The Aomori Blues, Part II

Summer time in Japan is unlike any other in the world. This is a time for hanabi (fireworks) and yukata (summer version of the kimono)… and of course matsuri!

Matsuri can occur at any time of the year (for example, Hokkaidou is famous for its winter Yuki Matsuri, or Snow Festival) but for Aomori, the time to come is generally in the summer. The best part: anyone can participate in matsuri! So long as you have the appropriate wear, of course.

Up above you’ll find two example of matsuri-wear, both known as yukata although they serve different functions. The first two are a front and backside shot of summer yukata, which I borrowed from Mina who was also kind enough to help me into it. Yukata can be put on in one of two ways: alone and with great difficulty or with friends who will help you get the job done faster but with more fun! If you don’t want to participate in the local matsuri but would like to experience wearing the traditional Japanese summer wear, there are a stores in larger cities that rent out yukata for a couple of hours at a time. They also help with the dressing and undressing but yukata can be quite cheap to purchase plus make great souvenirs from a trip abroad. Ultimately it’s up to you though they are by no means mandatory to wear if your plan is just to attend as a bystander.

The third picture, however, is of a shorter yukata that is mandatory for participation in the Nebuta Matsuri. Dressed participants will join in, jumping and dancing rhythmically to the chant of: ‘Rasse-ra! Rasse-ra!” Although it’s difficult to see in the third picture, there are small bells attached to the costume. According to popular legend, if all your bells fall off during the dancing then that is very lucky. The only way to make the bells fall? Dancing even harder, of course! Frenzied dancers are oftentimes encircled by their peers as the chant climaxes ever louder and more excited until it finally dwindles down. One of the new JETs had the honor of experiencing this and we were surprised at the extent to which her energy infected the group. Japanese people are almost always excited to find that foreigners love and are more than willing to participate in their culture if only given a chance.

So what goes down at a matsuri? Pretty much the same eat, drink, and party-esque atmosphere that you can find the world over. Amazing street food stalls line the roads, Nebuta floats are dragged through the blood/sweat/tears of children and adults alike, and of course where there’s a party, there will be alcohol.

I apologize for the video. My phone wasn’t sending the important files so you only really get a concise sense of the crazy-ness of matsuri time. It’s actually a quite vibrant and exciting time to be in Japan. Not going to lie though: it’s as humid as the first eight circles of Hell and no joke about it. The further north you go, the shorter the amount of time that the region remains humid. In Tokyo, the humidity levels begin to kick in around late May to early June and only dissipate with the autumn season, which begins around mid October. According to my boss, Shinbori-san, Aomori only really experiences three weeks worth of humidity. On the downside, it gets cold fast… in late September. From there the inevitable but sure progression of autumn to winter commences at an alarming rate. The fact that I’m from California seems to have gone around town at 299,792,458 m/s. It seems as if the first thing people ask me, after inquiring how well I like the region, is this: “So for winter… will you be okay?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the nice way of saying: “You are oh so very screwed, my friend.” Because in Aomori, winter isn’t coming… it’s arrived before you know it! Take that George R.R. Martin! 😉

Finally we have the absolute most adorable airport mascot in the world: IGUBE THE SEA CUCUMBER! I think he might a bit of a celebrity (similar to Little Sebastian from Parks and Recreation) because my JET colleagues freaked out in the same way the citizens of Pawnee flipped a table over their favorite miniature horse ❤ To be fair, he is this pudgy little sea cucumber with tiny arms and no legs: what’s not to love?! ^-^

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A Rut in the Road

7-Road-signBW-sm

I know I was supposed to have published at least two interview articles on education by now but I hit another rut in the road after the JET Program orientation on June 21 :/ Usually, I’m a go-getter, always-do-your-best-to-get-things-done kind of a girl. But some days, if the best you can do to keep your head above water is treading in the water for a bit longer than normal, then keep doggie paddling till you reach the pebbly shore is what I say! \O/

So, I’m doggie paddling for the time being 😀

This move is really taking the energy out of me. And it’s not just the packing, waiting, and visa paperwork (which was finally submitted on Saturday) – the things you would normally think of as being the main reason for stress. It’s mostly psychological. Saying good-bye to everyone feels so much harder this time around than it was back in 2011. I guess it doesn’t get easier. You just get better at it. More efficient, if that’s even the correct word to use, but never, ever easier. Making time to give everyone quality interactions also takes a big chunk of most weeks but it’s not a burden if I can see them smile and listen to all the things they want to tell me, that are important to them. What drains my energy isn’t the time it takes to see everyone off, in fact I wish I had more time with each person, but all the emotions involved with each interaction. I’m sitting there feeling torn for being so happy and yet so sad at the same time. Happy because I get this much more time with them, also because I’m embarking on an amazing journey to an amazing new place in Japan… but sad because it’s one day less and one person less checked off of my list of good-byes. And then there are the people you know you’re saying good-bye to for… forever. And those are the hardest. They won’t be there the next time I come back to the States. But I try to keep as upbeat and lighthearted as I can, which sometimes isn’t enough for some people, but what can you do? Change your whole inner being to please a few? I’ve tried doing that my whole life and it just doesn’t work but that’s a whole different story that everyone’s lived through before anyway so it needs no telling 😉

Even my dogs have started realizing something’s up and happening soon: they split their sleep cycles (half the night in my bed and the other half with my parents) to keep me company, when I come home after a long day out they’re extra excited and wriggling with even more enthusiasm than normal, and in general they look out for me more as if I’m their puppy.

I’ve made the decision to stay for two years in Aomori should my contracting organization decide to allow me to renew for a second term. The maximum, I’m not too sure yet… but I’m thinking three to four years would not be too bad. Five is the absolute program maximum. My predecessor was the first person to complete the full contract and I look forward to seeing how much time I can spend in Gonohemachi before figuring out the next phase of my life. It’s all toddler steps here. Because so many things have happened in the past six months alone (almost as if a lifetime has gone by and I’m not about to rush) such that I’m not going to presume what should happen next until I’ve thought it all out clearly.

To be a writer is to be like a god, creating worlds and scenarios out of careful observation, rumination, and twists of imagination. And to be alive is to be the writer of your own story. Never underestimate the power of choice, even the smallest one can reverberate decades into the future. So I’ll be making my choices creatively and imaginatively through much careful observation. In any case, this blog will definitely see many adventures. so many more than the last one that I’m excited either way.

My New Life…

gonohemachi

…is starting this July ❤ I will be living further north than I have ever lived before and teaching English in a small coastal town called Gonohemachi in Aomori Prefecture on Honshu Island (the main island of Japan). It’s everything I hoped for and wanted: to be so far removed from my previous haunts in Tokyo, a new place to explore, and lots of snow for winter 🙂 And the best part? It’s a stone’s throw from a national park!!! I’m going to be having a blast geologizing my way though rocks, rocks, and more rocks!

And like the geek that I am, my research on this general area will be presented below for anyone who cares to know more about social, historical, and geographical information on the Touhoku region and Aomori Prefecture.

towadako

As previously stated, Aomori Prefecture is located in the northernmost geographical region known as Touhoku in Honshu Island. Due to it’s unique geology (mainly the north-south Ou Mountains, a chain that separate eastern and western halves of the prefecture), the area is known for its natural beauty and it’s climate where temperatures range anywhere from extremes of -7.8 degrees Celsius in the winter to 34.0 degrees Celsius in the summer – or to convert into Fahrenheit that would be anywhere from 17.96 to 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit (APTINET). The median recorded temperature seems to average 10.1 degrees Celsius or 50.18 degrees Fahrenheit (APTINET). It’s ideal for growing apples, yams, and garlic all of which happen to be the region’s main agricultural output (Umai Aomori). Lake Towada itself is a caldera, the crater remains of an active volcano. Pyroclastic flows in the area have shown that the blasts from this caldera have gone as far north as Aomori City at the very tip of the island and its last explosion occured approximately 13,000 years ago (Japan: The Official Guide). Compared to Yellowstone National Park (the whole thing is one gigantic caldera and still active as evidenced by its geysers and natural springs), Towada-ko’s eruption would be dangerous but unimpressive in its magnitude. Although maybe I shouldn’t just yet be saying that because anything lethal enough to kill should be considered impressive.

jomonpottery1jomonpottery2

There seem to be a number of Jomon villages reconstructed from archaeological remains that are open to the public for sightseeing. I’m particularly fond of this time period (lasting roughly from 4,500 BCE to 250 BCE) because it is the earliest Japanese civilizations that can be traced through time and for me the rawer the civilization the more interesting. History and mythology blend. Bone records reveal the facial features of the people to get an idea of what they looked like (quite different from what you would think to be Japanese features) and from their trash and pottery remains we have information on their diet and the aesthetics of the time (Jomon Japan). The meaning of Jomon itself comes from the kanji or Chinese characters for “cord” and “making”, referencing the beautiful rope-like decorations on their flame rimmed pots (Hane, Pg. 10-11).

Although it is decidedly less populous than my previous home in Tokyo (honestly can it get more packed than that gem of a city?), I’m excited to have new hiking trails to discover and to learn the Aomori dialect, which is about as rustic and as country as one can get 😀 Less people, less shoving into trains, and less distractions means more communing with nature, more fresh air, and more adventure. What more could a girl possibly want? ❤ I can’t believe just how lucky I am to be placed in the nation’s main regional producer of apples! Apples! My favorite fruit in the whole wide world. The national park is the gem of the package though. Seriously. I am crying tears of joy. The Jomon villages, too, make for awesome sprinkles on the cupcake. Looks like lady Luck just did me a solid and decided to start going my way for once! 😉

 

Jomon village

Jomon village \O/

 

WORKS CITED

APTINET Aomori Prefectural Government. Aomori Sightseeing Guide, 2010. Web. 15 June 2014.

Hane, Mikiso. “The Early Years: Japanese Pre-History”. Premodern Japan: A Historical Survey. Colorado: Westview Press, 1991. Print.

Japan-Guide. Tohoku Travel Guide, 1996. Web. 15 June 2014.

Japan National Tourism Organization. Japan: The Official Guide. Web. 15 June 2014.

Jomon Japan. Jomon Archaelogoical Sites. Web. 15 June 2014.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Prehistory: Jomon Culture, 2000. Web. 15 June 2014.

Umai Aomori. Main Agricultural Products of AOMORI, 2005. 16 June 2014.

 

Note: For those of you who viewed this post on 16 June 2014, you may have been experiencing some technical difficulties… aka, me updating the heck out of this post because I had not realized that I’d accidentally set it to publish automatically on this day at midnight. Sorry about that! Really, I am. Here I was clicking update thinking, “This won’t publish until the 18th anyway, let me go in for one more revision!” Alas, will I never learn? Possibly not, I’m a pen and paper kind of gal and technology hisses at me with a vengeance 😉 But the article is completed and ready for viewing. Further revisions (of which there will be none planned, but should the need arise in the event of a major gaffe) will be listed down here along with dates and times. Thanks!