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August 25, 2009

Obon Festivities

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I'm a bit late with this, but here are some photos from the Obon holiday along with a very dry explanation.

Last year I did not know about the "shishi" dance, so I had already booked customers for the time and was too busy to participate. This year I kept the two weeks before pretty much open so that I would have time to join a group of about ten other men from the village in practice. A few practice dancing, a few practice flute, and I and two others practiced drumming. There are also a group of "retired" shishi who offer their advice and criticism of the others dance or music.

Every year at this time, in order to offer a relief from the heat, a group of guys get together at the local meeting hall every night and practice playing the flute, drums, or dancing with a lion mask. The relief from the heat comes in the form of lots of cold beer after the practice. On the night of the festival, we walk through the hamlet as children carry lanterns. The men play drums and flutes, while others walk around with a bottle of sake pouring it down people's throats. Once we reach the shrine, much drinking of beer ensues. In the one photo you see me competing in a chug-a-beer-with-a-straw contest. I am pretty sure this is illegal in the US.

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As this is my first year, I am not skilled enough yet to play the drums at the main festival, but the next day we walked around the hamlet visiting all forty homes, playing a song and dance to drive the evil spirits out of the house. As we walk between houses we are also drumming and fluting, so it makes for a very unique atmosphere that day, because the music can be heard from all around the hamlet.

Several houses along the way had prepared snacks and drinks for us to take a rest and cool off, so we were drinking from morning to night. That was nice. It takes all day to cover each house, and it is hot with all those clothes on, so each house donates about 5,000 yen so that the "shishi"men can go out for a party that night. We all took a bus to the nearby village (apparently getting OUT of our own village is highly valued to everyone who has lived their whole life here). There we have a bath and big meal with the added benefit of "companions" - girls that are hired to pour us drinks and laugh at our jokes. This time they even let some of the men touch their XXX.

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All in all it was the funnest festival I have ever attended in Japan. Being a part of the festival really makes a difference. The only annoying thing was the TV crew that was following my every move. They did not get enough footage of Tomoe and I together the last time they were here, so they came back for more. Unfortunately, during this kind of festival time, men and women have very different roles so we spent very little time together. They spent most of their time following my preparations and playing at the festival. The other people of the village were good sports though, and faked a konmpai at the end of the day for the sake of the TV crew.

The festivities start in the morning when all the men have to gather at the shrine to set up. There is not enough work for that many men, but if you fail to appear you have to pay a fine, so everyone shows up and either stands around, or pretends to be doing something useful. Next, the men from each group of houses in the hamlet (5 groups) gather at a designated place and build a big umbrella with a painted lantern. This time I was in charge of painting the lantern, but with the TV people watching me I was pretty nervous and didn't make a very good painting. Upon seeing my painting of a girl eating watermelon (a typical summer theme) one old man said

"Oh! Its obake (ghost or monster)!".


"Oh! An obaachan (old lady)!"


I doubt I will be asked to paint again next year.

Later, the "shush" men practice their flutes, drums and dancing, and we have a BBQ, being careful to leave a few hours for the alcohol to vacate their system before the festival. Then, once it is dark, we meet at the shrine, change into our costumes, and parade through the town playing our drums and flutes.

Below is the song we played at each house, but there are also other more fast-paced songs and dances for the festival, and another one that we played as we walked from house to house.

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The photos you see here are:

  1. Lanterns used for the festival
  2. Everyone gathered around pretending to work in preparation for the festival.
  3. Chillin' at a BBQ after our final practice for the dance. We had spent every night practicing and drinking for the two weeks prior.
  4. Photos from the procession as we walk around the village the next day. I played drums at some of the houses (not very well, I might add)
  5. Photos of some of the kids getting "bitten" by the shishi for good luck.
  6. Children at the festival
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August 21, 2009

What Gaijin Eat: Cute LIttle Viper Babies (and their mothers)

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So its been a while and I am sure everyone is on the edge of their seats wondering what I was eating. Finally I have time to post the answer. I was disappointed that some people were so close, but no one gave the answer that I first thought of when I saw the photo - fox testicles.

In actuality, this was my first taste of mamushi snake. Unfortunately I did not catch it myself, but a neighbor gave it to me, and another neighbor showed me the ropes of how to skin and eat it. He had two snakes so Tomoe and I had the pleasure of each eating one of the snakes gall bladder raw. (That's it on Tomoe's tongue.) You are supposed to just swallow it like a pill and it will make you live forever, but mine broke in my mouth and it tastes awful. I hope that did not negate its powers.

There was really nothing to the skinning. Just cut off the head and pull. Above, you can see the old man holding the snake after releasing her from the bottle he used to catch her, skinning it, and crushing the bones with a hammer to make them edible. It literally tastes like chicken.

I fried the eggs and innards up and ate them with a fresh raw egg from the Lucies, all on top of a steaming bowl of our own rice. Breakfast doesn't get any better than this. In the photos below you can see the eggs and the snakes inside the eggs, and in the one photo, the baby snake outside the egg.

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August 17, 2009

August 06, 2009

What Gaijin Eat

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It has been a long time since the last post in my What Gaijin Eat series, but I know (from the number of times I am asked) there are still a lot of people out there who wonder just what do foreigners in Japan eat?

To spice things up (yes we foreigners do love spice), I will make this instalment into a quiz. If you can guess what it is, you are invited to come and join me the next time we have it available.

August 03, 2009

Death Wish

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If anyone has any last minute business to take care of with me, please let me know. Tomoe is gonna kill me if she ses this on my blog. Luckily she rarely reads it. So nobody tell her!

The hair clippers I had been using for ten years broke and the new ones came two days ago, and Tomoe was anxious to try them out. My head was busy so apparently she tried them on her own.

When contemplating sollutions, I suggested she go all the way - I mean I have always thought that Senead Oconner is hot. She doesn't like that idea. To top it off, the local Junior High School teacher just called and asked if can come and take a photo of us together today for the local school newsletter. Her plan is to wear a hat. Secretly, I am very very ammused.

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I wonder if this photo can get me into even more trouble... (WARNING TO MOM: You probably don't want to click on the link!)

August 02, 2009

Rice and Rain

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Everyone's worried about the lack of sunshine recently. The Koshi Hikari rice is behind schedule, making us very glad that we planted the equally as yummy, but still looked down up Akita Komachi variety of rice. Ours seems to be doing well and pretty much on schedule. Yesterday I even saw some drooping stalks, meaning that the kernels have started to develop. It is important for us to harvest our rice as early as possible, because the typhoon season might cause the river to flood, washing away all of our rice.

Our non-rice crops are moving along slowly. I like to blame the lack of any veggies even though its already August, on the lack of sun, but I guess it has more to do with planting them so late. Oh well, we get enough from the neighbors, and once this rain and cloudy season ends, we will have our own cucumbers to feed to the chickens.

Because we get so much from the neighbors, we tried to plant things that no one else grows, or that are in high demand. The peanuts are all doing well (though I really have to weed there), and the popcorn seems to be going great. We planted a lot of hot chili peppers so Tomoe can make lots of her famous Tabasco, but they seem to be waiting for the sunlight as well.

We did just harvest our potatoes which were not stolen by the monkeys (as they were last year), so we have way too many again, and this year they are huge (compared to last year). I would be happy if only we had not just received two big bags from neighbors. Now we will have rotting potatoes in our hallway again this winter and next spring. The chickens don't seem to like the potatoes that much, but I suppose if we boil them or douse them in nuka (rice husk powder)...

Or, maybe the reason the chickens wont eat the potatoes is that they now have free roam of the entire garden. While all the plants were small we locked them into their own little section of garden, which they quickly depleted of any bug/plant resources they might need for the next two months. Now that the plants in our garden (and more importantly the neighbors' gardens) are big and strong enough to withstand the chickens scratching and pecking, we let them run free. If I had a ticket to fresh worms and ant larvae every day I wouldn't eat potatoes either! (or is it the other way around...?)

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August 01, 2009


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Just finished up a great trip last week with a really great family of five. Aside form being tired from lack of sleep, everything was a breeze because the kids (6,8, and 9) rode further than any of our past 11 year olds. The best part though, is that no matter what activity I suggest, the kids say "Cool!"

They love everything. We even spent one morning at the local grade school (which I originally was not sure if they would want to do since it was their summer vacation) sitting in on English and swimming classes and playing with the grade schoolers, followed by joining their school lunch. Everything was "cool!" and they would rather go to school here just because of the pool, but the fact that the kids have to do all the cleaning of the school themselves (no janitor) was a bit of a turn-off.

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I know I have been doing too much self-promotion recently, but please allow me a few more. Here are a few great summaries from past customers complete with photos and movies. I particularly love that Carissa put her ride to Shonen Knife (My favorite Japanese band and the only that I ever saw in concert, way back when in Ann Arbor)

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