Wow. A lot has happened since I posted my last entry, so I`m currently sitting here, diary in lap, under a beautifully warm kotasu (a Japanese table with heating element and cloth attached to it) with Bokusho Inoe and Jess at Tea Ceremony. Must try to type fast then, so here it goes.
On Sunday 17th October Jess and I cycled to Ichinomiya where the local aki matsuri (Autumn festival) was taking place. We pulled up to the shrine on our bikes to the sound of heavy drumbeat, observing the crowds of people pouring into the wooded area. What was once the quaint little path winding up to the jinja (shrine) was now transformed into a myriad of bubbling colours, tantaslising odeurs and excited faces. Amongst the skyscrappering trees around us were tiny stalls – food stalls mainly – lining the dirt path on both sides. Masses of vibrant kanji and characterised foodstuffs invaded our vision – it wasn`t possible to look elsewhere without seeing something else enticing!
Contrasting to this mass consumerism was the traditional dress and show of the actual matsuri. Four portable shrines (although `portable` hardly does them justice, as it took in excess of 50 men to carry each one) were being carried around the open area in front of the main shrine. Another joined at a later showing of the same festival too, into the already packed space encircled by a sea of Japanese faces, spotted with the occasional gaikokujin (foreigner). Each shrine was being carried by a group of men, each group wearing a different colour shirt with headband and `nappy` style pants – unfortunately I don`t know the correct term for them o.O. To the rhythm of the drums, the shrines were tossed around with chants echoing left and right, occasionally joining together to be lifted up and down in a mass string of gold and woood. It`s a pity I can`t say more about the actual meaning of the cellebration, but I`m sure I`ll find out at a later date ^_^. I thought I`d just add, continuing from my last entry, Jyoki-san, our head of home, did participate in the festival, but thankfully not as a carrier for a shrine – so my eyes weren`t burnt out from the minimalist underwear thankfully ^_^;.
Skipping forward somewhat to the 20th October, was the massive typhoon that struck us. Having had several typhoons allreay, at the time I was unfazed by all the `ki o tsukete`s (take cares). It wasn`t until the day after that I came too realise the strength of it. On Wednesday night we were made too stay inside Shiso Home past our shiift end. The power went out after bathtime at 5.00pm, so we offered to help around until we finally left at 11.00. Two of the nyukyosha (residents) were trapped in the lift for two hours, having to wait for the rescue workers to free them. Meanwhile outside was raging with wind accompanied by a symphony of rain, although the effects of damage unknown because it was dark at the time. Four of us returned to our nearby apartment blocks after the wind died down somewhat, stepping over trees and through piles of leaves and twigs.
The next morning (after a chilly night with no heating or light) I walked down the steps from my second floor apartment with my camera in hand. The cars parked in front were spattered with folliage in an artistic fashion, covering the windscreens. The road littered, somewhat less daintly, with rubbish from the surrounding mountain woods. The lack of power was quickly explained by the tree fallen, ripping down the power lines, and a entire concrete pilon that had collapsed further down the road. This certainly wasn`t small at all. A smaller tree had also fallen against the wall of Shiso Home, although not damaging it in any way. Unsurprisingly, the power was still out inside the home, so we spent the day work by sunlight and off gas generators again. One thing that grew to be quite a problem was the electric toilets. Being so new fangled and fancy in the Home (with all sorts of fountains, nozzles and knobs to amuse yourself with) meant they wouldn`t flush like a standard one, hence one or two blocks quickly started to smell catering for the many residents o.O;. I also found out during the day that many people had died from the typhoon, including a rescue worker right outside Shiso Home – a tree had fallen on him the night before, leaving a widow and two young children. He was only 30. My thoughts go out to those lost from the disaster, as little as those words do to lessen the impact of the sitation… I`m told it was the biggest typhoon to hit this area for half a century and that it was all over the news in England too. I still can`t fully grasp the seriousness, being so isolated here, so I`d like to hear different accounts of the occurence…
Despite these events, the Home still let me go on my pre-arranged holiday to Hanshin Home to see Dave, as much as I offered to stay and help in the difficult situation. I felt bad leaving everyone to contend with a lack of modern convienience… I caught a bus with one of the Hanshin staff who`d driven here to drop off a generator, and also another member of Shiso staff, Kondou-san who was going to her home in Osaka. We had a nice, long conversation on the way, which again, seems bad saying considering the circumstances. That night Dave and I sat alongside the torn up riverfront behind Hanshin Home, in the cold, eating ice cream. Catching up with people with a heart-to-heart in such a quiet, calm setting always soothes and relaxes me. Even the bitter cold didn`t sour the exchange ^_^.
To hurry on, Friday was a long day. After mothering Dave out of bed, we worked oour way to Kyoto for the Jidai matsuri (one of three famous festivals in Kyoto every year). This was very good; seeing a parade of culture and history. There`s little I can say about this one either on the meaning or feel of it that can overshadow the local one I wrote about earlier. Dave and I spent some time in Kyoto people-shooting (with our cameras of course) and broowsing the shopping front. After several fumbled requests in Japanese, we found out roughly how to get to our second venture or the day, the Kurama no hitmatsuri (Kurama fire festival). This was a long trip out from Kyoto, and we got the expperience the `sardine effect` on the train going there. Many other people had the samer idea apparently, including many gaikokujin, so we were packed fuller and fuller as person after person piled onto the train. I“m sure iit was much worse in the middle of the carriage between more people – I was fortunate enough to be squashed against a window on one side ^^;.
We arrived to a small town, not unlike Haga, with people lined behind ropes on on side. It was very dark by this point, and not long after arriving, they lit large torches on the other side of the road. Dave and I were bundled in front of some tiny Japanese women who were none to happy for the favour) when preparing everyoen for the parade, so I spent the majority of the time crouching, sitting and apologising ^^;. Adults and children alike began marching back and forth down the long road carrying large bound bundles of wood, each one lit with a large flame (much to our great surprise!). There was a simple chant, but we still haven`t figured out what it meant exactly. It was all really interesting, having flames the size of large beach balls pass inches in front of your face and watching several men heaving massive pillar-sized torches back and forth, frequently being doused with water to stop the ash burning their backs. The young children being escorted by adults were so cute ^_^ – their tiny little `sai-ria, sai-ro` chants like cymbals in a heavy drumbeat. We decided to depart after an hour or two, when nothing much was changing and our camera films were rapidly disappearing, stopping in Kyoto again for a quick dinner before the two-hour ride home.
Saturday was Kobe. We looked around countless capsule shops selling anime figurines most of the day, after we discovered a large store with lots of similar shops in. We had okonomiyaki for lunch – very different to the one in Hiroshima with K-san! – and played in the aracades a little. The highlight of the day was definitely the local bands in the evening that played near JR Sannomiya station. The first few were pretty good, while the last two, allbeit bad by my ear, were really funny. Lots of contrived rocker attitude and jumping about in spandex, leather and pink scarves ^_^. I`m sure Dave can give a much better account of this, as he knows far more about music than I do. Seeing the local youth crowd gives a completely different impression of Japan to the one I get in Haga – it`ll certainly be another very unique experience if I come here to study for a year on my Japanese course at University.
On Sunday I returned to Shiso Home with Kondou-san again (we`d arranged to take the Takarazuka Inter bus back to Yamasaki on Thursday). It was really good to talk on the bus again on the way back, and all the recent studying and practice I`ve been doing recently really helped. I`ve a long way to go though, but at least I`m enjoying going into work each day now.
Perhaps I`ll finish by a passage I wrote in one of my letters to friends. I think it describes the sort of situation I feel myself in at the moment, and hopefully it`s not overly-metaphoric. [On the status of still feeling like a student back home or a member of staff in Japan]:
`Perhaps I`ll just settle for `in-limbo`. There`s something eminently rewarding about everything that`s happening right now, but also a kind or herbicide stopping me from really taking root – the inevitable contract expiration in February. As such, I`ve a yearning to really establish a place here that is never quite fulfilled.`
I`m working towards making a big impression (hopefully a good one) out here at Shiso, but it`s difficult being branded with `GAP-san` everywhere you go. I really hate that phrase, but I suppose it`s just convienient for people to use about us volunteers here. In any case, I`ll keeping trying ^_^.
I really must go now, as I holding everybody up from leaving Tea Ceremony o.O;;. I apologise for the double lettering in some places – a quirk of this laptop. Otherwise, keep in touch all!