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