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Festivals and the finish line

Recently I have been becoming less frequent with my writing. I feel like it is becoming harder to write the more used to Japan I get. The little things that took me by surprise are now much a part of daily life for me. Anyway I digress and wish to recount what I have been doing since I climbed Mt Fuji.

Going right back to my decent of Fuji, only days after I was to sit the first level of the Japanese proficiency test, the JLPT L5. So I had to switch from the physical to the mental to prepare myself. It turned out I failed miserably at that planned preparation and went out partying the night before by the evil power of whim. I crashed at Cam’s placed so the train journey would be quicker in the morning. It felt very surreal the next day like a strange feeling of nostalgia from my university days but as if it was in a alternate universe where everything is Japanese. All the boring test instructions were even given in Japanese. The test the itself went well, it just seemed to take forever (Last week I found out I passed, やったー!). After that I was back at work and it was nice to have a bit of structure again after 2 weeks of intensity, exploring with Rosa and Taz, climbing Fuji-San and testing my Japanese ability.

The remainder of July was festival packed. Japan in the summertime opens up. In cities and towns all around the country people gather for traditional festivals. The first weekend me, Teru and Shunsuke went to Kuki for the lantern festival. The streets were lined with food stalls selling all the Japanese goodies, and people gathered everywhere to watch the passing “dashi” floats. The festival floats were these huge wooden structures, lined with hundreds of paper lanterns, which reached up to the electrical cables hanging over the streets. People rode precariously on top or hung off the side. Inside people played the traditional “taiko” drum and “fue” pipe to a lively rhythm. A group of people were in charge of pushing and pulling the humongous float. When it reached a corner the leader shouted “sei no!”, and everyone together would pivot the float on its wheels to face the right direction. You can see scrape marks on the roads from the many years this has been going on. The vibe of the festival was really amazing, as it had such a traditional feel with these wooden floats, pounding drumming and many people walking around dressed in kimono. However, not long after the floats got going the heavens opened and the rain really came down. People ran off the streets and took cover anywhere they could, in shops and under the awnings of the food stalls. This only stilted the festival for a short while and when the rain had stopped, the procession continued, the men on the floats tried to get the lanterns burning again, and the crowds emerged once again. The floats are all built by different areas of the city, bringing an element of competitiveness, so as a finale they all gathered together and showed off their prowess of drumming and maneuverability of the floats, going round in circles. Teru told me they used to fight with one another by crashing into each other for the ultimate test of endurance, unfortunately a few years back they stopped this as it was too dangerous. The following weekend I made a brief appearance to the Kazo summer festival. It was a similar affair to the one in Kuki, however, instead of a procession of floats people were carrying portable shrines, or “mikoshi”. Each one was a pretty hefty lavishly decorated wooden structure and about 8-10 people had it resting on their shoulders. They would bounce it up and down crying “wasshou…wasshou…wasshou!”, like as a heave ho to display their physical prowess. I arrived late so didn’t get to see much before it died down, so I headed to one of my local izakayas. They were cooking “yakitori” outside and as the owner knows me now he kindly gave me some free of charge. So I rode the festival vibes there until it was time for bed.

Only a few weeks after that was the festival I was really waiting for. Fuji Rock. I got the Saturday off work so I could go for the whole 3 days. I feel it is almost heresy to go to a festival for a just a day. Despite being called Fuji Rock, this festival is now located in a Naeba ski resort in Nigata prefecture, the name remains from the few years it was held near the base of Fuji-San. So I took the trip up north with my fellow Fuji rockers, by local train (5 of us used a “seishun jyuuhachi kippu” making it a really cheap journey, I recommend checking this out if you are going to go) early in the morning from Shinjuku at around 5.30am. After taking the free shuttle bus to the festival site, it allowed us to get there and set up our tent by midday. First reflection was the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us. There was nothing but rolling hills of luscious green and forest. However, this did hinder our pitching ability as about 80% of the campsite was at a 45 degree angle. We then proceeded to have 3 days of intense, multifaceted, and exhilarating festival antics. I won’t go into a day by day as most of you know what a festival comprises of daily…drinking, partying, rough sleep, and loosing respect for the maintenance of a human body, but most importantly careless and unimpeded fun. The food was amazing and cheap. The weather debatable. It rained a lot but was hot and summery, too. This caused wardrobe problems, I tried to power through 8 hours of rain in only shorts and t-shirt, but gave up only a little way into the Nine Inch Nails set. The festival makes the most of its location. It has walkways through parts of the forest, lined with glowing sculptures, and even hidden amongst the trees was a small stage. A clear blue river runs through the festival, which was perfect for a quick splash, when it was hot. The music I saw was so incredibly diverse, ranging from funk to metal, with piles of electronic music on this side. Some such acts were, Bjork, Tower of Power, Lettuce, My Bloody Valentine, The Foals, Modeselektor, Killswitch Engage, Death Grips, The xx and Jurrassic 5. The festival goers were all so great as well. The Japanese are friendly and respectful even at a festival. After jamming on some handmade instruments in a hippy hands-on area, getting a few people dancing along, I felt it necessary to buy a small glockenspiel so I could jam on the move. This got so much use from conga lines and dancing about it literally got played to death and collapsed after the festival madness was over. The Monday morning we packed up and regrettably made our way home. I had to take the Shinkansen to make it back for work. The reality really struck hard after a weekend of that calibre.

After that things started to get serious and the partying was over for a while. I made a big decision and started to look for a new job so I could carry on working in Japan. So August was full of applications and interviews, and after gruelling weeks of selling myself I was actually lucky enough to get a new job, which could provide me with a new visa. Soon after, I sorted out a shared house in Harajuku. And then all of a sudden things felt incredibly real. My journey in Japan was yet to be over. Although, the end of a year and a farewell to Intersect SFL, draws in. This week I have been having final lessons with students and it feels surreal to be saying goodbye. At Fudoka preschool they had prepared something for me after the lesson. All the kids morphed into a mini marching band and played me a song, “the Mickey Mouse march” if you know it, which was awesome and surprisingly well performed for a group of 6 year olds. I then got some presents and swamped by them climbing all over me. One kid couldn’t take me leaving and started crying. They will be missed.

It turned out I have to leave to country and return to Japan to renew my visa. So I will have a brief holiday in Seoul, South Korea, then back to Japan for my last day at Intersect SFL. And then I will start my new job and new life in Japan.

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