Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Goruden Uiiku

So Golden Week is now over and it's back to regular life again.

Golden Week, by the way, is what they call the chunk of three national holidays that land all back to back in the middle of a week and have yet another in the preceeding week. On that first holiday, April 29th: みどりの日 (Green Day), I found myself way out in the west of Tokushima in the Iya Valley for some white water rafting.

White water rafting is always a fun event, even when the water is mega-dangerous, which this water certainly was not. The top of the Yoshino river is actually some of the best rapids in Japan (rumor has it, #1 best), but this was the first day of the season. "Tsuyu", the season of massive massive heavy rain has yet to come, so the water was still very tame. So tame, in fact, that we had to start a kilometer downriver from the normal place just to save ourselves on some paddling. There were times when the water was so slow that if we stopped paddling, the headwind would push us a little upstream. That being said there were more than enough spots with fun rapids to keep us happy, and there were more than enough of us to have several great splashing and pulling-people-off-of-the-other-boat fights.

Who were we? (This is the best part) We were the participants of an All-Shikoku ALT rafting event! What that means is that one infamous tokker (tokushima-dweller) planned the event and another with some great connections got the word out to people from the other three prefectures on this island. All told, there were about twenty-eight of us on four boats plus guides and a Japanese crew on a fifth boat that joined up with us a couple hours into it. Small numbers for an all-Shikoku event it's true, but after all it WAS at the time when most ALTs flee the country to get some travelling done. It was just fun to hang out and dunk our fellow Shikoku-jin who so rarely do stuff with.

Other highlights of the rafting were the the bagels w/cream cheese, luncheon meat, veggies etc that they provided at lunch (and I must concede, they really were good bagels!), the 20~30 foot high cliff we jumped off of (not quite as high as the highest board at Sargent Park pool in Winnipeg), and the onsen afterwards. We started suiting up in our wetsuits at about 9:30am and we were crawling back out of them 6 or 7 hours later. The weather had been a balmy 25 degrees Celcius, and had it not been for the sunscreen I would have come back with more than just a tan! Sadly, no pics because I was not about to chance having my cell phone drowned!

After all that, we set up tents on the site just below Happy Raft and got a yakiniku barbeque happening. Though various people who had been a-rafting with us all day started to make their way home instead of camping out, there was a crew from Hyogo prefecture (where Kobe is) who were camping out to go rafting the next day. For a social butterfly like yours truly, it was all that could be desired. Not to mention that my friend Greg scored us some AAA beef to yaki! (^_^)

I got myself all into vacation mode and then on monday we had a half-day of school. It was rough. Even just that half day. Knowing you are just out of three days of vacation and going into three more makes even as few as four periods seem like FOREVER. None of the staff or students were 'genki' that day.

Then it was three days of vacation! Yes! But I had ABSOLUTELY no plans and my apartment was a mess. No! Solution: invite a few of the local girls over for dinner on the Wednesday. You don't need to clean your apartment as clean for guys as you do for girls. So my apartment got clean and I actually made a proper meal for once (curry) which the three of us ate while watching "Out of Sight" (Steven Soderbergh is a fantastic director!).

Thursday was the 高丸山祭り (takamaru yama matsuri = Mt Takamaru Festival). You can see the pictures below. The gist of it is you drive your car a good way up the mountain, walk some more, buy tasty seasonal foods like mountain veggie tempura, trout zosui, or salt-broiled trout on a spit. Drool! Trust me, that shio-yaki trout is so good you WANT to eat the head. And you can! You eat everything but the already-removed innards! And you love it, you really do. After a while you hear the conche shell trumpet blowing and make your way to the bottom of the hill that the guys will carry the mikoshi down. Anyone can participate (well, any male can) but as I worship the true God, I didn't. I just watched. They carry it down the hill and then walk around with it and have a kind of pushing fight with it. They have this fight until it gets to a predetermined location where it is set down and a 山伏 (yamabushi: mountain priest) does a prayer ritual in front of it. At the same time, various people put offerings of various things like crackers and mochi and sake in front of it and say prayers. Afterwards it is picked up again and the fight resumes to bring it back up the mountain. On the last slope they attached a rope and people at the top helped to haul it up. Then the priest prayed again, took something out of it and put that something in the proper shrine and did more ritual stuff infront of the shrine. Other people rather casually disassembled the mikoshi and put it in storage for next year.

Most of the gathered crowd started to make their way home after that. At some point a tarp was laid out on the ground back by the food and a picnic was begun. Everyone still around sat down and set about the business of having a massive picnic. When the sun started to set a litte and it started to get cool, we packed everything up and toted it downhill on funny little machines. Then we made our way to a community center to continue chillaxin'. They called this the 二次会 (nijikai: second party) At some point there was a little official stuff about "how can we make the festival better next year?" but mostly it was just sitting and eating and many people doing a LOT of drinking. When the food and drink ran out, the party was over.

Then friday was school again. And, believe it or not, so was Saturday. And I was tired for that Saturday. Knowing full well that the next day was school I went out Friday to my friend Angie's goodbye party. Actually, it wasn't her goodbye party per se, but she had four friends up from Canada to help her do a jam camp for japanese kids during golden week, and they put on a couple shows at a couple local clubs while they were here. Angie dislikes goodbye parties, and is leaving Japan for good this week, so it was the last chance to say "Sayonara." And the music was fun too. DJ, bongos, jimbae (sp?), Chinese koto, Indian tabla (sp?), and violin. Not a mix we see too often here. Good dancing music at that. Couldn't pull myself away until 2430, which meant home at 0130, and bed sometime later. So I was quite tired the next day.

Saturday was PTA day, the day when the parents come in to watch classes. Moreover, because the previous sunday's softball game had been rained out, 1/4 of our small school was playing at a baseball game that day. It was not an easy day to be at school. Then in the evening there was the PTA's welcome-the-new-teachers party, which was good this year because they combined the elementary and junior high together. The ceremonies were kept to a mere 30 minutes as well, and that's admirable. It was actually an okay enkai, which is rare for the PTA ones. Maybe it helps that my Japanese is a lot better than it used to be and I can actually talk to the parents now.

As I was walking home with Murakami-sensei (the math teacher who lives below me) and Furuta-sensei (the elementary gr 4 teacher who lives in the house near my apartment), we passed the only ryokan (traditional japanese inn) in my part of town. We were surprised to see that this was the location of the nijikai. We weren't planning to go, but somehow Murakami got roped in, and Furuta and myself went in on the pretense of saving him (and at the great urging of the hilarious Mr Takaishi, a former student's dad). In the end I was glad I went. The atmosphere was as relaxed as far as nijikai go, and I actually had some good conversations. Instead of feeling worn out when I got home (as I have in past after PTA enkai) I felt relaxed and even a little energised. Somehow I think I even felt better for not having had a single drop of alcohol the whole night. (Not what you might expect when it's such a cultural pressure here.)

I slept almost all of Sunday, excepting a couple hours where i went to Colin and Jenny's place for dinner and a chat to feel like I actually had done something. In return for working on Saturday we had Monday off, and Monday was much the same as Sunday. I feel refreshed.

I was doubtful in the beginning about this whole Golden Week thing because all my close friends were taking off and I had no plans. Now I've got more plans than I know what to do with. Awa Odori practice starts this week and will be all my Mondays and Wednesdays until August. Judo has my Tuesdays and Fridays, and I have a test coming up in two weeks. Thursdays are my English conversation class (eikaiwa). Sometime in June I'm writing a Japanese test ("The J-Test" by name), so that means studying.

I'm looking forward to the madness. Bring it on!


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