Saturday, July 31, 2010

Towada August events

街ロボフェスタ Robot Festa  (Aug 1)
Location: 十和田市稲生町 八丁目街区 国道102号(旧国道4号)Inaoicho Hacchome Gaiku National Highway 102 (Old Rte 4)
Time: 11:00-15:00
Selected Events:  
知能ロボット『DiGORO』デモンストレーション (Intelligent Robot "DiGORO" Demonstration)
・ミニSL機関車乗車 (Mini SL Train)
・ラジコンカーサーキット (Remote Control Car Circuit)

十和田サンバカーニバル2010 Towada Samba Carnival (Aug 7-8)
(PDF Pamplet)
イベント (Event) 日時 (Time) 開催場所 (Place)
遊びの広場 (Play Space) 8/7(土)13:00~17:00
文化センター屋外 (Outside the Bunka Center)
サンバ電車 (Samba Train)
(チケット1名様 2,000円 per person)
8/7(土)13:20~14:37 十鉄路線・十和田~七百の区間往復 (Towada Toutestu Line: Towada Station ~ Shichihyaku, round trip)
前夜祭 (Zenyasai - Festival Eve)
(入場無料 - Free Admission)
8/7(土)17:00~19:00 文化センター (Bunka Center)
パレード (Parade)8/8(日)11:00~13:00産馬通り (Sanma Doori)

夏まつり花火大会 Summer Festival Fireworks Display (Aug 14)
Location: 陸上競技場、中央公園内 (Track & Field Track, Central Park - Many/most people watch from Kanchogai Street)
Time: ~19:00-20:30

選抜高校相撲十和田大会 All-Japan High School Sumo Tournament (Aug 15)
Location: 十和田市相撲場 (Towada Sumo Dohyo)
*Time: 8:30~
*Admission: Adults 1000 yen advance/ 1500 yen at door; free for youth/children high school aged and younger

全日本大学選抜相撲十和田大会 All-Japan University Sumo Tournament  (Aug 16) 

Location: 十和田市相撲場 (Towada Sumo Dohyo)

*Time: 9:00~
*Admission: Adults 1500 yen advance/ 2000 yen at door, free for youth/children high school aged and younger

盆フェスタ Bon Festa (Aug 28?)
*Location: 十和田市稲生町 八丁目街区 国道102号(旧国道4号)Inaoicho Hacchome Gaiku National Highway 102 (Old Rte 4) / 十和田市現代美術館前 Towada Art Center
*Time: 17:00-21:00

* Assuming it's the same as last year

How to make heart-shaped food

I've gotten some comments about my heart-shaped tamagoyaki, so I thought people might be interested in knowing how to make heart-shaped food. ^_^ It's super simple, actually: all you need is oval-shaped food!

Cut the food diagonally like so:

Then flip one of the pieces over and put the two pieces together (along where it was cut) to make a heart:

For small but thick foods like tamagoyaki, you can use a toothpick (I bought reusable plastic ones designed specifically for use in bentos from the 100 yen shop) to hold the shape together.

There's actually another method that's great for bread which I learned from the manga-form essay book My Darling is a Foreigner 2 (Darling wa Gaikokujin) (p18):

^_^ I love ideas that are really simple but make you think "That's brilliant!" the first time you learn about them.

I hope everyone can enjoy heart-shaped food from now on! =D

Friday, July 30, 2010

A week in bentos

I've never been a morning person, but right now I'm having enough fun making bentos for lunch that I haven't minded getting up between 5:00 and 5:30 every morning to shower and prepare. (I'm still not used to making bentos, so I give myself way more time than I actually need for preparation.)

This week I was diligent and brought a bento for lunch every day!

Monday, July 26th:
This was the bento that required the least work. I just cut up the eggplant and heated the leftover (tomato &) meat sauce from Sunday's dinner, threw it on top of some rice and topped it off with cheese.

Tuesday, July 27th:
My "Shinya Shokudo" (深夜食堂) themed bento. The amai (sweet) tamagoyaki and tako-shaped wieners are from the first story in the first volume: 赤いウィンナー ("Akai Wiener" or "Red Wieners").ポテトサラダ ("Potato Sarada" or "Potato Salad") is the eleventh story in the same volume. And the egg salad sandwich is from the third story (seventeenth overall) in the second volume: タマゴサンド ("Tamago Sando" or "Egg Sandwich"). The fruit was just because. ^_^ (It's pretty much the same as my Chuutairen bento, just with potato salad instead of broccoli, and minus the strawberries--which apparently aren't a summer fruit in Aomori/Japan...).)

Wednesday, July 28th:
An おばちゃん ("obachan" or "old lady") bento. Technically it should probably be more brown and flavoured with soy sauce, but I figure it still qualifies. =P I was out on Tuesday night so I didn't have leftovers or much time to prepare for the bento. So I went simple with a 日の丸弁当 ("hinomaru bento" = white rice + umeboshi; "hinomaru" is what people call the Japanese flag, literally "day's circle") and 油揚げとなすの甘辛煮 (simmered sweet and salty eggplant and abura age) and store-bought fried squid.

Thursday, July 29th:
Back to a "proper" green, yellow and red bento! Along with the leftover eggplant, I had さばのひと口ピカタ ("saba no hitokuchi pikata" or "bite-sized mackerel piccata") and microwave steamed broccoli with mini tomatoes sauteed in olive oil as side dishes. Unfortunately the fish was WAY too salty--which I probably should have figured would happen since I could only find 塩さば ("shio saba" or "salted mackerel") and not plain old saba in the grocery store. ^^;;

Friday, July 30th:
Another green, yellow and red bento! For sides I had leftover broccoli plus mini tomatoes (raw this time!), amai tamagoyaki, tako-shaped red wieners PLUS a penguin shaped イチゴミルク ("ichigo miruku" or "strawberry milk") wiener!!! When I saw it in the grocery store I thought it was so bizarre of course I had to buy it! It actually didn't taste as strange as I thought it would. For the "main" I had one umeboshi and one tuna (with mayonnaise, of course!) onigiri (rice ball).

By the way, the link has been in the sidebar for a while now, but I forgot to point it out before: Just Bento ( is a great website in English all about making bentos (with recipes and useful tips)! If you're interested in bentos, you should definitely check it out! ^_^

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Aomori Guinness world record attempt

Just got this email...I'm tempted to join, but Aomori is an hour away... ^_^;;

If ya'll haven't heard it through the grape vine, this Saturday AOMORI will attempt a world record for most people gathered to play the bamboo flute. We are just a hundred plus people away and NEED YOU!

You don't need to know how to play the flute per say, when they say go, just blow!

Doesn't that sound fun? ;-)

THIS SATURDAY MORNING, 9:00am at the NEBUTA village near ASPAM.

Please meet at the village's EAST SIDE entrance and bring some friends.

Keeping JET in flight

As long as I've been in the program, I've heard talk about its decline and pending demise. Even though I know that many JET positions are getting cut, since I'm still employed and Towada has gotten two new ALT positions (one prefectural and one municipal) in the past two years, it feels like just so much doom and gloom. I feel like if the JET Program does ultimately get cut entirely, that it will be sometime in the distant future.

But with the current Japanese economic situation and the news that all ministries will face a 10% budget cut for 2011, it seems that my feelings might be completely off the mark.   

According to this recent Japan times article, "Ex-students don't want JET grounded," the Government Revitalization Unit, the jigyoshiwake budget review panel already reviewed the program last May and has recommended that its "necessity be reviewed."

Even though I'm critical of some aspects of the program and think there's a lot that could be done to get better value from it (re: previous blog posts: "What JET needs," "The "internationalization" crutch" and "Attitudes/Goals & Reality"), I think it would really be a shame if the program was to be cut altogether.

The Japan Times article does bring up some good points in "the case against [The JET Program]" which I'd like to discuss briefly:

The JET program is a relic of the go-go days of the bubble-economy years, when any half-baked idea could get government funding if it had the word "kokusaika" attached to it. Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners with few, if any, teaching credentials have come to Japan and partied for a year at taxpayer expense. They have usually enjoyed their stay, but their effectiveness in improving the English language ability of their students was never quantitatively measured and, given Japanese students' performances on international English tests, is questionable at best.

I've personally had similar critiques. Although for me the "young" part is not so much of an issue as the work ethic, but I guess the two can be somewhat related. If candidates come straight from university with little more working experience than the occasional part time job, I can imagine it'd be harder to judge their work ethic than if they came after working full-time for a year or more.

I don't think the best JET ALTs necessarily have to come with teaching degrees, but I do think that the learning curve is slower and steeper for those without teaching experience. (And when it's a one-year contract, a difference of even a month or even a few weeks in terms of ability to adjust to the job can be significant, but more on that later...)

Still, I feel like JET is somewhat addressing these issues given the seeming increase in older (late twenties/early thirties) participants and the number of participants with teaching backgrounds in the last couple of year. (Of course this is purely based on my own personal experience/perception of the situation in Aomori Prefecture, but...)

Because most JET teachers are from North America, Europe or Australasia, the program promotes an "Anglo-Saxon" view of the world that disregards the importance of other cultures.

It's true that the largest percentage of JETs are from North America, Europe, and "Australasia" (58% from America, 11% from Canada, 9% from the UK, 6% from Australia and 4% from New Zealand) but that doesn't necessarily mean that JETs from those countries will promote an "Anglo-Saxon" world view.

Again, I can't speak for the program as a whole, but take Towada, for example. I'm Canadian, but I'm ethnically Chinese and my parents are from Singapore and Malaysia. One of my university majors was East Asian Studies so I'm also quite familiar with Japanese "culture" and perspectives; I've had many teachers comment about how Japanese/Asian my perspectives/values are. Another Towada ALT is a Canadian who was born in the Philippines and traveled around the world from a young age with a diplomat mother (and continues to visit many different countries for pleasure even now).

My point is, just because people claim citizenship from a Western country doesn't mean that they're Anglo-Saxon or even particularly "westernized" in their thinking or that they hold "American/British" values.

And the percentage may be small, but I think that the fact that there are JETs from South Africa and Singapore is significant. Since Japanese English education is based on American English and all the listening tests for junior high/high school use American speakers, I suspect that most schools would prefer to decline non-North American English teachers if given the choice because they'd want their students learning American pronunciation, etc.

I  sincerely doubt that small rural cities/towns like Towada and Shichinohe would ever think to hire English teachers from South Africa if left to their own devices. (There's currently a South African JET in Shichinohe, and one worked in Towada for the two years before this one.)

A JET's presence in the classroom with Japanese teachers can actually be disruptive to classroom discipline, while the need for their colleagues to assist them with personal matters due to the language barrier places extra burdens on school staff.

This can definitely be true. But a change in JTE can also be disruptive to class discipline/morale (I've personally seen this) and that happens all the time. Besides, isn't it a little unfair to blame a lack of classroom discipline on a JET?

I suppose that since JET ALTs often try to do interactive activities with students things can get more rowdy/out of control than if they were just sitting at their desks and copying notes from the blackboard, but in that case the JET's presence itself isn't the actual problem, right?

[And I guess it's because of my experience teaching high school in Canada, and because I'm really lucky to be in a "nice" city like Towada where I have experienced very few classroom discipline problems in general and none that were what I'd consider "serious", but personally I sometimes wish Japanese classes/students were a little rowdier. I can't count the number of times that teachers have apologized to me for classes being "noisy" when they were simply being what I'd consider "high-spirited" or "energetic" (aka "genki"). But I digress.]

Besides, if students want to act up, sure, they'll use an ALT visit as an excuse, but they might just as well use an interactive activity (even without an ALTs presence) or any other change in routine as an excuse to act up.

As for the "need for their colleagues to assist them with personal matters due to the language barrier [placing] extra burdens on school staff," well, it's true that we often ask for help with personal matters, but I think that whether that's a "burden" or not is more debatable.

Again, I can't speak for everyone, but I don't think JETs always need school staff to assist them with personal stuff. I think that most people have the sense to ask for help from people that they get along well with and whom they believe wouldn't mind assisting them. And requests/favours really only become burdens when the person asked to do them is unwilling or feels unequipped to do the task, right?

And while many JETs ask for help from school staff because they are the people they come into contact with the most often, I think that a lot of JETs also ask for help from other JETs and/or friends (Japanese or otherwise).

True, especially at the high school level, some teachers are stuck with the job of being an ALT's supervisor even when they're antipathetic to the idea, but that's life. Teachers also get stuck with a lot of other responsibilities that I'm sure they'd like to do without, but they just accept that as part of the job, right?

And again, I think the JET Program is trying to address the issue by selecting more candidates with some level of Japanese language ability/familiarity with Japanese culture. When I was helping out at last year's Tokyo Orientation for New JETs (Group A), I definitely felt like there were more people who had studied Japanese coming in to Aomori last year than there had been the year I came.

As I've said many times before, though, I think the JET Program could really improve matters/reduce the burden on schools by making the first contract for a two-year contract rather than a one-year. I think schools/boards of education would find the process of  getting new ALTs much less burdensome if they knew that after the first six months to one year of effort they'd be able to get another one or one and a half years of improved work out of a JET.

Obviously it's going to be frustrating and feel like a waste of time to expend so much effort on a JET only to have him/her leave just when they're starting to get the hang of the job (right around the one-year mark). And I think that the JETs who come in thinking that they're only going to be staying for one year also tend to have a "I want to get as much as I can from my time in Japan" mentality rather than thinking about how much they can give back to the schools/city/program (compared to some of the "lifers," at any rate).

Before I came to Japan, I thought I'd be staying for only a year. Within a week or two after starting to go to my school (Kirita), however, I pretty much knew that I would be staying for at least two or three. (And now I'm going on to my fourth!) As a result, I didn't really feel that there was a need to rush to travel to all the places I wanted to see in Japan and really spent the majority of my time in my year (and a half) lesson planning, making materials and thinking about what I could do to improve my job.

[In fact, I think I even ended up carrying over something like ten or twelve days (half or more!) of my vacation leave to my second year! Conversely, it was only when I thought that I was going to leaving Japan at the end of my third year (that would be this August) that I started going crazy with trip planning, etc. (And even then I did my best to avoid inconveniencing my schools with my absences.) Now that I've taken care of most of my "must-sees," though, I feel like/hope that this year I'll be back to my "School is #1" mindset.]

At a time of fiscal austerity and when thousands of native English-speakers — many with teaching qualifications, Japanese language ability and a much better understanding of Japanese culture — can be hired as contract workers from private firms depending on local needs and at lower cost, why should Japanese taxpayers continue to subsidize the JET program?

Personally, I've asked myself the same question several times in the past, but recently I realized that for me, the most compelling reason why Japanese taxpayers should continue to subsidize the JET Program is that it's generally a very equitable program. It's only natural that big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, etc. would have the money to pay for contract workers for private firms to come into their schools (which is why JET placements in metropolitan areas are far and few between) but without government (re: taxpayer) subsidies, I think many of the more rural, cash-strapped areas would be left in the cold.

Being next to Misawa (which has an American air base) I suspect Towada would find a way to get English teachers into the classroom even without JET, but what are the chances that small, remote villages like, say, Sai Mura up in Shimokita would?

And because we're salaried workers and not paid by the hour, we can stay at schools for an entire day and, in elementary schools, teach younger grades (and not just the grade five and six students for whom English will soon become mandatory) as well as eat lunch and play with the students. We can also be put to work helping out at local English teacher seminars, or community center children eikaiwa classes.

Personally speaking, I feel that Towada does get pretty value from its ALTs. (Although relatively speaking,  I do still think that we're overpaid for the amount of work we do--i.e. in comparison to native Japanese government employees.) I think we've been lucky to have ALTs who love Towada--its people, schools,  students and teachers--so we take up more and more responsibility/work as time passes rather than gradually slacking off/coasting more and more. I really feel like we take pride and ownership of our positions as Towada ALTs. And of course the city does its part, too, by treating ALTs so well that we naturally want to do everything we can to make English education in Towada even better.

And I know it's all too easy for me to say this, coming from a wonderful placement like the one I've got, but I really think it's possible for every city to use its JETs as effectively as Towada does. Towada has been great since before I first arrived, but I'm sure that things weren't always like this in the beginning. I think it's just that schools/cities need JETs and supervisors/teachers who have a commitment to working together to improve English education in their school(s). Some of that is a matter of luck/timing, I'm sure, but I think the larger part is vision and commitment/perseverance.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sheep's Bakery & Cafe

[Update: Sadly Sheep's has closed and there is a new bar/restaurant in it's place. I haven't gone to the new place yet.]

Sheep's is a new(ish) bakery/cafe that opened this past April in Towada. It's located near the Bunka Center, across from the Super Hotel and next to Cafe If.

I've never tested it out, but on the bakery side they offer an "order bakery". If the bread you want is sold out, you can ask the staff and they will have it ready for you (hot and fresh from the oven!) in about 15-25 minutes.

There's also a restaurant/cafe where you can have lunch, dinner, drinks or dessert. It's got a trendy but casual kind of atmosphere which makes it a great place to hang out with girlfriends (or to go to with a significant other). It's the type of restaurant you'd expect to find in Hachinohe, Aomori or another bigger city, rather than Towada. ^_^;;

One of their specialties/chef's recommendations is the "Canadian burger." Just out of curiosity, the first time we went into the cafe, my friend (who has been studying/living for in Canada for several years and was only back in Towada for a short visit) asked what exactly made the burger "Canadian." Apparently mushrooms and lettuce make a "Canadian" burger... =P

Anyway, you can get the "Canadian" burger as part of a "beer plate"--which comes with a beer, some nuts and salad--for just under a thousand yen. For non-drinkers like me (or people who just don't like beer), it's possible to substitute the beer for any other drink up to 500yen; I always go for the Shirley Temple because it brings back childhood memories of going out to Swiss Chalet... =P

The store's pastas are also quite good. I've tried the pepperoncino and genoa (I think).

For dessert, I recommend the "Sheep's Parfait" with berries. It's a delicious combination of bread, vanilla ice cream, (rasp?)berry sherbet and (frozen) berries.

Again, I've never tried it out, but if you make reservations at least 2 days in advance (for groups of 2+ people), you can get a 4 or 5-dish meal plus a drink (or all-you can drink) for 2500-3500yen so it might be a good place to keep in mind for birthday or other special celebrations. ^_^

Sheep's Bakery & Cafe
Open: Mon., Wed.-Sun.
Closed: Tue.
Lunch Time: 11:00-14:00
Cafe Time: 14:00-18:00
Bar time: 18:00-21:00 (last order 20:00) Mon.-Thu.
18:00-23:00 (last order 22:00) Fri.-Sun.
Address: Parco Bldg, 1st Flr, 15-24 Inaoicho
Towada City, Aomori 034-0011
(〒034-0011十和田市稲生町15-24 パルコビル1F)
Telephone: 0176-27-6698

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The heat is frying my brains...

Judging from the temperatures thus far, this summer is going to be a scorcher--much like the summer I arrived in Japan. I'm really bad with the heat; it makes me sluggish and stupid. As a result, I'm not as meticulous/careful about things as I should be...

Today, for example, I was supposed to be teaching English in first period at Kirita. Usually my arrival time is 9am, but first period starts at 8:25am, so if I'm teaching first I need to come early and I usually highlight it in my agenda or do something to make sure I remember to leave the house earlier.

This time, however, I suffered from a total brain fart. Even though I got the weekly teaching plan last week (and "1" was written right on the plan for the scheduled period), and even though I looked at today's schedule on the blackboard in the teacher's room yesterday, somehow it completely failed to register that I needed to be at the school for first period.


As a result, I came to school at my usual time and it was only when I walked into the teacher's room and looked again at the day's schedule that I realized my mistake. (Ironically, I had actually come to school a little earlier than usual and was feeling pretty good about that until I realized that rather than arriving 10minutes early, I had arrived 25minutes late!)


Considering that the lesson today was pretty much just giving out and explaining summer vacation homework, it wasn't the end of the world, but I really really really HATE screwing up.

Well, on the bright side of things, at least I made the mistake on a day I was visiting Kirita rather than another school. The students at Kirita see me "all the time" so one missed class isn't as big a deal as it would be at a school where an ALT only comes once or twice a month. Also, since I tend to stay at Kirita well past my scheduled working hours on regular days, that helps to balance out the occasional screw-up. And my Kocho-sensei (principal) is really laid back and understanding about such things, too. 

But still... I'm definitely going to have to work harder to stay focused/on the ball during this summer heat.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fireworks & Taiko

This year's Lake Towada Kosui Matsuri (十和田湖湖水祭り) was awesome! The rain held off for the weekend so I was able to enjoy fireworks on Saturday night and taiko on Sunday.

The weather was pretty close to perfect on Saturday night, in fact. It was comfortably cool so I wasn't dying of heat in my yukata. There was also a bit of a breeze which was important for clearing the smoke from the fireworks. Admittedly it was cloudy, but since the fireworks didn't go up that high it wasn't a problem in terms of visibility at all. ^_^

I didn't take many photos since a) taking photos of fireworks is difficult; and b) I wanted to enjoy watching them more than I wanted to take pictures of them, but here are a couple of pics:

Also, here's a pic of me in my new yukata from Uniqlo. When I bought a new yukata last year I told myself that I wasn't going to buy any more yukata, but since it was on sale--only 3990yen for the yukata, obi, and himo (cloth "ropes" used to tie the yukata)--I couldn't help myself. ^^;;

(Incidentally, I just realized that I never posted a picture of the yukata that I bought last year, so here it is:)

Sunday I went down to the festival again, this time with the members of the Suijin Kaminari Taiko (水神雷太鼓) group to watch their two performances. It was the first time I've seen them perform since last year's Aki Matsuri.

Even though I know I'm a far way from being able to perform in public, watching them definitely gave me incentive to work harder at taiko practice. Usually I'm the type that hates being in the spotlight--even peripherally--but seeing their performance made me really want to be able to perform with them. It looked like so much fun!

At the pace I learn I suspect that it will probably be at least half a year if not more before I'll even be close to being deemed "ready to perform" but I definitely plan to work hard to reach that point.

*sigh* If I hadn't taken almost 3 whole months off from January to March (preparing for my Kirita students' graduation) I might even have been ready to perform this time 'round. Oh well. All I can do is continue to do my best from now on! 

Here's a video of the final song from their second performance of the day. (Sorry, the sound and video aren't exactly in sync...) The song is called "Hanamatsuri" and it's pretty much the only song out of everything they performed that day that I can play from beginning to end. ^_^;;

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

日本人の知らない日本語ドラマ!! (The Japanese Japanese People Don't Know)

I just learned that a drama based on the popular manga-form essay "日本人の知らない日本語" (Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo, i.e. "The Japanese Japanese People Don't Know") written by 海野凪子 (Umino, Nagiko) and illustrated by 蛇蔵 (Hebizou) will be airing on YTV/NTV (or RAB in Aomori) on Thursday nights from 23:58-24:38 starting July 15th (this week!). You can check out the official Japanese website at

!! I'm excited!! I really enjoyed the books so I have high hopes for the drama as well. The time slot is rather unfortunate (why so late?!) but I rarely go to bed earlier than 12:30am anyway, so I'll just have to make sure that I do all my bedtime preparations before the show starts so I can go to sleep pretty much right after it finishes.

This is shaping up to be a good summer, television wise, with Hotaru no Hikari 2 on Wednesday nights (22:00-23:00) and now Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo on Thursday nights. ^_^

Lake Towada Kosui Matsuri & Aomori Nebuta

There's a festival at Lake Towada this coming Saturday and Sunday (17-18th). Weather permitting, there will be fireworks from 8-9pm on both nights and during the day there will also be various events/performances (Yosakoi, taiko, etc.)

Last year the fireworks were canceled due to rain and strong winds, but I went two years ago and had a good time. This year I'm planning on going to watch the fireworks on Saturday night with a friend (yay! a chance to wear my yukata!) and then I'll be heading down Sunday morning with the taiko group I practice with. I won't be performing, but I'll be going to help move the taikos, and to (hopefully) be generally useful. =P  So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will cooperate...

For more detailed information, check out the website (Japanese only) at

Speaking of festivals, Aomori Nebuta is also coming up in less than a month! The Festival runs from the 2nd-7th of August every year. Here's a rough schedule for this year's events:

Aug. 1st:
18:00~21:00 Festival "Eve" Celebrations
19:00~20:40 Fireworks at Asamushi Onsen

Aug. 2nd-3rd:
19:10-21:00 Children's Nebuta (15 floats); Large Nebuta (15 floats)

Aug. 4th-6th:
19:10-21:00 Large Nebuta (~20 floats)

Aug. 7th:
13:00-15:00 Large Nebuta (~20 floats)
19:15~21:00 Fireworks & Setting Nebuta to Sea

This is all from the Japanese website: There *is* an English site, but it doesn't have as much detailed info as the Japanese one. Still, it's a good place to start if you want to learn a bit about the history of Nebuta, how Nebuta floats are made, etc.

As big as this festival is in Aomori, in almost three years of living in the prefecture, I still haven't managed to see the festival yet. And it looks like this year I won't be able to make it out either, due to the timing of the arrival of the new Towada ALTs plus the junior high school Canada trip (海外発見).

Ah well. I just need to make sure I make it out at least once before I leave Aomori for good! =P

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Community spirit

One of the things that really impresses me is the community spirit/pride I see in some of the more...rural...areas of Towada.

For example, today I went to the 8th Annual Kennan Kyoudogeinou Festival (第8回県南郷土芸能フェスティバル)--part of the Oirase Roman Park Festival (奥入瀬ろまんパークフェスティバル). (According to my Kenkyusha Dictionary, "Kyoudougeninou" can be translated as "local performing arts"--although I think that's a little awkward, I don't have a better translation, so...)

It featured local traditional dances from Towada-shi, Rokunohe-machi, and Shingo-mura. Representing Towada were Kamikirida Elementary School with the Kirida Koma Odori (駒踊り horse dance) and Sawada Elementary School and the Sawada Keimai Club with the Sawada Keimai (鶏舞 chicken dance).

Even though I've seen both dances and all three of the groups' performances several times in the past, I still found it impressive. What I find most impressive is the amount of effort everyone involved--the schools, children, parents, local people--puts into preserving the local traditions/culture.

The elementary schools set aside time for the students to learn and practice the dances. Students give up their recess and lunch breaks to practice for performances. Parents and members of the community come in to teach the students and/or to play the flutes/drums as accompaniment. I especially respect the members of the Sawada Keimai Club (mostly junior high and high school students) because it's something they do outside of school, in their free time. (And although they weren't performing this time, there are also adult groups that perform both the Kirida Koma Odori and Sawada Keimai.)

I imagine they probably all feel a strong sense of community and pride in their local traditions/history/culture. It must be nice. If I was a person looking to start a family in Towada, I think I would want to live in the Kirita or Sawada area (or Takisawa or Horanai--they also have local traditional dances) rather than closer to the city centre.

Going to watch my students' performances also reminds me how lucky I was to get placed as the Kirita ALT because I doubt I would ever have found out about events like the Kyoudogeinou/Oirase Roman Park Festival otherwise.