Friday, December 31, 2010

Taikukai

I'm pretty sure every Japanese school does this (elementary and middle schools included). It's called a taikukai and what it is is that all of school is split into teams and then everyone competes in various games. In my school's case there were three teams: red, white, and blue. To mark which team each person was on we all wore colored headbands called "hachimaki"(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachimaki). Even though it was ridiculously hot out (so hot that my camera had a "OVERHEATED" warning flashing on its screen at some point) this ended up being tons of fun and it was a great way for everyone to have some school/class pride. This took place in late August right before school re-started. We literally practiced for about a week and a half before the actual event just so that we would have it perfectly. A good thing considering a cameraman came to film the whole thing for the local news.
The first thing that we had to practice was the opening march. We definitely don't have this in the US...or at least, not at my school we don't! All of the teams got into military ranks (four people in each row) behind the appointed senior who held the large, plain flag of each team. All of the teachers and parents, who were sitting in white tents with the school's name on the opposite side of the field, then hit the button on a stereo and as sedate classical music drifted over the field we would all march, one team after the other, around the field, making a single circuit and then making a stiff turn to march straight until we were facing the tents in three ranks. My team (the white team) was the last one to march up to the tents so the other two teams would continue to march in place until we were all in position. When we eventually were, all in position, we would all, in unison, take 3 last in-place steps and stop marching and stand silently.
(Spectators' tents)

This marching part was actually surprisingly fun although it was really hard to get into at first. It felt rather ridiculous having to lift your legs up and swing your arms stiffly at your sides...but trust me, those teachers made SURE we had everything EXACTLY how they wanted it. Right down to the big, forced smiles.
The main thing that we had to practice over and over again though were the coordinated group dances (cheers? I don't know if I can call them "dances") that each team had to perform. The two lower grades would line up and do various moves while the 3rd years got in front and performed a more complicated dance to the sound of two other 3rd year students beating a taiko drum. In the case of the red team, this first performance ended with another hip-hop performance. I took videos of both the other teams but ended up having to decide which one was more worth saving when my camera ran out of memory. It was the red team's. I was at a sort of bad angle, though..considering I was filming at the back from the metal bleachers and its way too long so I'm not going to put it up....

(You can sort of see the bleachers in this picture...and our white flag)

Speaking of the bleachers, these had to be about the most ghetto bleachers I have ever seen. A few days before the games some men pulled up in trucks dragging out long, old, metal pipes. When put together, you had bleachers, sure enough... bleachers with bent, rusted, metal grating as seats. Since a majority of the games didn't require practicing, a lot of my time, and everyone else's, was spent on these contraptions. They were actually pretty great because rising up from the back of each one (there were 3, one for each team) was metal scaffolding with 3 metal-grating platforms, one higher and two lower down. The lowest platform was underneath the bleachers in such a way that the people sitting on it could talk to the people sitting a little lower than them on the actual bleachers through the spaces between seats/steps. The next one was about 3 feet higher than the highest row so people sitting on it had their feet dangling over the seats. The highest platform was off limits and it was probably about 20 feet off the ground. Since apparently most of my class is afraid of heights I ended up dominating the second platform as I watched the practice.

I was signed up for only one game: Tamaire. Pretty much what it is is that one strong person holds up a long pole with a small basket/bag on the top. Then, a whole bunch of people gather around and try to throw beanbags into the basket. I was probably signed up for that since, honestly, tamaire doesn't really require too much individual skill.
Other games that I can remember included hoisting someone up on everyone's shoulders and then blindfolding them and bringing them over to the other team where they fight for eachother's blindfold, a game where you soak yourself in water and then use your mouth to find something in powdered sugar, and a game where you have to try to ride a bicycle in a straight line without riding off a thin piece of tape. We also did three class-only games: Team jump rope, the game where you line up and tie your feet together and then try to get a hula hoop to the end of the line by stepping through it, and then a game where everyone lines up on their hands and knees and then the lightest person in the class runs on the top of everyone's backs, until, if everyone was fast enough to run to the front of the line and get back down to continue the human pathway before the runner ran out of people to step on, the team makes it to the finish line.
These were the most fun to do and my class actually beat the rest of the school in class jump rope.
At the end of the day awards were given, the school song was sung, and the inevitable speech from the principal was listened to. Then, we all went home tired but fairly happy... Actually no, scratch that. FIRST we cleaned the entire field/ school and THEN we went home. Great.
(The 3rd years of the white team dressed up for the dance routine and posing for pictures)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

AFS camp in Miyazaki prefecture

During summer vacation AFS shipped all of the AFS students in Kyushu to Miyazaki (a prefecture on the souuthern part of the island) for about 4 days.
It probably wouldn't be so interesting for me to go into detail so I'll just say that we all stayed in cabins and then took an hour long bus ride to a university where we listened to lectures in Japanese. Not so interesting except that the scenery in Miyazaki is really beautiful so I'll just post a few pictures and be done with it.






....That's all.

夏祭り

At long, long, LONG, LOOOONNGG last, I am going to write about the lantern festival that took place in my village in....JULY. HOPEFULLY, I will be able to continue from July all the way up to here and now. It will be like...a walk through the past...or something like that. Now, if I remember properly, this festival was the week that summer vacation was about to start (the last day of school was a Friday) so I'm pretty sure this was around July 14th. There were three festivals in my little village that week. The first was a big parade sort of thing with the local elementary kids, the next was this lantern festival (which I am about to talk about), and the last was a fireworks festival which got rained out and therefore took place the next day on Saturday (bear with me, I'm remembering all the details as I type this). The night of the festival, we all met at the community building where they had set out bamboo poles to carry the lanterns on. The lanterns them selves were a little worse for wear but as it was supposed to rain that night we diligently covered them with big plastic bags. My host family and our immediate neighbors went out and paraded in the street until we met people from other parts of the village.. everyone wearing rain ponchos. We had to wait until it became dark before we lighted the lanterns but it was worth the wait as that night ended up being fairly unforgettable. All of my pictures are pretty unfocused as I didn't feel like using the flash, but some of them turned out pretty cool anyways, blurriness not withstanding. It rained CRAZY hard that night. Therefore I didn't take many pictures which is a shame as there was also a lot of dancing. There were 3 dances that I can remember: 1.) A demon dance. Men dressed up in masks and did this dance that included a lot of jerky movements. 2.) A dance done by women in yellow Yukata 3.) A peasants dance that was done by mostly men. I do, however, have a video compiled of random clips from when we were at a standstill in the lantern parade:
video
Lastly, I'll just post some random pictures from summer vacation: Bridge near my house: At one point, everyone hung bells from the buildings all down the street. At one shop they even erected a wooden structure with bells made out of broken bottles. Whenever the wind blew there was a big racket but it was pleasant enough. Finally, these are just pictures taken from the bridge near my house

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Exhaustion

Sorry There aren't any pictures in this one...I'll put up more soon:
Anyways...
I'm sitting upstairs in my room when all of a sudden I hear my host mom yell, "CAROLYN, YOUR IN TROUBLE!!!"
I go downstairs to see what's going on and am told by my host mother that she talked to a guy that worked at city hall who said that they had to report me to the immigration office for not renewing my alien registration.
"QUICK! YOU HAVE TO GET OVER THERE BEFORE THE IMMIGRATION OFFICE CALLS!"
I looked outside the window at the brewing storm because, huh, I forgot to mention that there's a TYPHOON today.
I throw on my clothes (which included a white shirt) and run out the door to my bike. I jump on my bike and pump the pedals so hard all the way to this convenience store 15 minutes away (less than 10 minutes the way I was riding) and then precede to take probably the worst passport pictures ever released on the world (My hair stuck up everywhere as water dripped onto the floor of the photo booth, no smile, and this look of horror as I waited for the automated voice to just get on with the job already.)
It wasn't until i get out of the photo booth that I realize that my shirt is now completely see-through... but there was no time to worry. I jump back on my bike and ride all the way in the opposite direction at record speed. Such a record speed in fact, that I don't notice the two and a half foot long snake crossing the path in front of my bike until the last second. "HOLY #$^&!!" I yelled. The only thing I thought as I decided that I would just run over the snake instead of stopping was: "RUN OVER THE HEAD, Maybe it won't bite me then!!!"
The snake, however, rears up, I scream and lift my feet in the air, I get past it, I continue on at the same speed until i get to city hall. Once inside all of the people at desks look up at me as I stomp in and crash into the chair, spraying water everywhere and holding my shirt out so that it isn't see-through.
I fill out all the necessary paper work, the guy remarking on how I'm soaked.
I leave.
That's when the real fun weather started.
I don't know if you have ever ridden your bike in a typhoon...or rather, typhoon-like weather... (I don't know if this can actually be considered a typhoon).
There are pretty much no cars on the road. The rain pelts right in your face so heavily that it feels like you're getting hit with hail stones. You can't see more than about 5 feet in front of you because of the rain and wind. The wind... It's so strong that if you're riding against it, your bike would not move, or, as in my case, if it hits you from the side it's hard enough to knock you right over... I kept having to get off wait a few seconds for it to temporarily die down.
People in the few cars looked at me incredulously as I fought all the way home where I was scolded by my host mother for being forgetful and where I realized that my shirt and skirt had gained at least 4 pounds each before I rung them out.
Apparently I might be getting a call from immigration to question why I was over 40 days late in renewing the registration... hopefully I won't get sent home?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Update

I haven't posted in sooooo long because so many things have been happening...But I've been too lazy to bring my camera so I don't really have any new pictures...The only one I do have is of my leg from about 3 weeks ago when I was on my bike and did a front flip down the steep hill going down from my school....


Other things happening.... This coming week there's a big festival that lasts for three days. One of those days is a fireworks festival where everyone wears a yukata and goes with their boyfriend/girlfriend..Since I last posted there's been a large amount of drama with these two boys from my school so we'll see what happens :P
I'll take pictures later! 2 days ago tons of decorations were put up near my house soo...

In the past month I have had so many extreme highs and lows but even in the most terrible low it's almost been enjoyable just because it's so different from home...
I'll post more laterr..

Koukou Soutai

Wow this happened sooooooo long ago but I haven't posted anything in so long. So koukou soutai, or just soutai, is this HUGE tournament for all of the high schools. Every sport plays against the other teams in the area. We actually get off of school an hour early JUST so that clubs can have more time to practice. It lasts for around 2-3 days and one of those days was Friday so we had no school. Even if you aren't on a team it is mandatory to show up at the sport of your choice. There were schools assigned to each sport throughout the entire prefecture... at our school everyone came to play volleyball but kyuudou, the club I'm in went to the nearby city. It was a really long weekend. Every day I had to be at the bus station by 6:45 and we didn't leave the tournament place until 5:30 and since it's a 40 minute bus ride not including getting home I was getting home at 8:00 pm every day. On the Thursday before it began we were all subjected to a Japanese high school pep rally. Get all thoughts of cheerleaders out of your head. The students sit in ranks and the people of the sports teams march in when called. In the case of the baseball team, I literally mean march. Pretty much the baseball team is all of the good boys and schools are usually pretty proud of their team since baseball is so big here. When the baseball team walks in they have a straight backed, synchronized march, down to their arms swinging the exact same way, just like military. When they get to the front the captain bows to the person in rank next to him and hands him his hat and then goes up to give a speech. All of the other teams do it similarly with the speech but not so much in military style as the baseball team. In fact, next came the basketball team, which is known for having all the punks and they just sort of slouched in.

Now, for about 2 weeks before all of this happened, everyday origami paper was handed out to every single student and we literally folded paper cranes all through school. I kid you not, I laugh to think how typical that sounds but boys and girls alike folded paper cranes constantly, only stopping to take a quick note during class. I later found out that we were making them because they were to later be strung together into this huge charm...each team was presented one at the pep rally and they were brought along to the tournaments. This is the kyudou one:
It was pretty cool watching floods of high school students in kyudou uniforms walking down the busy street carrying bows, tatami mats, and straw butts used for targets.

This is where we sat all day long with all the other high schools... The shooting area was right outside so anyone who wasn't doing a job or shooting just sat around in here....
....and played cards (toranpu)


Me kyudou friends :3



These are the boys from my school shooting...The last one in was the captain (after Soutai is over all of the 3rd years have to retire from the team...it's really sad without them.)

A concussion waiting to happen

In Japan it's a tradition to throw mochi off of the roof of a house when it's under construction. It ensures good luck. So pretty much when the whole skeleton of the house is put up everyone in a 5 mile radius rushes over to stand next the construction site and catch the mochi. I can't remember if I explained what mochi is but it's pounded rice. It turns into a sort of doughy consistency. It gets pretty darn heavy, especially when it plummets to the ground from the roof of a house. There are three sizes of mochi they throw: tiny, regular, and HUGE. The huge mochi are about the size of your face and have to way like, 3 pounds.

The workers climb up to the very top with baskets of the stuff.They just throw them up in the air and everyone on the ground scrambles around trying to get as many as possible. My host brother was somewhere in the crowd and we ended up getting a huge bag of mochi which we ate as snacks for a few weeks after.

It's gotta be one of the best parts of being a construction worker because all of the workers have huge smiles on their faces in the pictures.

Here is one of the HUGE mochi....it doesn't look so big but it was and if I recall everyone ran for cover except a middle aged guy who caught it like a sack of flour....a sack of flour from the sky that is...for those of you who don't know what that looks like he pretty much started to fall backwards because of the weight of the thing and almost tripped over the person behind him.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Eating soba at the temple

So, there's this old artist who works with metal and lives down the street from us and last weekend he was all like, "Hey! Let's go eat soba out of Japanese pottery at a temple"....so off we went.
First, after driving up a mountain, we went into the main building where we met this family that live up there and make the pottery... They were selling things but I didn't buy anything :(

All of this stuff is called "Bizen-Yaki" and is a clay made out of a course dirt, apparently.


Suddenly, my 10 year old host brother called me over to see THIS:

........ Yeah, we had a pretty good laugh too.

Afterwards they served us all soba noodles and we sat and looked out at the town below, which pretty much just consisted of wheat fields and a few houses, but it was really beautiful all the same.





Next, we went to go look at the kilns that the temple owners make pottery in... There were two really large ovens and the two little kids who lived there just ran all over the place.


Wood

It was a pretty awesome day.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

My new friends

....Today I had the weirdest day it my entire life. So anyways, there's this 30 something year old man working at the neighborhood super market (who told me to call him "Bun-chan"...pronounced Boon chan) and apparently my 20 year old host sister and him are friends so they were all like, "Hey! Let's bring Carolyn somewhere!" Sooo this guy, and his other friend who is also in his 30s came and picked us up at 12. We then all drove 30 minutes to a restaurant where we ate burgers and ice cream. Everyone kept looking at me creepily. When I finally tuned into the conversation they were comparing the age differences between me and the one of the guys and wondering if I would agree to marry a Japanese guy over an American guy....weirded out on my part. After the guy instead yelled out in English "MY DREAM.... BECOME YOUR OLDER BROTHER!!!!!" After, we went to 7-11 for like, 20 minutes, then we went to a huge mall called "you-me town" where we walked around for a while. It ends up that Bun-chan's friend is a teacher at a "juku" or cram school. Throughout the day he kept coming up with random names of my friends from school because he teaches them at juku. At the mall, Bun chan tried out the claw machine and got me this cute little bear. I replied by saying "Thank you, onii-chan (older brother) Everyone was like OH MY GOD SAY IT AGAIN IT'S SOOO CUTE! then we all got purikura (For those of you who don't know it's superrrrr poplar...I can't remember if I explained it but it's like a photo booth except the pictures are sticky on the back and the machine it has some wireless thing on it so that you can hold your phone up and it wirelessly transmits the photos onto your phone. Pretty much it's soooo popular that it's like an initiation ceremony when you are becoming friends or boyfriend and girlfriend and it's inevitably the first place you and your new acquaintance are going to go). It turned out sooo funny because the computer edits the pictures to make skin whiter, eyes bigger, and eyelashes longer. Bun-chan turned out looking like a transvestite. Anyways, the long and the short of it is that now I have pictures of me and some random, 30 year old men stuck all over my notebook, one of which is my friends' study school teacher....random much?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Annual Kashima Gatalympics

Ok, so this actually happened a few weeks ago but I have been sooo busy that I haven't posted anything. Every year my city, Kashima, holds a day full of mud sports. Since Kashima is right on the bay of the "Ariake Sea" there are huge stretches of mud flats all along the shore. We were too late to sign up, which sucked. Me and the 3 other exchange students from Kashima all went, but only stayed 10 minutes since it started raining like crazy almost immediately. There were a lot of foreigners there visiting and participating.

Instead, we all ended up hanging out at this super boring mall that was really nothing more than a grocery shop/target like store. However, as we were walking through the LITTLE KIDS' TOY SECTION...we found these :D Fireworks!
Yes, those are toddler toys at the bottom of the last picture..
...They sold a lot of strange things, now that I think back....


Then we all went to eat ramen....The end
I'll post more later...