A year ago today(-ish) I had just had quite the adventure. I had been bitten by a mukade, hidden in my bathroom, and had my first visit to a Japanese medical institution of some sort. It’s not an anniversary I really want to celebrate. That being said, it was also the same day as my first Japanese festival: Hyuga’s Hyottoko festival. The Hyottoko is my city’s dance and it’s famous nationwide. I’ll get to that in a second.
This morning I got up bright and early to make my way to the train station. I decided to treat myself and hopped on the express train to the city. I got my first haircut in Miyazaki at a salon called “RedBedHead.” Most of the JETs in Miyazaki go to this guy. At least, most of the girls I think. Not only does he speak English, but he also worked in London for a while and understands how to cut foreign (read:fine and/or not Japanese) hair. I seriously can’t recommend him enough. His salon looks a bit hole-in-the-wall-ish, but it was definitely worth it. Besides, the chair you sit in to get your hair cut is this huge, comfy lounge chair type thing. How can you not like that?
I decided it was a time for a change. Besides, it’s too hot and humid for long hair, for me at least.
On the way back I also grabbed an express train, but due to rain and wind delays, what was supposed to be a 45-minute ride was a 2-hour ride. That is the only time I have ever been on a Japanese train that was running more than 5 minutes late.
Festivals in my town take place around the train station, so I decided to check out the festival a bit on my own.
The professionals doing the dance:
And now the audience:
It was amazing. Going to the festival today was the first time I really felt like a member of the community. My students recognized me and waved me over to their booths. Other people running booths remembered me from previous festivals. People wanted to stop and chat with me. I can’t even put into words how happy that made me. I have been struggling to find my place here since I arrived in Japan. I’m not a full part of the community yet, I might never be, but I’m getting there.
Being alone at a festival is a much different experience than being in a herd of foreigners. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time last year. But as a foreigner alone, people are much more likely to approach you. Case in point: I was standing in front of a booth that a few of my students were working at, deciding exactly what kind of fried thing I wanted to buy. All of the sudden and old woman came up to me and asked me a question. Now, to me it sounded like, “Have you had any juice?” To which I responded, “No?”
She then proceeded to take me by the arm and pull me over to another booth (which, to my dismay, had nothing to do with delicious lime juice as I thought it would). Some company was doing market research there and bribing people to participate with a variety of prizes. None of this was explained to me, mind you. I was just brought over and literally handed over to a man working there. (Not even kidding, the woman tried to hold my arm out for the guy to grab.)
Next thing I know there is a tiny clip board being pushed into my hands with some sort of survey. I can read most of it, so I fill it out, but there were a few that I was having trouble reading. The guy came over and, in Japanese, asked me if I understood. He then proceeded to explain the things I had trouble with in very slow and clear Japanese. It was amazing. The guy is my hero for even trying and not just going, “Oh, you don’t understand. Let me just give up on communicating with you entirely.”
I then rotated this little machine which spit out marbles of various colors and compositions. I turned it and out dropped a little gold colored marble thing. Everyone started to get very excited (meanwhile, no one has really explained what is going on so I’m just standing there with an amused and utterly bewildered look on my face). Finally someone told me that it meant I got a special rare prize. A t-shirt! Sweet.
I went back to the booth I had been standing in front of and I decided that rice filed with bean paste was the kind of fried thing I wanted.
I walked back afterwards and as I got back to my apartment, I noticed something hanging from my neighbor’s balcony:
When right-side up, this little ghost-looking thing is supposed to help bring good weather. I thought it was rather fitting that it had gotten turned upside-down by the wind. Especially with what this week’s forecast is (due to two typhoons)
Hopefully it will clear up by the time the new Hyuga people get here. Fingers crossed.