Another year has come and gone and it's time to look forward to next year while reflecting on the last. This year I stayed in Japan save for two trips home. Fuel surcharges increased to ridiculous amounts sometimes more than the flight cost itself. Fortunately in Japan there are always festivals going on year round to keep one occupied.
I took so many photos that I can't publish them all here as it would crash the servers under the weight. The reader can see the rest on my blog: The Roving Ronin Report and the video posted above. I recommend going to the YouTube site itself and watching the video in high quality.
The first of the year saw me checking out the acrobatics of old Japanese firefighters, kimono-clad cuties at Meiji Shrine, Momote Shiki - an archery ritual for new adults, and a bit of sumo.
▲ Archer at Momote Shiki - a shinto archery ritual
▲ Coming of Age Girls mix old and new fashion
February brought in a surprise snow storm on Setsubun, a day when Japanese drive devils from their homes in a kind of spring cleaning to symbolically end winter. It's kind of like a pro-active Groundhog Day with devils. Later, I headed up north to the Tohoku region to face off against the deadly monster trees the Juhyo and hairy devils known as Namahage. I also saw a snow lantern festival and snow festival dedicated to the clever Akita dog. Later in the month, I went to Nikko to see the half frozen Kegon Falls then to Nagano, to see the snow monkeys again.
▲ Hirosaki Castle
▲ Namahage - the bane of lazy children
Plum blossoms, Japanese St. Paddy's Parades, Swordsmen, an Anime Con, Sumo in Osaka, and a Giant Penis made for a interesting third month. This was also my first encounter with Tokyo Decadance - a melting pot of subcultures with a dash or two (or three or 15) of naughtiness.
▲ An apt display of swordsmanship at a phallic-oriented fertility festival
▲ At an anime convention - I don't know who she is supposed to be and I don't care
April offered up yet another penis festival - this one with a very graphic erect to the sky penis carried by some unconvincing drag queens. I went back to Nikko where old style priests forced people to eat large quantities of rice - unfortunately this was all behind closed doors. We only got to see them posing before and after so I don't know if they actually ate any huge bowls of rice. At one of Tokyo's major temples, I caught a display of Gagaku which is ancient dance style. A few days later I took in some free outdoor sumo at the controversial Yasukuni shrine. Nearby Yamanashi Prefecture had two festivals to honor their hometown here - Takeda Shingen. One had a parade with armored warriors and the other a re-enactment of his most famous battle - Kawanakajima.
▲ A samurai re-enactment battle
▲ Takayama Stpring festival
The first week of May is Golden Week - a time when just about the whole country goes traveling. I used to stay in Tokyo to avoid the troubles but after learning about the wonders of overnight Internet cafes I started venturing out more. I went back up to Tohoku to see the Uesugi Matsuri which I saw the year before. Here too they re-enact the Kawanakajima Battle but from the other side's perspective, Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda's greatest rival. Since the battle was basically a draw both sides can celebrate it and pretend they won. Afterwards I went to Hiraizumi which in ages past was a rival of Kyoto and its replica Fujiwara-no-Sato. Back in Tokyo I saw the artistic chaos known Tokyo Design Festa for the first time. The last part of the month I went to Fukui Prefecture to see a festival with big warrior floats.
▲ Firing guns at a samurai festival in Yonezawa
▲ A Warrior Float from the Mikuni Festival in Fukui
June is the rainy season so not as much goes on then so I tend to stay indoors to avoid the rain and humidity. I did take a trip to Yunishigawa to see a festival celebrating the Heike exiles who founded the town. I caught the last day of the festival last year so this year I came to see both main days. I saw again my Biwa Player from last year who surprisingly remembered me. At the end of the month I went to a Tokyo Decadance event.
▲ A Samurai from the 12th century at Yunishigawa
▲ A Tokyo Decadance participant
Went out to Chiba to see two new festivals I hadn't seen before. One was a Gion Festival (Gion is one Kyoto's big Festivals) at Narita City, the place many people zoom past on their way to Tokyo. The other festival only got an hour of my time due to work and inconvenient train schedules. Still it was an hour well spent at the Sawara Matsuri with its floats of Japanese gods and heroes. Later in the month I went once again to Soma Nomaoi, the samurai horse racing festival. Can't get enough of horse racing samurai! Maybe next year I'll start placing bets.
▲ Ota Dokan, original founder of Tokyo (then Edo) at the Sawara Matsuri
▲ Coming around the bend at Soma Nomaoi
As it was with last year, August was a busy month for both work and travel. Like last year I took the first week of the month off to travel north around Tohoku to all the different festivals in the region. I went again to the drumming festival of Sansa Odori, the somber but artistic Neputa Festival of Hirosaki, the 3D floats of Nebuta with their scary faces, the Tachi Neputa Matsuri of Goshogawara with its towering floats clocking in at 22 meters, and the bamboo balancing Kanto Matsuri in Akita. In between this I went to some new festivals - the Sansha Taisai in Hachinohe which also gave a display of polo lacrosse, the dancing festival of Hanagasa in Yamagata, and the decorative (but boring) Tanabata Festival in Sendai.
That should have been enough for me but no! I returned to Tokyo via night bus, work the same day then caught another night bus to Nagoya in order to catch a fire festival in Gifu which was pretty freakin' awesome!
Later in the month I went to Niigata where I saw my third Kawanakajima Battle re-enactment! This time there was celebrity presence. The part of Uesugi Kenshin was played by Gackt. He's a big rock and TV in Japan and there were tons of girls there who normally wouldn't be caught dead at a samurai festival. The next day despite the rainy morning I went to Sado Island to catch the last day of the Kodo drum concert festival. The rest of the month I stayed in Tokyo where I saw street performances in my old neighborhood Otsuka and Samba which got poured on.
▲ Polo Lacrosse at Hachinohe
▲ Fire Festival in Gifu
I had an old college buddy stay over with his girlfriend in September so the first part of the month found me cleaning my dump of a shoebox of an apartment in preparation for their arrival. I gave them the nickel&dime tour of Tokyo and took them down to Kamakura to see Yabusame and Daibutsu - the Great Buddha. One day we did a Triple Play - caught Kabuki in the morning, saw sumo in the afternoon, and watch a baseball game in the evening. The fans with their little plastic bats and choreographed cheering was most entertaining!
At the end of the month I flew home for my father's 60th birthday. Damn fuel charge was more than the damn flight cost! While there I went to Nashville's very own Parthenon. Yep, we got us one just like Greece except ours is concrete and it ain't broke!
▲ September Sumo Tournament
▲ Golden Athena in Nashville, Tennessee of all places
After my father's birthday I went to the East Tennessean town of Jonesborough to see a storytelling festival. Storytellers from all over the world go there to tell stories of all sorts. It's a great event!
On the way back home I stopped at two caves - one, the Lost Sea which has the second largest underground lake in the world and is about to become really LOST if they don't get more rain in the future. The other cave was Ruby Falls whose billboards I had seen for years and years all over the southeast which perhaps made me avoid it for so long. As it was, it was pretty darn neat. The last night in Tennessee Obama and McCain had one of their debates in Nashville which of course I couldn't get near.
Back in Japan I was lucky to bump into a street dance festival in Ikebukuro and archery demonstration. I went to Kyoto to see the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) and the Yamanote Halloween Train this time with cops and angry internet nerds.
▲ Ruby Falls, Tennessee
▲ Samurai Street Dancers
November 3rd is Culture Day, a national holiday where there's culture galore to be had. I got up late that day so I missed some of the culture but I did see Tokyo's version of Jidai Matsuri and later a bit of Kendo at Budokan where the Beatles played many moons ago. Later that week I went out past the airport in Narita to see a festival which celebrated Japan's history from over 1,500 years ago. Young people dressed like the figures known as haniwa which were clay figurines buried or placed around earthen mounds known as kofun.
I went yet again to Kyoto to see a Geisha performance known as Kitano Odori then I went to the costume museum to try on some quite fetching 1,000 year old threads. At the end of the month I flew home again for Thanksgiving because I love me some T-day turkey!
▲ A hit, a palpable hit!
▲ Geisha dances a Wintry Fan Dance at Kitano Odori
The last month! Whew! Long year! While still at home I went over to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels to have a bit of southern cooking lovingly laced with whiskey. On my last night in Nashville, I saw a kickass show with Nashville Pussy and rockabilly legend the Reverend Horton Heat.
Once again in Japan, I did a little firewalking at one festival - ok, actually the coals were lukewarm before I strode over them! I went to the 47 Ronin festival again and a fair for selling New Years decorations known as hagoita. Tokyo Decadance had a Christmas event and I was able to see decadent cuties in scanty XMAS attire plus girls were making out together - thank you, Santa!
The last night of the year saw me in the same place where I had rung in the year - Zojo-ji Temple. Couldn't believe another year had raced by! It had its ups and downs, its thrills and chills but all in all another fine year. I say that because I didn't have any stock investments.
I hope 2009 is as equally as interesting and exciting and more importantly sees everyone in much better spirits at the end!
▲ Hagoita - decorative New Years paddles
▲ Hello, 2009! Don't Disappoint!
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.