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of festivals and cultural ambassadors

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Some of you may have seen Michiyo around Okazaki. She sometimes teaches classes at Yamasa on the art of kimono. She's the president of the YES English School that I work at together with Lorna, who's from Canada, and Cory who's from the States. We're quite an international group there at the moment with Hendrik from Germany; Tania from Mexico; Abhay from India; Sai from Singapore and Ayako who is, well, from Japan. If you haven't seen Michiyo you will certainly have seen our students. Yes, those loud ones on the ground floor late in the afternoon. If they seem excited, part of the reason may be that we use the TPR method. TPR stands for total physical response. That should be self-explanatory. If you're interested you could always do a search under James Asher or TPR.

Back to Michiyo. She's my boss, but more importantly, she's my own personal ambassador of Okazaki. That's not quite right. I don't have an exclusive. She's an ambassador for all of us. Thanks to her I have met lots of interesting people, been to fun parties, seen loads of festivals of all sorts. I can't say I'm ever bored in Okazaki. To tell the truth, sometimes I feel there are too many things on and I'd just like to chill out on my own. That's just me....

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There can be loads to do in Okazaki if you know what's on. Nothing jumps out at you. You've either got to look for it, which can take a bit of time and considerable effort; or, and this is a short cut, make friends with someone who lives here. This is the real key to enjoying Okazaki. I've been very lucky, I know.

Having read the coffee table books on Japan, festivals are what we expect to experience when we come from another country. Most will discover that a lot of these festivals make no mark on the lives of most contemporary Japanese. This is not the case if you come to Okazaki. There seems to be a festival every month at least and then there can be more than one in a week! Maybe because as the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu it is historically significant, the Okazaki citizens love their festivals.

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the fireworks at Shin Mei Gu Dai Sai

There have been so many..... One that impressed me was the Shin Mei Gu Dai Sai (the Shinmei Temple Festival) held in May. Although dai sai means big festival, it was rather small. It was hidden deep in the down town area. A festival for the local residents. Bare chested men and women in happi coats stood with their arms outstretched from which gushed jets of fireworks. It was impressive. Festivals are wonderful for the children although they are probably more interested in getting their parents to buy them sweets or in trying to catch a goldfish with a paper net that breaks all too easily. That's the challenge of kingyou sukui.
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Iho has the prize gold-fish in the bag

Then there's the iris in Higashi Okazaki Park in June. We ate prosciutto sandwhiches (Michio is a bit of an Italophile) while comtemplating the blaze of purple. This park is a little out of the way but worth the trip. It was nice to see the elderly citizens being wheeled out to enjoy the fresh air and the spectacular sight of the blooms that would wither all too soon. Ephemerality and Japanese aesthetics..... I did spare a thought for the animals in the zoo though. Fujiko the elephant looked very sorry in that sparse concrete enclosure all by herself.

The hydgrangeas in Gamagori in the same week. If you're are interested in hydrangeas then this festival is a must. So many varieties and in white and shades of pink as well. Go to the Prince Hotel gardens on your way and check out Takeshima.

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Hanabi was held on August 5 this year. (The night after the Mikoshi Parade. Unfortunately I was working that night. I joined the festivities at the student Village party.) I was exceptionally lucky to have gone with my "ex" homestay family. We sat in the priviliged sajiki area. This is the tatami matted private box area at the front alonside the river. Like lots of others, we took the bus downtown then walked alongside lots of brightly dressed children and young girls. Some donning their own contemporary version of summer yukata. Namely, extremely short (that's school uniform short here in Japan) yukata, platform shoes (not the traditional ones), crazy hairstyles and glitter make-up. I had never seen Minami and Iho dressed in yukata. They looked gorgeous in all their excitement.

We eventually arrived at our position. I got to meet some of the other members of the family. We ate our bentou and before we knew it the show had begun. I have never been so moved by fireworks. It was pure spectacle - two hours of it. The Japanese take their fireworks seriously. And Okazaki is no exception. I won't go into any more hyperbole - just believe it's a sight not to be missed.

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After the show we waited for the crowd to disperse then went to The New Grand Hotel for a cool drink. It's quite a view from the top floor and there was certainly a lot of excitement in the air. This was the Grand in its peak period. I met a Japanese lady in the powder room from out of town who was feeling equally moved.

The following evening I was invited by Kazuko, one of my students, to a barbeque at her country cottage followed by fireworks over a lake in the Micabi area. This area is renowned for its mikan. After having seen the Okazaki fireworks the previous evening, I can't say these were equally spectacular, however the atmosphere was electric, in the literal sense, nature playing more of a leading role, with the lightning illuminating the sky in tandem with the fireworks.

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the winning family

Most recently there has been the Yukata Competition. I'm not sure how much arm twisting she had to do but Michiyo managed to get both Tania and Ayako interested in participating. We saw Eva there too. She's studying in the SILAC course. Although I let myself be dressed up last year, I've sworn I'll never do it again. I think kimono and yukata look gorgeous on the Japanese, but feel there's something very curious about foreigners wearing them. Sorry. Anyway, it was lots of fun. Loads of colour, excitement and lots of ever so cute little children. There was a family heat and a one for individuals. Unfortunately, our girls didn't win but both Tania and Eva got a special prize for trying, or for being the only foreigners in the competition. I think I'll volunteer to be on the judging panel next year. I picked the first prize winners in both categories!

There have been other festivals, and there will be more....

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