Chibu’s Dossari Matsuri

Last weekend was Chibu’s first annual Dossari Matsuri, a new festival that was created to replace bunkasai (culture festival).  Khoa was asked by the town hall to be the official photographer, so he was busy all day taking photos.  I was acting as his “assistant” but really all I did was eat, drink, and talk with people.

Outside, many food and game booths were set up for the people of the village to enjoy.  This year, the village sponsored the first annual Gourmet Contest, a cooking competition open to everyone on the island.  Participants were supposed to create a dish that showcased Chibu’s local food.  As you would expect, everything was made with seafood.  Three groups made it to the final round of the contest and were invited to make their dish on the day of Dossari Matsuri and the people of the village would choose a winner.
^ Squid Croquette
^Deep fried squid balls
^Sazae (sea snail) Curry Bread (deep fried dough with Japanese curry in the middle)
^That’s a lot of fried food!
We paid 300 yen (about $3.70 US) for the three dishes.  After eating each dish, we voted for our favorite.  The Sazae Curry Bread, won the competition!
^Lots of people lined up to try the Gourmet Contest food.  I was at the back of the line 😦
Inside the community center, there were many displays set up by different groups in Chibu.  The kindergarten had a section filled with little art projects.  Take a look:
They’re so cute!  I love the Christmas origami!
The Eco Flower Club displayed their handmade flowers at the festival as well.  Each flower is made out of newspaper!
^These flowers were made out of the newspaper displayed on the board.
The police officer in Chibu also had a booth set up.  Khoa and I tried on beer goggles and did our best to walk in a straight line.
^I didn’t do so well…
There was also a test to see how good your reflexes are.  Two of the twenty buttons light up and you have to press them as soon as possible.  At the end of the test, a little print out tells you what age you are based on your reflexes.  My little print out read, “24 years old,” and Khoa’s run through scored him at the young age of 20.
There was also a tuna show where fishermen displayed and cut up a tuna for the crowd.  In Chibu, the local fishermen catch small tuna which are then sold and shipped live to Kyuushu, the large island south of mainland Japan.  Chibu’s small tuna frolic in the warm southern waters, grow big and strong, and then one lucky fish is chosen to come back to Chibu for the tuna show.  This year’s tuna weighed in at a whopping 50 kg (110lbs).
^Using a spoon to quickly make nigiri sushi
^Some already made nigiri sushi (on the left).  Everyone at the show could try the freshly cut tuna for free.  It was sooooo good!
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
^Each of these pieces were being auctioned off for 3,000 to 5,000 yen.
Khoa also displayed nine of his pictures at the festival.  We were lucky to get a spot in a bright part of the hallway next to the staircase.
^The Japanese writing simply reads, “Pictures Khoa-san”
All day, people were coming up to Khoa and telling him how much they like his pictures.  One of our students’ fathers liked a picture so much that he just took it off the wall at the end of the festival and emailed us later to say he had it.  Khoa and I were both surprised, a little annoyed because we wanted to display the picture in our own home, but happy because someone liked the picture so much they decided to steal it (I guess there isn’t a bigger complement than that :P).
Here’s the picture that was too good not to steal:
I really like this picture, too;  it’s one of my favorites.  I like how there’s only one man preventing the mikoshi (portable shrine) from toppling into the ocean.  If you’re wondering what’s going on in this photo, take a look at my post about Chibu’s summer festival.
Khoa and I had a great day at Chibu’s first annual Dossari Matsuri.  I’m already excited for next year!

Everything’s coming up Millhouse!

My writing has been featured on RocketNews24, an online news source for interesting, strange, and random articles about Asia.

When I started writing in this personal blog, I didn’t think it would get any attention.  It was just something fun that Khoa and I started together to document our adventures in Japan.  I feel so lucky to have been asked to contribute an article to the website.  I hope you all enjoy it!  

I wrote about my experience watching ushi-tsuki, bull sumo in the Oki Islands.  It was a totally spiritual and very touching event.  If you’re interested, check it out here.    

And if you don’t mind and if it’s not too much to ask, please facebook “like” or “retweet” my article if you enjoyed reading it. 

As always, thank you for your continued support of our blog and the time you take to “like” or comment on Khoa’s photos and my writing.  We appreciate you very much!

-Michelle

Summer, just go away.

I thought we were having fun frolicking in the ocean together and having an excuse to eat ice cream every day.  It was nice getting tan and watching fireworks burst in the night air.  I didn’t even mind that you forced me to look like a fool and use an umbrella as a shield against your buddy, the sun.  

But I’ve had enough of you.  You increased my dirty laundry load twofold because my frail Californian body can’t handle the humidity and chooses to perspire twice as much as the normal person.  You increased my electricity bill by over 50 bucks. You give me no relief from the hot, sticky air you insist on blowing and your cicada minions will not shut up!   

Our relationship was only supposed to last for a few months.  We reunited in June and things got really heated up in July. The beginning of August was going really well for us.  But there’s only two days until September and you still insist on sticking around. 

We had a good run, but I’m over you, summer.  Won’t you take the hint?  Why don’t you let fall have a turn?

Taiko and a dancing yellow cat

Last weekend, Khoa and I ventured to mainland Japan for the Japan Myth Expo in Izumo City.  This event was held to celebrate the 1300 year anniversary of the writing of the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest chronicle.  The Kojiki is said to contain one of the most important records of the early history of Japan.  There are also many ancient myths written in the Kojiki, a third of which are set in Shimane prefecture.  If you’re interested in reading some of the myths (in English), take a look

I was surprised to learn that Shimane, the sleepy little rural prefecture that Khoa and I have come to call home, was mentioned so often in the Kojiki.  The Oki Islands are even talk about in one of the myths chronicaling the (mis)adventures of a rabbit from our islands. 

As part of the Japan Myth Expo, each city, town, and village has a designated day to show off their area’s traditional dances, songs, and customs.  Chibu’s junior high boys and random “sticking out like a sore thumb” foreigner (me) performed Minna Ichi Taiko, Chibu’s traditional song.  The song is composed of taiko drumming, dancing using fans, and singing. On the day of the performance it was 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit) under the canopy that was over the stage…I don’t think I’ve ever sweated that much!  Khoa was there to watch both of the 30 minute performances, all the while taking pictures for the school.  I shouldn’t post pictures of the kids, but it’s not against the rules to subject the internet to my sweaty face:

 

 

There was also Oki Minyo (folk songs) and a stage performance by Shimane’s mascot.  Most (maybe all) prefectures in Japan have an official mascot.  Shimane’s is a yellow cat with the roof of Izumo Shrine stuck on his head.  His name is Shimanekko (Shimane + Nekko [cat]).  He’s cute…but I had about all the kawaii (cuteness) I could take after Shimanekko and his two perky cat friends performed the Shimanekko dance with accompanied song.  This kawaii overload was exacerbated by the screeching women dancing along with Shimanekko, screaming “kawaiiii!”  I like cute things, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about the sickeningly sweet cuteness of that song and dance combo, complete with “cat pose,” that rubs me the wrong way.

 Shimanekko, Shimane's mascot

…other than the cute yellow cat, Khoa and I had a great day 😛

There’s no escape once you’ve entered the depths of Shimanekko

The problem with everyone knowing where we live

As many of you know, Khoa and I live on a 5 square mile island with around 600 inhabitants. To make matters even cozier, most of our island is mountainous, so the houses are clustered together on the coasts where any flat land is available. As a result of our close proximity to our neighbors and the fact that we are the only two foreigners on the island, everyone knows where we live.

This is a great thing most of the time. People come to our door often to give us extra vegetables from their garden or fish they caught. When Khoa and I stayed on the island during New Year’s, the principal of the elementary school saw the light on at our house, figured we were home, and invited us over for a big New Year’s feast.

However, there are some downsides to the entire island knowing our whereabouts.

Here’s a recent gmail chat conversation I had with Khoa when he was at home (…and I was at work. I’m not perfect guys…yes, I sometimes chat with my husband while I’m at work).

;

Khoa: omg they’re back

the little girls are back

what should i do?

me: HAHAHA!

just ignore them

did you lock the door?

Khoa: no i didnt

they are playing with the doorbell

omg

me: BAHAHAHA!

;

This was the second time today that two little first year elementary school girls came to our front door wanting Khoa to come out and play. He had already gone out once and roamed the neighborhood poking at things with sticks and being silly with them.

Khoa and I often hear little knocks on our front door and repeated ringings of our door bell from the neighborhood kids looking for play time with the weird foreigners. It makes me so happy that even when the kids aren’t forced to play with us, they still want to. But it’s hard when we’re tired and just want to relax (or we’ve already played with them once before).

I guess the “problem” with everyone knowing where we live isn’t really a problem. Khoa and I love living here and always having someone to roam the neighborhood with 🙂

It’s just like a handshake…

I have encountered many things in Japan that prompted me exclaim in disbelief, “that did not just happen!”

For example:

“I did not just see a guy peeing on the side of the road”

“That bunch of strawberries does not cost $20!”

“That lady did not just ask how big my husband’s thing is”

 But the one that takes the cake, something I’ve said (on several occasions) is “that kid did not just stick his fingers up my butt.” 

“Kancho,” the act of entwining your lower three fingers together, leaving the two index fingers extended, and shoving those fingers into a nearby bum is a common occurrence in Japan.  Think of it as a little kid’s handshake.  Oh hiya there Michelle-sensei, great to see ya! KANCHO-ed! 

Students ranging from nursery school all the way to high school kancho each other.  Some adults are guilty of kancho-ing other adults.  Kanchos happen right in front of teachers and those teachers don’t even bat an eye.  I guess it’s like the equivalent of a more invasive, personal boundary smashing wedgie.       

 But this has turned in to my daily life in Japan.  Playing with the kids while being aware of their idle hands is just a part of my job.  I never thought this would happen, but I’ve gotten used to being violated on a weekly (currently monthly) basis.    

Khoa, my loving, devoted husband, has even turned the little terrors on me, telling them, “go kancho Michelle-sensei. “  I was then forced to flee while trying to shield my behind from dozens of tiny fingers.  Not funny, Khoa, not funny at all.  If I was a decent cook, cleaner, or any help in our daily lives, I would have definitely threatened to stop doing something around the house because of that little stunt!

Kancho-ing is not unique to my area of Japan.  It is a nation-wide phenomenon.  ALTs, the fun-loving human jungle gyms, unfortunately carry the brunt of school yard kanchos.  I’ve heard a horror story of an ALT so fed up with the constant poking and prodding that when kancho-ed, quickly turned around and kicked the kid straight in the chest.  Sometimes, this man is my hero. 

But really, I would never want to harm a child and going 300 on a kid (this is SPARTAAAA!) is a little extreme.  In his defense, I understand how stressful it is to be violated by children while living in Japan and have to act like everything is okay while trying to get the message across to never do that again.

To those of you who have never lived in Japan, please don’t think that everyone here is a crazy pervert and no one is safe from kanchos.  Many people don’t kancho.  It’s just that ALTs and many foreign teachers are often put in situations where kancho-ing is more accepted and prevalent (school yards, drinking parties, etc.). 

Like singing silly songs and using flashcards, it’s just another thing that comes with the job of teaching English to children in Japan.

 …at least that’s what I will tell my therapist  😉

Goodbye, Facebook (and good riddance)

Blogging has made my life better.

It allows me to take time and remember the interesting, noteworthy, fun, and sometimes bizarre things that I have experienced.  It gives me time to settle down, reflect on my day, and be grateful for even the most mundane things.  Does anyone remember my posts about Salty Watermelon Pepsi, Sweet Tomato Sauce Pringles, or the best ice cream in the world?  Without my blog, I would undoubtedly eat these weird snacks and never think of them again.  Instead, I have a place where I can recall and write down what made it good, bad, or indifferent.  I’m able to appreciate (or complain about) the product and that in itself is infinitely better than consuming and forgetting.

Even the bad parts about my life in Japan, for example, the insane heat of summer, are made a little less worse because of our blog.  Being able to poke fun at the heat allows me to cope with the feeling that I’m living in an oven. I feel better when I laugh at myself wearing a towel on my head because I’m sweating so profusely.  Because of blogging, I’m also able to focus on the positives of the summer months.  Summer festivals, shave ice at every street corner, and swimming in the ocean are not possible without the blistering heat.

So in short, blogging gives me a space to appreciate not only the big events in my life, but the seemingly insignificant ones too, and I’m very grateful for that.   I think a failure to appreciate what one has is the reason for unhappiness, not a lack of things to be happy about.

(dis)like

Facebook, however, is a happiness-sucking plague of the internet that I have recently decided to stop using (at least for the newsfeed function).  I agree that Facebook is a great way to connect and reconnect with friends.  Living in Japan, it has made me feel like my friends are closer than 5,600 or so miles away.  But Facebook also makes me feel less satisfied with my life.

I’m an inherently competitive person.  And I think to varying degrees, everyone is.  Even though I’m married to a loving husband, living in an island paradise, have an awesome low-stress job and get to travel often, when I look at the Facebook newsfeed and see the cool things that other people are doing, I get jealous.  Because of my competitive nature, I want what I have and what they have.  I know, it sounds nuts, but I can’t help but feel envious when I see my friend’s skydiving pictures even if I just got done snorkeling right in front of my house.  The Facebook newsfeed interrupts the focus on the good parts of my own life and instead turns my attention to other people’s lives.  And really, who cares if Joe Schmo got a kick ass new car or if Spazzy McGee went to Vegas.  I have enough things to be happy about in my own life.

So goodbye, Facebook, and good riddance.  I’ll be sticking to blogging, thank you very much, and being grateful for the things I have.  Who cares about the Joneses anyway?

We bought new soft tennis rackets!

Khoa and I have been playing soft tennis every week for the past year and a half. We didn’t really start playing by choice, but since everyone on the island plays soft tennis and we wanted to do things with the community, Khoa and I landed up taking up the sport. Soft tennis is just like regular tennis except you play with a soft rubber ball instead of the traditional green furry one. I feel like it’s a watered down version of the original…which is why I was so furious to find that for the first three months I completely sucked at playing it.

We’ve been using two rackets that belong to one of our friends, but we thought it was time to buy our own…borrowing something for over a year is a little too long. So we consulted with the tennis coach at the junior high and he helped us pick out the most suitable rackets for our level (and got us a 30% discount, sweet!). The two brand new soft tennis rackets totaled around 30,000 yen (about $375 USD) and they were sent to us in the mail. We don’t have a credit card (just like many people in Japan), so we weren’t able to pay for our rackets before ordering them. But in Japan, that’s no problem. We ordered the rackets without paying and they were promptly shipped to our island. The rackets even came with a few added extras for free (extra grip, protective stickers on the frame…and some socks). It also came with a receipt and instructions to pay for the rackets at the post office. That’s right, we received our goods (with free extras) before we even paid for them. Talk about trusting! Khoa and I have paid using COD or post office payment before, but the goods never exceeded $150. We were both shocked that the company would send us $375 worth of goods on good faith that we would later pay for them. I’d like to think that the US could handle this method of purchasing goods, but I think I’d be sadly disappointed.

…I’d also like to think that these new spiffy rackets have improved our game, but that might be a stretch. Either way, we have rackets that we can call our own and a new hobby that we can continue to play whenever we wind up back in America.

10 ways to stay cool in Japan

It’s hot in Japan.  And I realize that people who are living in India or Morocco or somewhere that has a lot of cactuses are thinking, “Shut up and get over it, it could be worse,” but I’ve been spoiled with California weather for my entire life and my fragile little body can’t take the heat of Japan.

But Michelle, just go into an air conditioned room, you’ll be sure to cool off that way.  Wrong!  You think your precious air-con (air conditioning) is going to save you?  Think again.  I’m sitting at my desk on the third floor of the junior high with not one, but two air-cons blasting away and I’m still sweating like a fool.     

 

So in an effort to cope with this insane heat, I present to you 10 ways to stay cool in Japan.

 

1) Wear a towel on your head

When the humidity mixes with extreme heat, no one is safe from the onslaught of sweat that will inevitably begin to pour down your face.  In an attempt to combat the rain (reign) of sweat, many men (and me) choose to tie a towel on their heads.  I don’t even care how ridiculous it looks.  Desperate times call for desperate measures and I have to do everything and anything I can to stop my face from melting off.

 

2) Jump into the ocean

Run, hop, skip, jump, leap, belly flop, two-step, or do a jig into the ocean.  Hurry, just drop what you are carrying and get your sweaty self into that water.  I don’t care if there are boats around, I don’t care if the fish look hungry, just get in there and cool off!

 

3) Collect a free fan…or two…or ten

In the big cities, far, far away from Chibu, people line the streets handing out uchiwa (hand fans).  “Cool, free fan!” was my initial thought when I encountered this popular way of handing out advertisements in Japan.  “Hey, I got another one!” …and they just kept coming.  I soon had to hold three uchiwa in each hand, working double time to fan myself…but at least they were free and they did offer a bit of hot wind to attempt to cool my melting body. 

 

4) Tell ghost stories

Become so scared that the cold chill down your spine cools you off. 

Made even spookier by Obon, the period in August when spirits of ancestors are said to return for a visit, ghost stories have been used since the Edo Period as a way to ward off the summer heat.

 

5) Eat かき氷(Shave Ice)

A cup of fluffy snow covered in sugar syrup, you can’t go wrong eating kaki-gori in the land where it was invented. Dating back to the Heian Period (794-1185), Kaki-gori, or shave ice, is a beloved summer treat used to beat the heat.  I can’t stop eating it. 

 

6) Get Drunk

Let’s drinking!

Many commercials all over TV seem to encourage getting drunk as a way to combat (become numb to) the summer heat. Filled with images of sweaty girls in yukata having the time of their lives drinking beer in the summer sun, these commercials (or CM as they are called here) seem to support this method of “cooling down.”  When it’s so hot that the old folks are dropping like flies, just F it and get drunk. 

Rocking out and drinking beer with polar bears in Japan.  Oh, you don’t do that in your country?

 

7) Bust out the Cool Biz

Yes, let’s.

Before 2005, even during the dog days of summer with 80% humidity and soaring temperatures, businessmen and government workers would continue to wear full business suits.  Long sleeved button-up shirt, jacket, tie, pants; the works.  In an effort to save on energy costs (you gotta crank that A/C way up to keep those guys cool), the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) created the Cool Biz Campaign.  Cool Biz is a new dress code for the summer months, making it acceptable for workers to wear short sleeved button up shirts, light-weight pants, and to forgo wearing a neck tie.  Many people were weary of the new “relaxed” dress code, but Cool Biz (and this year’s Super Cool Biz Hawaiian shirt) is now in full use.  So don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a businessman in a Hawaiian shirt, he’s just Super Cool.     

Looking cool

8) 大の字で寝る…Lie down on the floor in a position that looks like this:  (there really is a term for this in Japanese)

Sometimes, that’s all you can do to find any scrap of relief from the summer heat.  It’s a favorite position of barbecue party goers after being filled with grilled meat and beer.

 

9) 風鈴…Listen to the cooling tinkle of a fuurin (wind chime)

It is said that the sound of a fuurin (wind chime) has the power to cool you down; just sit and enjoy the tinkle of the glass and you will instantly feel slightly less like you are melting.  I’m not sure if the power of the wind chime has kicked in or my brain has finally started to cook, but I’m feeling better already…

 

10) Get desperate

How about cooling foam that can be molded to fit your wrist or neck? 

Or how about a big blue gel square to smack on your forehead in hopes of lowering your body temperature ever so slightly?

Slap that on your face and feel the cool.

Ice punch anyone?

a menthol based cooling spray

Ladies, why not try a cooling bra with built in ice pack?  I’m desperate enough to try it.

 

 

 

 

Joking aside, the aforementioned steps are actual methods that people use to cool down in the land of the burning sun. Khoa and I are trying the best we can to stay cool on our tiny island, but the heat is slowly starting to win this battle.  In hopes of cooling down, we’ll be doing number 6 and then consequentially number 8 later this evening.

 

Stay cool everyone! 

 

Semi Time

It’s that time of year again.  The so hot you feel like you’re living in a frying pan, so humid you feel like you’re swimming, summer days in Japan.

It’s the job of the semi (cicada) to ring in the hot summer days with its never ending whirring and chirping.  Once you hear the semi, you know it’s hot and humid outside (if you weren’t already dying from the heat).

When I first started living in Japan, I didn’t understand how anyone could concentrate with the ceasless sound of semi in the air.  At times the noise is so loud, you can’t even hear yourself think.  When you’re right next to one chirping on full blast, the high notes of the semi’s call leave your ears ringing.  Really, it’s that loud.

Now that I’ve been living in Japan for two years, I welcome the hum of the semi as a signal to feel free to swim in the sea, eat the many festival foods that abound, and enjoy the many fireworks displays that Japan is so famous for.  Hearing those first calls of “cheeeee, cheee cheee” gives me a sense of excitement for the coming of summer.  Sure, the sound of semi also means it’s going to become hotter than hell, but the heat also brings (in my opinion) the best season in Japan.

So welcome back, semi, I missed you.  Here’s to another great summer.