Summer has arrived in Japan. It’s hot, sweaty, boiling in the sun, an infinitesimal degree cooler in the shade, and the cicadas are the noisier than a pair of children who’ve disappeared into the supermarket candy aisle. The nights are cool (thank a relic of an outmoded belief system) which makes it a lot easier to sleep than other places I’ve stayed(only slightly less effective than alcohol and valium), and with the summer season comes festival season! In the summer every Japanese city/town/dwelling with more than 1 person has a festival to celebrate…something. With some kind of terrifying town mascot.
The first weekend of August had the local Yokkaichi festival, a celebration of such magnitude that I didn’t know about it until two whole days ahead of time. It took up the entire shopping arcade, five or six additional side streets, about half a kilometre of major road, and filled all that space with Japanese carnival game stalls, food stalls, gambling stalls, and stalls that sold aquatic creatures of varying degrees that were not for eating. Unless you’re Chinese, then all bets are off.
The food was…disappointing. A lot of it was fried or bbq chicken, it was all ridiculously overpriced, and the best thing I ate was probably the turkish kebabs. Nothing was bad, it was just so overpriced for what you got compared even to restaurants that I limited myself very heavily to things I couldn’t find anywhere in town. Such as kebabs. Can’t find those in small town Yokkaichi.
I didn’t bother with the carnival games, seen and done those a hundred times before. And it has nothing to do with me being bad at them. Instead I watched a few traditional Japanese dances, floats, and displays of such drumming prowess that the ladies clothing sometimes reminded me of this one time in Amsterdam that I probably shouldn’t repeat in print.
On the other side of festival season, this week is Obon, the traditional Japanese celebration for the dead. Traditionally, many Japanese who live in the big cities use this week of relaxation to take a load off, visit family in the small towns(or smaller cities) and take a walk to the cemetery to visit grampy-six-feet-under. Its a solemn time to remember dead family members, light some candles in their honour, and eat a meal to remember them by. In practice, people take a vacation in Guam or spend a few hours with grampy or granny before buggering off to Sizzlers(or the Japanese equivalent) for some all-you-can-eat chicken’n’chips. It’s so North American I felt like crying, saluting and subjugating a visible minority. There’s even a traditional celebration where some people will lite a candle and set it down on the river to float downstreams. It’s lovely and I wanted to take pictures and take part. But does anyone actually do it? Nope. For the first time since I came to Japan I heard someone say: “It’s TOO traditional”.
At The Company, we are working. Its a week of holidays for most people, so the clear response to this is to have us work. Doesn’t matter that almost every other school is closed all week and that literally all of our regular classes are cancelled and I might teach 1 or two hours this entire week. Nope, someone at corporate thought it would be a radical and bodacious idea to have six people sitting around doing nothing for a whole week. And not only are we working, someone had the bright idea to also screw up our usual schedule and come in two hours earlier. It’s not like any students are showing up in those two extra hours in the morning that are never otherwise available, but we definitely don’t have some students showing up in the evening who would be here otherwise. Just bloody brilliant.