT ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

*Not even kidding, Saga Prefecture has the highest rate of STDs and shotgun weddings in Japan.  I would have visited an onsen, but I really don't want incurable strains of gonorrhea.  On the upside, there're no real worries about population decline!

**What do you mean "weremosquitoes" isn't a word, spell check?  DISCRIMINATION.

***27 1/2

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hello, Dana's Blog

Hello, all of Dana’s faithful readers!
My name’s Mary. So, recently I kidnapped Dana, and made her do all sorts of enjoyable things down in “balmy” Kyushu. And when I say kidnapping, I mean the whole kaboodle--blog-napping and all.
Operation Kidnap: DAY ONE!
… started at 22:00 at night. Well, this is when Dana finally managed to get here, and I was done with my 忘年会 (bounenkai, or litterally “forget the year party,” or the end of the year party yay let’s drink and be merry!) for my Junior High School. The bounenkai went pretty much as expected—lots of drinking, lots of laughter, lots of pictures of the past year—and I left in good spirits. Since Dana was arriving an hour late, I had time after the party to slip into the local mall to pick up some yuzu*, but since I was so late, all they had was mikan and oranges. Sadface.
   Oh well, I thought. Mikan and oranges are pretty rockin’ citrus, too.
So, armed with citrus, I walked to the train station, and got there pretty much the same time exhausted Dana trudged from the train. And then we both walked home, considerably more perky since we could exchange awesome odd conversation about everything. We got home and rolled about and I got a bath ready and threw in some oranges, and we took turns**. It was pretty highly excellent, and we both passed out in bliss.
Operation Kidnap: DAY TWO!
Day two was also known as the Day of Walking. We walked to the Takeo Shrine, which is known for enshrining one of the biggest/oldest camphor trees in Japan. This camphor tree (called 大楠, or Ookusu, or Big Camphor) inspired the Princess Mononke movie by Studio Ghibli, and is pretty excellent and huge and tree-like. It’s approximately 3,000 years old and awesome. I’m a super fangirl of big ancient trees.
 For more pictures of the tree, you'll have to look at my blog.
Then we decided it’d be fun to walk to Mifune Rakuen, the big park on the opposite side of Mnt. Mifune.
 It was quite a long and excellent walk. The garden was pretty, but since it was winter, most of the plants were like “Oooh, it’s so cold, and I’m a plant, so I’m going to drop my leaves and look soooo sleepy,” so we decided it was best to move on to bigger and more interesting places.
So we walked across a mountain road.
Oh so dangerous and interesting.
(I think it would be a very good idea to find a path through Mnt. Mifune that has walkways. Yes.)
ANYWAY, we came home and made awesome deliciousness:
I ate so much food, and it was fantastic.
Then we watched 2 episodes of My Little Pony, and 3 episodes of Misfits, and listened to good music, and stayed up late writing on blogs and emails, and it was excellent, and we slipped into deep and profound sleep.
Operation Kidnap: DAY THREE!
I woke up super early in the morning, and tried to not wake up Dana by skyping my parents from my bathroom (which is different than the toilet room). It didn’t really work, but I did get my traditional Christmas Eve present from my parents (pajamas), so that was cool.
Then at 10:30, my friend and fellow Tea Ceremony student, Tatara-san, picked us up and took us on a tour of western Saga.
It started by going to Yuutoku Inari Jinja, which is one of the three largest Inari shrines in Japan (the biggest being in Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, which I went to with Dana (we're totally going to have to find the third, and go there, too)). It’s a pretty excellent place, so here are some pictures of our adventures:
We got to the top of the mountain, and the view of Saga was pretty spectacular.
Then, getting down the mountain, there were some steps that Dana thought were pretty steep:
Then we went to an excellent sushi/udon restaurant and had some of the best pork udon ever. I don’t have pictures, but it was warm and delicious, and I had a lot of fun talking to Tatara-san and Dana-san about our various studies and pursuits.
Then we drove some more, and “balmy” Kyushu got snow! 8D Really, it was just a dozen or so super wet snowflakes hitting the windshield, but still, it was pretty fantastic. It’s been about 6 years since I lived somewhere that got any snow, and I’m excited.
Then Tatara-san, being sneaky, pulled over and bought us シュークリーム (I always think “Shoe cream” when I hear it, which sounds so not delicious, but oh my gosh Shyu-cream is sooooo delicious!) from a famous bakery in Yama-uchi-cho. Tatara-san is super nice and likes making people smile, and we’ve started a war with giving each other nice things. The shoe-cream were delicious, but super hard to eat without making a mess all over the back of Tatara-san’s car. I succeeded in getting most of my mess on my coat and my scarf, and not all over Tatara-san’s backseat.
After that, we drove to Arita to see some Arita-yaki, which is some of the most famous pottery from Japan.
Arita-yaki is porcelean, and it’s older designs are rather recognizable, since they are so famous and seen everywhere. I wasn’t sure if we should take pictures, but here are some examples of some famous Arita-yaki.
The store we were in was more for tourists, and as such the pottery for sale was more modern. There were lots of floral patterns, and all the pottery was delicate and perfectly formed. I’m not sure how each were produced, but I’m assuming they are form-molded, not each made by hand, but I’m not sure. I will have to ask next time.
I started getting suspicious when Tatara-san started asking us each what we liked, and then kept returning to look at the cups we had pointed out to and looking at them thoughtfully. Dana, naïve of Tatara-san’s schemings, kept looking happily at the pottery. Then Tatara-san said, “So, choose your favorite piece, because I will buy you some!” *** Dana and I were happy, and embarrassed, and politely tried to refuse, but Tatara-san was insistant. She bought Dana a Petite Prince mug, and me a beautiful white yunomi**** with a simple green ring around the lip and beautiful green leaves on one side. Tatara-san had worked at the store before, so she got a crazy discount.
This is why I highly recommend taking Tea Ceremony (or any other traditional Japanese art form) with the awesome ladies of Japan. J Thank you, Tatara-san.
After receiving our presents, Dana and I went upstairs to where they displayed pottery from the Meiji and Edo periods of Japan. These were some pretty fantastic pieces of pottery, most of them 100-200 years old, and some of them nearly 400 years old. I was drooling every step I took, and had to be painfully dragged away from the gilt porcelain.*****
Then we hopped in the car again and went to Imari, an out-of-the-way city in Saga that used to be a ceramics enclave during the Edo period of Japan.****** There were lots and lots of little pottery shops, but I’ll admit, the mountains had me most captivated.
Also, the whole town was very quaint and heart-warming.
It was bitterly cold, but it was enjoyable to walk through such a peaceful small arts town, and to see so much beautiful pottery.
Then we went to Kuro-kami shrine (黒髪神社). Kurokami-zan is the most famous mountain in this region of Saga. The temperature had kept dropping from our time in Imari, and so it was bitterly cold outside. Tatara-san stayed in her car as Dana and I ventured out to the shrine, and she kindly let me wear her blue fox fur ruff. I looked pretty shnazzy at the shrine, and kept warmer.
Then, on the way home, Tatara-san swung by the grocery so we could buy dinner food-stuffs and food for the Christmas party tomorrow.
We wrapped up the tour by me running back into my apartment to retrieve the gift of Godiva chocolate I had forgotten to give her on the outset of the journey. I feel like it was only a small repayment for the vast kindness we received from Tatara-san, and I am very thankful for her generosity. It has made a wonderful memory.
Now, Dana and I are lying around my apartment, writing blogs, making food that is like nikujaga’s distant cousin *******, watching Misfits, and baking a pumpkin pie.
Good day, good day.
*Look at Dana’s previous blog post. She eats them! D:
**If you aren’t aware of Japanese family bathing traditions, the bath is in the shower room (often taking half the floor space), and you can splash everything with your nifty detach-able showerhead and smile like an exctatic child, then when you are done splashing and getting clean, you slip into the bath that is shared with everyone. On the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, the Japanese figure it’s a good idea to take advantage of all that long dark coldness and put delicious-smelling yuzu in the bathtub and stay in for soooo loooong.
*** This is a paraphrase, because, while I can think in Japanese, I often translate things in my head instantaneously and tend to remember a translation of what people said in English, and not what they actually said in Japanese. It’s kind of odd, actually…
**** <i>Yunomi</i> are a Japanese-style tea-cup, without a handle.
***** If you don’t know me, I am a ceramisist, and pottery is one of my undying loves. Being in a pottery shop is like putting a kid in a candy store—and very dangerous for my wallet. Being in a shop surrounded by old, gorgeous pottery was heaven.
****** Artist enclaves were areas where artisans were forced to live in the village and make things for the emperor.
******* Nikujaga literally means “meat and potatoes”, and is made by cooking thinly cut pork or beef with potatoes in sake and soy-sauce until the potatoes fall apart into a yummy mash-potato-like consistency, but what Dana and I had was comprised of Satsuma-imo, potato, pork, piman (which is like a bell pepper), and renkon (lotus root). It was delicious. I also made brownrice on my gas stove for the first time, and it turned out well.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oranges + hot water = HEAVEN

I just wanted to let everyone know I made it to Takeo safely, although there were a few more adventures along the way than I would have cared to have.  One of the adventures was caused by the Shinkansen ticket machine, which decided that because I had asked for tickets for the 22nd, I actually wanted tickets for the 23rd.  Hijinks ensued, but, thankfully, were resolved by a really nice guy at the ticket counter.  THANK YOU, YAMADA-SAN.
In other news, Kyushu accent = SO WEIRD.

Unfortunately, Mary's internet and my computer seem to hate each other (or at least not want to hang out with each other), so until we figure out how to get them to cooperate (if we figure it out), I will not really have internet.  I will probably be able to steal Mary's computer occasionally, but will not have EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF TIME on the internets.  So if you email me and I don't respond, it doesn't mean I'm dead or ignoring you.  It probably just means that Mary's internets are excessively inaka.
Also, typing on a Mac is bizarre.  THERE ARE NO BUTTONS BELOW THE TRACK PAD WHAT TO DO.

On a final note, happy winter solstice!  We celebrated Japanese style, which is to say we put oranges in the bathtub (because Mary couldn't get yuzu*).  WHOO.

*It's a kind of pretty inedible citrus.  It smells really nice, though!  And I've eaten it.  Since, you know, it's inedible and all.  It seemed pretty edible to me, but, hey, what do I know?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tsukinamisai again, calendars, and 失敗

First off, thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes.  My inbox kind of overflowed with them.

Sorry about the really long silence, but I've been absurdly busy with
- preparations for visiting Mary
- filing a whole bunch of paperwork for next year
- working on my final grad school app
- fieldwork
- writing my essay for class uggggggh
...also, A Game of Thrones has stolen my soul.  So, yeah.

Friday night, right after I had gone to sleep...
Dorm people: DANA!  DANA, GET OUT HERE.
Me: ...I'm sleeping.
Me: =_=
So my dorm throws parties for everyone who has a birthday, but, uh, I was expecting them to do it on my birthday, not the night before.  I was pretty incoherent and exhausted, but everyone put up with my inability to form complete sentences.

Also, I got cake.

And they gave me a card, which included...

...this incredibly accurate portrait of me.  BEST PORTRAIT EVER, AM I RIGHT?

Saturday morning I woke up early to go to Susanoo Shrine to help out with the tsukinamisai (monthly festival, if you've forgotten) preparations.  They were very grateful that I came because, as it turned out, Shigehara-san, who normally helps out, was unable to come, which meant that there were three of us plus Nakano-san trying to set everything up.  So I got a glimpse into the insane number of preparations that go into a festival.  Keep in mind that this is a small festival (tsukinamisai is not terribly important) at the second smallest level of shrine (smallest level with parishioners)!  But in the hour leading up to the festival, I
- took all the offerings out of their bags (since vegetables in Japan come in bags) and arranged them by type (fruits, vegetables, not vegetables, things we can pretend are vegetables)
- filled all the water containers
- found lids for all the water containers
- filled the sake containers
- transferred sake around because I divided it up wrong the first time
- realized that there was a funnel there that I could have used, oh well
- found lids for all the sake containers
- arranged the sake, water, rice, and salt offerings on trays
- arranged chairs on the ceremony stage
- rearranged the chairs because I did it wrong the first time
- arranged slippers for people to use on the ceremony stage
- carried the offerings out to the stage
And after the ceremony, I
- removed the offerings from the altar and carried them back into the shrine office
- washed and dried the sake, water, salt, and rice offering containers
- wiped down the offering trays
- counted a whole bunch of omamori and ofuda*
- put a whole bunch of omamori and ofuda into boxes
- carried the chairs back inside
- wiped down the small tables used for the ceremony
- helped pass out the divided up offerings
- helped arrange the tea sweets for the naorai
Of course, Nakano-san also had to purify all the omamori and ofuda for the New Year during the ceremony, so it was a bit more complicated than usual, but you can probably tell that a fair amount of work goes into it.  Plus, it was freezing cold, and you can't wear shoes on the ceremony stage, so I spent about three hours running around in socks and no gloves.  I discovered that my hands swell up when it's cold. It was exciting?
In any case, because I proved my competence, I've been cleared to help out at New Year's, which is SO EXCITING.  Also, Nick and Miranda are invited, which is also SO EXCITING.  WHOO.

On a somewhat random note, I found out something interesting about miko (shrine maidens).  Traditionally they were virginal, prepubescent girls.  Then they changed the restrictions so that they had to be young girls who were unmarried ('cause how are you actually going to check the virginal thing without that getting really awkward?  Plus, child labor laws).  Then, on Saturday, I discovered that apparently someone realized that, hey, sometimes people have sex outside of wedlock (I KNOW, RIGHT?), and so the restrictions have been changed AGAIN so only women under 20 (the age you're considered an adult in Japan) who have never had a boyfriend are eligible.  Of course, this assumes that
A. nobody has sex while they're not dating
B. everybody who's dating is having sex
neither of which are true.  But I suppose it's less awkward than putting "Are you a virgin? Y/N" on your job applications.**
Yay, random asides!

So Saturday afternoon I went to see The Adventures of Tintin, which cost 2,000 yen ($26), and that was WITH a student discount.  It was fun (and gorgeous to look at, for the most part), but not really worth the price of admission.  Oh well.  I did discover that 3D glasses in Japan are HUGE (imagine like those snow goggle/sunglasses things), which meant that they very comfortably fit over my regular glasses.  Sweet.  Even better, the 3D didn't give me a headache, although I'm not sure whether that's because of a different projection technique or because of my new glasses ('cause I haven't seen a 3D movie since getting them).
And then after that I went to get Taiwan ramen.  YUM.

So that was my 21th*** birthday.  I thought about trying to get drunk on chocolate (Miranda's suggestion), but then I realized that if I ate that much chocolate, I would probably die.  Plus it would be expensive (I'm not going to eat that much cheap chocolate, geez, next you're going to tell me to eat Hershey's).  So, that didn't happen.  Oh well.  Maybe next year.


Yesterday (Monday) I had penmanship class, where we were working on calendars.  This meant that we got to write the kanji for all the different years in the Chinese zodiac.

So I think this looks extraordinarily derpy, but apparently it's really good, so...what do I know?

And then we practiced writing the kanji for this coming year, which is the year of the dragon.

So then Nakano-san told me to practice writing the kanji for dragon by itself.

Nakano-san: Your letters are too skinny.  Make them fatter.

Nakano-san: Still too skinny.

So then she gave me THE FAT BRUSH (its actual name), a brush so extraordinarily large that one of the other students was afraid to use it.

Nakano-san: There, that's better.

Here's the finished product!  The left side got a bit squished, but whatever.

...also, you can totally see my toes in that picture.  That's a little weird.

Then, because I had to wait for my calendar to dry, I practiced writing the years of the zodiac in hiragana.  YAY.

So today, Tuesday sensei came into class and gave us a choice between a regular class or a conversation class that definitely was not a party.  We picked the latter and ate snacks and had a party, I mean, a totally serious lesson.
Also, everyone is incredibly upset that Tuesday sensei will not be teaching the second year class.  One of the girls threatened to fail the class so that she could take the first year class again.

Also, it's time for...language fails!  Failing at Japanese is an art, and a lot of foreign students will keep track of their particularly spectacular ones.  Here are a collection of language fails from Japanese class this semester...
Sensei: Please describe how to make rice in a rice cooker [suihanki].
Student: Well, first you take the rice, and measure it?  You measure it with a cup.  Okay.  Then you wash the rice.  And then you put the rice into the vending machine [jihanki].
Japanese student: I want to get a boyfriend, so I'm thinking that next year I'll do konkatsu [sort of like match-making activities].
Foreign student: Wait, how will that help you get married?
Japanese student: ?????
Foreign student: Oh...OH, you said konkatsu.  I thought you said tonkatsu.
Sensei: Why do you like Japanese boys?
Student 1: Because of their kizukai [consideration].
Student 2: Their kisukai [kissing parties]?????

Anyway, that's the short version of what I've been up to.  Tomorrow I have some administrative stuff to do and some last minute Christmas-shopping-like-stuff, and then Thursday night I head out to Saga prefecture where I'll be staying until the 27th.  Nick comes in on the 28th and Miranda comes in on the 29th, so, uh, I'll be fairly preoccupied.  This blog may not update a whole lot, but I'll try to at least post something every week so everyone knows I'm still alive.

Now it's off to finish this dangblasted essay...

P.S. Happy Hanukkah to everyone celebrating it!  I keep seeing the emails about latkes in Tech House, and...and now I really want to eat latkes.  Darn it.

*Slips of paper which are placed in household altars and believed to carry a bit of the essence of the kami.

**Is it legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual experience????

***Edit: Oh geez, I've been reading way too much Cake Wrecks.  That should be 21ST.  21ST.  This is why you don't write blog posts late at night.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Prepare for one heck of an update, because I had one heck of an adventure.

So Thursday afternoon I met up with Ton-chan, and her friend (and our driver), Gakkun.  We started out from Nanzan to The Middle of Nowhere, Nagano, which took a little more than 4 hours.  It should be noted, though, that we stopped to get omiki (お神酒; basically sake that is offered at a festival) and also to grab food and use the bathroom.  The omiki was actually kind of fun, because we went into a department store and wanted to get something that was "signature Nagoya" without being too expensive.  We settled for a bottle of Dragon Sake (the Dragons are the Nagoya baseball team), which was decorated with a picture of the Dragons dragon and also was incredibly cheap.  It also looked mildly sketchy, but, hey, I know nothing about drinking wine, and as Gakkun pointed out, we're students, so they should understand.  We then went to get it wrapped properly at the service counter, where we ran into the first rude employee I have met in Japan!  It was kind of bizarre.  She just seemed incredibly ticked off that we were daring to ask for a service that the store offered for free.  Awkward.  Then it took 10 minutes to wrap a bottle of sake?  Hmm.

So after that, we drove a whole bunch through the mountains and then a bunch more through the mountains and then a bunch more through the mountains and Ton-chan started getting carsick...  Fortunately, she had brought anti-carsickness medicine.
In other news, I know how to say "carsick" in Japanese.  (It's 車酔い.  Which is awkward, because the kanji is literally "car drunk.")

Did I mention mountains?

IT WAS COLD.  And there was one heck of a wind blowing.  Thus us looking like we're going to fly off of the mountain.

So then we drove through EVEN MORE MOUNTAINS and watched the temperature steadily drop.  And then I got really, really carsick for about the last hour of the trip and was generally miserable until Ton-chan gave me some gum, and that really helped.  Yay for gum!

So after a few close encounters with deer and some exciting conversations about ghosts, we arrived at our hotel*, dropped off our stuff, and then headed over to the shrine where the festival was being held.

As it turned out, Gakkun and Ton-chan had conducted in-depth fieldwork (with a class) in the town two years previously, and so they knew a whole bunch of people there.  Thus, we arrived and were immediately commanded to EAT THINGS.  There was SO MUCH good food.  The only bad thing about it was that there was no heating in the building, so the food would get cold pretty much the second it hit the table.  It still tasted good, though.
Also, a whole bunch of little old ladies decided that Gakkun needed to eat more, and spent much of the meal telling him to eat more.  It probably didn't help that he was trying to figure out how to work an incredibly humongous video camera.  Apparently his teacher, upon hearing that he was going to the festival, lent him the camera and told him to shoot as much of the festival as possible.  Unfortunately, the teacher didn't bother to lend him the instruction manual, so it took about 30 minutes of finagling to figure out how to even load tapes into the thing.  And the whole time there was a chorus of little old ladies saying, "Gakkun, aren't you going to eat that?  Gakkun, you should have some of the onigiri.  Gakkun, aren't you hungry?  Gakkun, you should take more tempura than that."

So the festival had been going on since very (very, very, very) early that morning, but we started watching at about 7-ish.

When there were a bunch of middle schoolers doing a dance with swords.  WHOO.

That thing in the middle of the room is a pot full of boiling water.  It is the most important prop in the entire festival.

Then these men came to perform a purification (by dipping their sticks into the boiling water and then flicking them so boiling water landed on the floor) and purify EVERY SINGLE SHRINE IN JAPAN.
It was quite a long process.

Also, the not-pure-white over-gowns are made of old banners from the shrine!

A lot of people came to pray while the ceremony was going on.

One of the guys had a list of all the shrines they had to purify, so he went around the circle reading the names off to each person individually, and then they would repeat the name and perform the purification.

Also, then they called every single kami (八百万の神々) to the shrine.
That also took a long time.**

Here is Gakkun, with his HUMONGOUS video camera.

Then a bunch of adults came and did a sword dance.

It was a very special occasion, because there were a father and son duo participating together.  (Father is in front on the right, son is directly across from him.)

The guy on the front left who looks like he's crying was being blinded by the smoke every time he went past.  Poor guy.

Small children mobbing the bell!

Everything is more exciting with NAKED STEEL.

This guy was chanting something (it was really loud in there and I couldn't hear) as they were doing the sword dance.

And then these guys came back out and named a whole bunch MORE shrines, which took A REALLY LONG TIME.

And then came the main attraction, the mask dances.

Here they are prepping the first mask dancer...

And he is revealed!

The audience went crazy at this point.

So then he circled the pot of boiling water a whole bunch as the crowd heckled him.  He would put his hands out over the pot and then pull them back in, and everyone would yell, "WEAK!  YOU CAN DO BETTER!"

So then he stuck his hands in and there were still people heckling him, so...

He flung boiling water at the audience.

I seem to get things thrown at me at festivals a whole lot.

Here come more mask dancers!

Because the eye holes are INCREDIBLY SMALL, there were people guiding them around obstacles and the giant fire in the middle of the floor.

Each mask dancer carries himself differently and walks differently to indicate the different kami.

Oh wait, you mean that they're calling all the kami in Japan to a place where they are purified in hot water, and the kami wear masks?  HMMMMMM.

This guy is the crow, and he gets to fly.  Which is a pun, because Japanese is all about puns.  In Japanese, the word for "to fly" and "to jump" are the same, so when the crow "flies" he essentially throws himself into the audience, and they hold him up.
It's like stage diving, but without a stage.

Needless to say, it's dangerous.

This is the grandma.

She goes around with her bunch-of-leaves-feather-duster-like-thing and runs it over everyone to bless them.

Also, she's a man.

...and then she goes crazy and starts throwing boiling water at people and dipping her bunch-of-leaves into the pot of water and beating people with it.

Yes, actually beating them.

Because no festival is complete without a man dressed as a woman beating people with a feather duster made out of leaves that has been dipped in boiling water.

So then the grandpa shows up and the priest (not a real priest, played by the guy on the right) basically tells the grandpa that he needs to get his wife home so she stops beating people up.

There were a whole lot of other masks (about forty total), but my camera, being lame, was running out of battery, so I didn't take pictures of them.

This is the most famous mask, the monkey.

He dances for about thirty minutes getting more and more tired as everyone shouts, "You can do it, monkey!  Just one more time!"

This guy's stamina was amazing. I probably would have died.

So after that there was another purification ceremony in which the kami were sent home, which took about an hour and a half.  We watched the first forty-five minutes or so, but then Ton-chan and I couldn't feel our feet any more, so we retreated to the kotatsu in the other room*** and chatted with the other people who couldn't feel their feet any more.

The ceremony finally ended at 1 a.m., but then they were going to eat naorai (the feast after the ceremony), but we decided that we should probably head back to the hotel, since we had to get up early in the morning.

Futons = THE BEST.

So this morning we woke up to discover that it was snowing, which was exciting.  We had breakfast at the hotel (it was a really good breakfast) and then made the long drive back to Nagoya.  I fell asleep for a good chunk of it.

This evening I went to a lecture at the Nanzan Institute for Religious Studies. Or, it was supposed to be a lecture, but it turned out to be more like a let's-read-our-reviews-of-this-guy's-book-out-loud-and-then-interrogate-him-on-his-vocabulary-choices thing.  It was...kind of strange, and being exhausted and sleep deprived really did not help my comprehension.  So, yeah.

I'm completely exhausted, so I'm going to call it a night now.

*We stayed at a 民宿, which was sort of like a smaller, not as classy 旅館 (ryokan; Japanese style hotel).

**So, to be fair, they did not actually name every single shrine or every single kami, because that would take A REALLY LONG TIME.  If you take 八百万 (8,000,000) as a literal number instead of just a term meaning "a whole lot" or "infinitely many" and then assume you can say four names a second...well, do the math.

***If you don't know what a kotatsu is, it's a sort of table covered in a blanket with a heater underneath.  It is basically the best.