Monday, September 27, 2004

twelve: summer holidays (with synopsis!)

originally an email

Hello all, this is certainly a hisashiburi email! The last time I wrote was before I went back to canada, back at the beginning of June. Since so much (and yet so little) has happened since then, I am on reccommendation adding a clear (ganbarimasu!) synopsis and then follow it with all the fun-filled detailey bits.

2-4: Conference in Kobe for Renewing JETs.
4-21: trip to Canada (many of you will know all about that already)
22: resumed teaching
22ff Euro cup soccer in wee hours of night
26: camping with Dion and Ayumi and Ri-chan, watched sweden lose, too. :(
30: intendend to look into getting my license translated.

2: Open mic night at Bell's bar
3: Saturday. Settlers with Dion and Jesse; tacos for dinner!
6: Awa Odori practice began! (3x /wk, went to at least one per wk)
10: sayonara (goodbye) party for departing JETs
11: Jenny's b-day party
16: staff volleyball county tournament, hung out with international university students who were visiting Kamikatsu, went for Karaoke in the city with my xian friends after.
19 monday. chilled out with manitoba students at beach and joruri theatre. severe sunburn., fireworks and Noh theatre in Komatsushima with friends.
26: last day of driver's license; Awa odori practice 5 days a week for two weeks.
31: Welcome party for group A of new JETs
-sumo on tv
-enkai enkai enkai
-taiphoon taiphoon taiphoon
-school ended on the 20th?
-started playing FF9
-dion and ayumi left (among others)

1: spoke message at church (like a housegroup really), played catchphrase at Chris's, crashed at Derek's
6: Friday- began the arduous process of helping 2 students with speech translation for the competition
7: town summer festival
11: Wed. recieved my Japanese drivers license in the morning, Atsushi and Ryo arrived at night
12: Showed atsu and ryo around my town, Awa odori watching and dancing with crowd
13: swam in river, the three of us joined the international group to dance through the streets dressed like pros.
14: Atsu and Ryo left in the morning, I danced through the town with my town's ren
15: Last day of Awa odori. big finish with town's ren in Kamikatsu at Asahi's summer festival.
22: Wrap up party with butterfly ren. went from noon to nine.
25: helped a student from a different school translate the student's speech, at the request of Nakanishi-sensei, the JTE who I used to work with.
27: Thursday. Taiphoon. Montesuma's Revenge also took effect. Remembered Ken Peters' three rules.
30: Power outage. fridge melted.
other stuff that happened in august:
-Awa Odori practice
-a lot more walking, a lot less driving.
-finished FF9
-natsu matsuri
-atsushi and ryo came
-speech competition prep
-reading a lot of manga (comics)

1: school resumed
2: eikaiwa resumed
3: judo resumed
4: recieved FF7 in the mail. (score!)
5: I resumed going to church, after not being able to for a month. Earthquakes.

Felt a little self-conscious with my massive suitcase (for canada) when everyone else had small bags just good enough for three days. The conference itself was ok. One of the main sessions was really good: the panel discussion, believe it or not. One of the people on the panel was the textbook advisor for the education etc. ministry. He had a ton of great ideas and suggestions that he kept shooting out in the course of the discussion.
We, the Tokushima folk, got a taste of just how well off we are as far as interaction with eachother and communication about job-related stuff; there were people amazed to hear things that have become old hat for most of us. In a large group of people all with the same or more amount of time spent in Japan as us, it felt like we were sempais amongst kouhais.
I had one really great night out as well; I went out for food and Karaoke with the three JETs from Tokushima who don't drink alcohol at all. The incredible lack of a pressure I have gotten so accustomed to was astonishing. I don't think I have felt that at ease in a social outing in a very long time. Two xians a muslim and a straightedge guy out on the town in Kobe. It was great. We had italian food at this nice place that Rehan knew about. As we left, the biggest of the bigwigs from the conference were sitting in the front of the restaurant...

In transit
on my plane from Vancouver to Winnipeg I was seated next to a girl coming back on vacation from teaching English in Korea. It was cool to compare stories with someone from my hometown doing the same thing in the neigbouring foreign country on the other side of the world.

CDA TRIP (or at least what I wrote down of it in planning and in passing; I can't be expected to remember everything that happened spontaneously...)
4: fri: came home a day earlier than advertised. phil met me at the airport, I surprised dad, later andrea, later mom.
5: surprised adam, got car. BBQ at kildonan park, watched some sports game at J's, kingshead: freeman show
6: church, lunch @subway, chilled at Rheal&Jason's place
7: dentist for teeth cleaning, steak dinner, watched videos with the fam.
8: dentist again for fillings and mouth guard mold making
9: bought clothes, dinner at Grandma's, went to Tom's for some FFCrystalChronicles and Settlers
10: Ran 5km with Phil, met with Keith, party at Phil's with da boys in the evening.
11: ummm.... wasureta.
12: men's breakfast, Friesen's big celebration, saw a rainbow, lost the keys to dad's car, Caleb found them, went to the Stremplers' for Risk, wine, cheese and so forth. The wine was without a doubt the best wine I have ever had.
13: church in the morning, went out for lunch with Tyler
14: dinner at my babunya's, went to the boys housegroup after, watched bubba ho-tep with Sam Rheal and Phil. Drove around with Rheal.
15. dentist for fitting of mouth guard, bought comics, had a sushi lunch with my cousin Joel, family movie night (The Returner-- good, Bowling for Columbine-- meh).
16: wednesday. Ran with phil and then had lunch. Met hong at bookstore, saw riddick with Jared and Phil, soccer for two hours from 7. BDI with john eric kyle tom rheal phil grace and jho.
17: golf in the morning with dad phil and keith, subway lunch, chilled out with mike smith in eve.
18: breakfast with marv, hung out with my Grandma all morning (the highlight of my trip), dim-sum lunch with Dave Mc, forgot the evening...
19: wasureta. it was the last day.
20: saturday: flew out of winnipeg at 8.55 am. Flight from Vancouver was delayed on account of the taiphoon in Japan. waited (read: slept) in Vancouver airport for six extra hours before flying.

In transit
Seated next to a really cute (albeit really short) Japanese girl. She was on her way back from a homestay. And I ask you, can any single guy complain about 9 hours of sitting next to and talking with a cute girl? I think not. ;)
However, because of the flight delay, I missed the last bus to tokushima from the airport, and had to bus into Osaka, and even then only caught the last (or second last?) bus to Tokushima. That put me downtown waiting for my bus to kamikatsu at just about midnight. Problem: the last bus to kamikatsu is at 6:50pm, and the first bus at 7:30am. I 'slept' on the bench. I was awakened at around two or three by policemen asking me what I was doing sleeping there. After explaining that i was on my way home and waiting for my bus to come in 5ish hours, they took my information, and let me be. Then they made the other two guys on the other two benches go away. I guess drunkenness is not an excuse to sleep in public.
Got home at 11am, showered etc, and went to school...

It was so easy coming back, back to Japan that is. Canada had its wierdnesses, Japan is my current home. And I'm so accustomed to what is expected of me here. I didn't have time to get that really sorted out back in Canada. I figure it would take me 6 months before I would feel back to normal in Canada...

But watching the soccer in Canada had been so easy. I had no work and it was on in the afternoon. In japan, however, it was on at 3.45 am, and half of the games you needed a special reciever to watch. I do have a friend who has that special reciever, but he lives more than an hour away. But I made the trip (with Tom in tow) for the England game. I painted my face for the game, and despite watching it with a group of highly pessimistic brits (the only kind there seems to be when watching england play in intl soccer) i had high hopes. The way the game went, just before the end they were starting to come around, but yappari, looks like they will continue to remain pessimistic.

Later that week I went to the highway oasis in Mikamo where a friend of Ayumi's had rented a cabin for a night, and was inviting people along to chill out. (BTW, Ayumi is Dion's wife, Dion is a winnipegger who was a third year JET at that time) If you recall, that was the third time I'd been to the highway oasis: the Burn's supper back in jan/feb(?) had been there, as well as the musical wrap-up party in march. Anyway, the bunch of us (5 or six people) played Uno and Settlers until the wee hours, chatting and munching all the while. At 3.45 everyone went to sleep but Dion and I who stayed up to watch Sweden play Holland. I was rooting, of course, for Sweden, who were 'my team' in the last world cup (that's another story). And Sweden almost had it, but lost in the end. In penalties, if I remember right. Ah well.

My Driver's license.
This is a tale of sadness and woe. Well, not really, but I had expected it to be. I don't recall exactly when the day was that it struck me that I should begin the license process. I had written down to start it on the 30th of June, but you know, it kinda slipped my mind. So at some point another winnipegger, Anne-Marie, was relating to me the difficulty that she had had with being a Manitoban and getting a J-license, and that she was having to go three days without her car and that it was really frustrating.
That's when it hit me.
She went on to say that it hadn't been so bad because she had started the process at the end of May. It was then maybe mid-July. I'm sure the colour drained from my face.
Anyway, it was then that I started making calls and looking things up on the internet, and a couple families in Winnipeg got panicky calls from me too.
To make the long story short, I lost my license on the 26th when my international license expired. I think I had all the necessary documents at the beginning of August, and went with my principal to the licensing center, and once they had everything, it took 10ish days to process and I had to do everything by foot and bus until August 11th.

It was good for me though. My right knee has been bothering me since I went back to Winnipeg, and it hurts the most when I drive my little car. The Awa Odori practice helped though.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In july there was the open mic, but it was on a friday, which is when I have Judo. I left judo a 1/2 hour early, and got there in time to see Johnny Lawless do his guitar and kazoo set, which was a highlight of the night. Picture a skinny (ex-?)straightedge guy singing Japanese busker songs and adding in the kazoo at appropriate moments. Good stuff. There are a lot of good guitar and mandolin players etc here; what with the isolation some of them deal with, there's lots of time to play.

Settlers with Dion and Jesse
Played a couple of really good games. Jesse is a fun person to play with. He reminds me of Tristan Smith. Picture a taller, buff, university educated, American, japanese- and chinese-speaking, 30+ year old Tristan who is married to a hot Japanese girl that he met in China, and maybe you will start to get the idea. (????)
I forget how many games we played, but I know that I won one of them. :D I skim through my synopsis at the top, I wonder how much of that anyone is going to want detail on. I think that from here I will only talk about three more things, the major things: Awa Odori, the town summer festival, and japanese.


Awa is the old name of Tokushima prefecture.
Odori is a noun form of the verb 'odoru', which means to dance.
Some people call it Awa Dance.
The Awa Odori festival takes place during the o-Bon (oh-bone), which are the four days from August 12-15 when the spirits of the ancestors are believed to come back to their graves.
Awa Odori was origionally a Bon-dance, and most prefectures have Bon-dances. For whatever reason, the Bon-dance here evolved beyond that to being more performance and entertainment oriented, with the best troupes (called 'ren') performing before the Daimyo. (Daimyo were the rulers of each area of japan. Daimyo literally means "big name"). O-Bon goes back a long long way into Japanese history, but Awa Odori is only about 400 years old, having started during the Edo period (1600-1868).
The characer for 'ren' is the same as that of the verb "tsuranaru" which approximately means "to follow along behind in line" The dance is a moving dance, and during the four days of the festival many many ren dance through the main streets of the city. Depending on the size of the group, these may be in two lines or as many as six abreast. The band (small drums, big drums, metal ringing instruments, and flutes) follows behind. Each ren will have routines to perform while moving forward as well as when stopped for longer periods of time. There are large ren of hundreds of people from a given company (and their families) or university, and small ren of people from towns or friends who train really hard. In a given ren, there can be kids dancing (at the front) followed by the young boys and girls (who all do the men's dance), then men, and then the ladies doing the women's dance, and then the band. The children and kids wear "happi" and a kind of shorts, the men wear "yukata" which get tucked up into their belts, and the women wear full outfits that restrict movement and hide half of their faces.

Last year, after being inroduced to the festival at our welcome and orientation, and seeing that there was one Aussie JET, Dave C-C by name, who was really proficient at it due to joining a ren, I had set my mind to join one myself. At a couple of points during the year I had mentioned my intrest to various people, and when the kamikatsu troupe "kochou-ren" (koe-choh-rain) which means "butterfly ren" started up again, i was informed. They practiced right from the beginning of June, but I went to Canada... When I got back, i started going to practice once a week.
I think I picked it up pretty fast, because in the initial positioning, they had me way at the back, but a month and a bit later, when we were almost finished practicing, they put me in the middle and side, with a bit at the front for our second last dance of our set. Below is our approximate formation in the second half of being stopped, with the top being the front:


in the last couple of weeks before the the festival, we practiced every night on the weekdays. Because you need to have your hips so low and your hands always above the shoulders, my thighs and arms were in a constant pleasant throb. It was so good.

Then there was the fact that practices were just so much fun even aside from the dancing. The Shidou (she-dough-shah, meaning guidance or leadership) was a young guy of 21 named Kouichirou (koh-ee-chee-roh), and he is one of those people who laughs loudly at just about everything. he made everyone really relaxed. It was also cool to see my students in a situation that was not school.
Then there was the fact that he always seemed to arrive with a half finished tall-boy beer every practice... it was a really relaxed atmosphere. What can I say?

Our main routine had sort of three main sections, two of which had several subdivisions.
The first bit was the dancing around in line two abreast. From that we would make a circle, and each of our sub groups (children 4, younger girls 5, older girls 5, adult beginner guys 3, adult pro guys 2, ladies 2) had a dance planned by themselves to perform in the middle of the circle. My group, the adult beginner guys, did a kind of spiral inwards and then outwards again. Ours was about on par with the children's as for difficultly and complexity. Because the spiral resembled a whirlpool, Kouichirou suggested that we be called Oouzu (oh-uu-zuu). But we are a mountain group, so I suggested yama-oouzu. He laughed and said something like "you call these mountains?" So I suggested "ko-yama-oouzu" (smallmountain whirlpool), and that was the name we kept.

There were a lot more guys in the ren than is suggested by the list of dancers, it's just that most of the guys preferred to play the instruments.

Before I go on to talk about the four days of intense dancing that is the Awa Odori Festival, let me talk about something more local:


Natsu matsuri simply means summer festival.
Every town has a natsu matsuri, and some larger towns/cities also have fireworks festivals on separate occasions. But there is nothing like a small town summer festival.

As I did not have my driver's license yet, and as I had not made arrangements with anyone, I decided to try to hitchhike for the 15minute drive to the grounds. I was surprised at how many mostly empty cars passed by and ignored me. I was beginning to think I would have to walk the whole way, but then some people who were also going to the matsuri picked me up and took me. It's surprising for me now to meet people in the town that I have neither met nor heard about, and who have not heard about me. But that's just how those folks were.

At the summer fest there were several different food booths (takoyaki, weiner-on-a-stick, yakitori, snowcones, but the okonomiyaki was strangely absent). One of the events earlier on was the mochi-toss, where some people play taiko in the tower set up in the middle of the grounds, while others at the top of the tower throw mochi in bags by the handful out to the waiting crowds. each bag of two mochi had a piece of paper with a number and an are of town written on it, for the lottery later.

There were several crowd participation games: loudest shouter of a phrase wins a DVD player (they had the decibel measuring machine and everything. you drew what you had to yell out of a box... most of the phrases had comic appeal).
There was a trivia game where all the answers were either true or false, and you stood on one side of the line between the true side and the false side, and when the answer was announced, the losing side's people were guided away. I made it more than halfway, but took a gamble on a question I wasn't sure of, and neither did anyone else seem to be, and lost. Three or four questions later, someone's mom won a Playstation 2 and some games.

Then there was the pre-lottery competition. The young leaders for each area of town (5 areas, 5 guys in their 20s or 30s) faced various challenges: fastest to eat the boiling hot cup of ramen, fastest to find the (something) in the bowl of flour, answer trivia questions accurately, and so forth. It was like a gameshow of sorts. At the end, when one of the five had won, all the people got out their papers from the mochi that had his area of town written on it. A numnber was drawn, and somebody won a prise (but I forget what it was).

After that, the Awa Odori dancers who were invited from another town performed for us. Afterwards, there was a chance for everyone to join in. Having become a veritable awa odori addict, I leapt at the chance. Afterwards, as I was making my way back to where I had left my bag and camera, Taku-chan (one of my eikaiwa students), grabbed me by the arm and said something like "They want the best few of the crowd to come dance in front of everyone. They want you!"
So I had to go and dance with three others in front of the whole crowd. Then they awarded us with a box of irodorinku (a kamikatsu citrus drink), which the others decided that the foreigner needed the most, so they gave me the whole box (24 little bottles).

The last event, the fireworks, was delayed a bit by some rain, but eventually they got underway. It was cute seeing two of my third-year students paired off and standing talking while they watched the fireworks. Awww.... puppy love, eh? But there is a certain kind of atmosphere to small town natsu matsuri, one that would make it strange if none of the kids started standing closer than usual. It's the kind of think someone (maybe bruce springsteen?) would write a song about if they were Japanese.

But of course the biggest highlight for me was that most of last year's sannensei came back home for the festival, so I got to see them again and talk to them again. In a way, they were my first friends when I came here last year. It made my week.

And I got a ride back home with Taku-chan, who lives not far from me.


We had two more practices on the monday and tuesday evenings, and had wednesday and thursday off. I got my license on the Wednesday. My friends Atsushi and Ryo arrived that Evening. (For those of you who don't know, Atsushi and Ryo were among the Japanese exchange students that I got to know back in Winnipeg at UofM). They got in quite late. It is a long drive from Niigata (it's not far from Tokyo); they had left at 5 or 6 am.

On Thursday we did the Kamikatsu experience. After breakfast (peanut butter and bananas on toast?), we started our day with a trip to the onsen (2floor, score!), and then we took my garbage to the gomi suteishon (dust station) to put it into its various categories for recycling. Afterwards, I showed off the junior high to them. We did lunch at Ikkyu Chaya, which is a restaurant in town with a fantastic view, and then we made our way into Tokushima.

It was the first day of Awa Odori, and none of it REALLY gets underway until around 6pm, and we got in at around two. So we walked around and saw some of the preparations, checked out the awa odori museum shop (which was packed), and wandered around until it showed signs of starting. We watched for good long times at various locations, and eventually joined the anyone-can-oin-and-march-around-with-us ren. After that, we watched some more in various spots, and ended by finding the group that dances in a circle all night long, and is completely crowdspeople. Atsushi and Ryo danced for quite a long time. They really got into it.

The next morning I walked to the store and bought some neccessities, and then made French Toast. Ryo watched and learned. Its amazing how so simple a food can taste so incredibly good. Of course, having syrup from home helps a lot too. (^-^)

As it was another gorgeously sunny day, we made our way down to the river for a dip. Crystal clear water flowing around rocks, most of what you see is trees, more river, and more rocks, and there is a massive boulder to jump off of, and ten foot deep eddying water to land in.

Then we hit the onsen again (only the first floor this time), and followed it with lunch at ikkyuchaya.
When we made our way into Tokushima, the goal was for us to join Arasowa ren, the international association ren (arasowarenai: don't cause fights/wars; the name is a pun).
The problem was, back in the origional planning of them coming, it was only atsushi who was going to come, and because there are only so many costumes, there is limited space in the ren. You had to register way early. And naturally, we hadn't been able to register ryo. So he was going to wander the town and I would pass off part of my costume to him later, and then maybe that would work. As things were getting underway (opening party etc) I mentioned this to a fellow JET and she asked if there was really no way to get him his own costume. And of course, I hadn't even thought to ask. So I went and asked. And they had extra costumes. So Atsushi and I spent a hurried 15 minutes trying to get a hold of Ryo and tell him to come back. Fortunately he had not decided to wander far, and was able to get to the meeting place, get suited up, and catch the very tail end of the party, though there was not much food or beer left by that point. But we got him his own costume! and that was so much better. You cannot imagine how many times I was thanking God for that.

And we had loads and loads and loads of fun dancing through the streets of Tokushima in full costume and in front of thousands of onlookers. It was great. It was tiring. It was grand finale of the two most enjoyable days of my summer.

I got to enjoy my town and favorite Japanese festival with two friends from Winnipeg (or at least, that's where I know them from... ;D Can you ask for more?). It was fantastic. They said they had a good time too.

On the saturday morning I made a pancake breakfast and saw the two of them off on their way to tour more of shikoku. Then at 12:30 the two midori kyouryoku (green cooperation) volunteer girls who were in kocho ren picked me up and we went to the meeting place.
After getting suited up (even more properly suited up than the night previous), we all waited around, some drank beer, and then we made our way to Asahi to dance. We ended in front of Taku-chan's shop in Asahi, where a small crowd had gathered in expectation. Afterwards, Taku-chan treated us all to icecream bars and beers/colas/sports drinks. From there we went to the area near my place to perfrom again, and many of the same crowd had already set up to watch us there too. It was fun. I will send pictures in a later email. We finished up in Hoji, which is near the Rencho's house (rencho: head of the ren). When we had finished, I got instructions on what to do with my sweaty clothes overnight (which to wash and how, which to just let dry and how). The rencho's wife had prepared a lot of curry and rice, and invited me (along with most everyone else) to come in for dinner. Not long after dinner I made my way home. I think some may have stayed up quite late there.

I was tired.

The next day, Sunday, was the most intense day. We danced a whole lot more. But it was the finale, after all. We danced for both of the town's old folks homes, one behind the hospital, and one near the onsen. We danced long and hard in front of the onsen. Then we invited onlookers to join in, and danced in a circle for even longer. We were thankful for the end when it came, but all that dancing, despite the hurt, had been immensely fun.

Then the ren paid for us all to have dinner at the onsen restaurant. We had a choice between wakame udon (wakame is a kind of fat seaweed and udon are thick noodles in soup) and curry on rice. I opted for the udon; I didn't want the weight of the rice in my gut at our last stop.

The last stop and grand finale was the Asahi summer festival. Taku-chan was the MC. This time we even painted our faces (the guys did) to look more like 'the dancing fool.' We did our full performance, and Taku-chan made sure to embarrass me by talking all about me and going on and on over the microphone while we were doing our ko-yama-ouzu whirlpool maneuver. Ah well, what can you expect. Taku-chan is a funny guy. (*_*)

And of course we danced for a long long looooong time, constantly pulling others in from the crowd. When one of the drummers put his taiko down to do a bit of dancing, I siezed te opportunity and made my way over to give the drums a shot. I had been aching to do that for so very long. It was a good thing that I went over so promptly; not long after I started, it was all over.

Afterwards (after the fireworks and some food and some drink) it was back to the rencho's place for another party. Takoyaki, lots of snacks and tasty food, karaoke on a machine that was way old, and general chilling out.

And then the following week on the sunday we had another party, the real after party. It started at noon with a meal in one of the tatami-floored rooms at the community center, moved to the ren-cho's and ended with a dip in the onsen followed by ice-cream bars. Some people even left partway through to go to the library and grocery store to get some neccessities for the week ahead and then came back again later. When I left the onsen along with the rest and headed home, it was about nine at night.

The weekend after that, while battling montezuma's revenge and winning due to the advice offered by one of my students' parents who run a corner store not far away, there was a massive taiphoon and all the power went out. Of course, that happened after my sleep habits had been so messed by being sick that my body wanted to be awake starting from 11pm. With no power. Six or seven exceedingly boring hours. Guess who is thankful for electricity now? And guess who discovered a use for the mountain of candles left by his predecessor?

I guess all that playing of videogames and reading comidds must've helped some; this past month (of september) most of the teachers have remarked on my upgraded language ability. Maybe I should study like that more... not much of a chore at all!

The last thing I will mention is the earthquake.
It happened on sunday september 5th, at about 7:30pm, which meant I was at church at the time. As I have described to some of you already, it was like the church was a car in park being rocked back and forth by some rowdy teenagers for a minute or so. It was cool.

Apparrently there was another aftershock that lasted even longer and started at around 11:30, but oddly enough I was asleep by 11 that night and missed it altogether. The next morning, when everyone was talking about it, and I mentioned that I missed it because I was asleep, my principal turned to me and said, "You are baby!"

I'll send another mail for this month soon. I think.
Speech competitions and sports day are over, so in theory I now have more time.

-Matthew "the only gaijin in town" Shettler

hisashiburi: long time no see
ganbarimasu: do ones best
yappari: after all
mochi: a snack made by mashing rice into a sweet or salty chewy lump
eikaiwa: conversation
gaijin: literally "outstider", the casual form of "gai-koku-jin" which means "outside country person" or "foreigner"