Monday, September 17, 2007

September is Festival Month!

*Double click photos to enlarge

I had to post this photo of Aki, her husband and her son Umi posing in front of the pasture at the Milk Hall Farm. Our family is addicted to the "soft cream" and worship there about once a week. Aki was the first and only woman I met who approached me and introduced herself (and in English). She studied English in college and has been a life-saver and my best friend here. I like Aki because she's not afraid to talk about cross-cultural social issues. Most people we've met have been too reserved to scratch the surface even if they speak English well enough. It will be interesting to see how this changes with time and more practice with the language on both sides.

Shawn and Nova in front of the Giant Crab Claw sculpture in Monbetsu. Monbetsu is a coastal town 40 minutes from Nishiokoppe. We go there once a week to buy groceries, get videos and eat at Shawn's favorite ramen house.

In this photo we were checking out the surf after a typhoon which spun directly over our part of Hokkaido. Though no worse than a typical fall storm in Southeast, there were fatalities elsewhere in Japan where it was stronger.


Shawn pours sake for one of the distinguished guests who attended our "formal" welcome party. This was the party where we were requested to perform. Perhaps because of the language barrier, we are requested to do things instead of asked. In this case it worked in their favor as I never would have agreed to sing in public had I been given a choice! We will be performing again late September for a school festival. :) Just go with it is a good motto here.

Ohara-san harasses Nova and she permits it because he buys her huge bags of candy.

The formal dining room at the hotel is comprised of low tables with cushions, and a turntable with food in the middle. Shoes off of course on the tatami.

Nova was invited to participate in the procession for this festival along with her Kindergarten classmates. She was very patient while her Sensei crafted her look with much layering, tying, bobby- pinning etc.

Three of Nova's classmates wait outside the school for the bus to arrive to take us to the start of the procession.
Bumbling American Alert! Being here makes us by no means experts in the workings of traditional Japanese anything.... many times we are requested to be at a festival without any explanation of how it works or what it's about. Descriptions are often based on observation only. :)

The festival procession was comprised of members of the community. A group of men carried a large shrine in front and were followed by middle school-aged children carrying banners. Official looking suited men followed them and the Kindergartners brought up the rear. A bus followed behind for anyone too tired to walk the nearly three hour course!

20 stops were made throughout the town in different neighborhoods. Each neighborhood provided an offering of a whole fish, maybe some bread and produce. This man in the black hat seemed to be blessing the food after which another man, carrying a tumbler of sake, poured for each member of the neighborhood. Then a group of three older women pelted the neighbors with mochi (pulverized rice balls). Read on for more food throwing activities....

I think this might be a representation of the Jinja god who also made the pilgrimage. I felt bad for this guy as it was very hot out. Nova lasted an hour before she tore off her crown and boarded the air conditioned bus.

Ok, ok, let me explain. Gosh, it's kind of hard. Well, all I can say is that after all the formality, shyness and reserve we've encountered it was a breath of fresh air to see the residents of Nishiokoppe finally let loose. And let loose they did during a variety show I can only describe as bizarre yet entertaining. Held in the ballroom of the hotel, it was set up much like Juneau's Folk Fest with the audience camped out on the floor. It was a family event with the usual beer garden set up in the back. While the Sapporo flowed, people's inhibitions wavered, hence this full monty-esque performance by a very brave young man.

Slap-stick geisha song and dance (in drag).

One intermission was a banana auction. During other intermissions we ducked as sweet rolls were thrown out into the audience from the stage. It was a day of food tossing to be sure.


The Nishiokoppe festival was held indoors this year due to rain but that didn't stop folks from setting up their charcoal grills inside the building. Vendors lined the perimeter while performances and speeches were held at a stage in the front.

Shawn was stationed at the Department of Ed VIP tent where we were treated to an "oishi" lunch on the grill.

Here's Shawn putting his brawny self to good use during the log sawing competition. His team sadly finished second but I see a box of Kleenex in his future next year. (Boxes of Kleenex are often given out as prizes as such events.)

I HAD to take a picture of the recycling station at the back of the room. Our kitchen recycling set-up looks much like this but in miniature. We have a separate bin for food scraps, one for milk cartons, one for burnable trash, one for recyclable paper, two for different kinds of plastics, one for aluminum, one for newspapers and magazines, one for cardboard, and finally, one for everything else... it's the smallest. Our trash was actually left behind the first time we put it out because we didn't separate properly. Hardcore.