Photo Post: Kawagoe Matsuri

Every October, the city of Kawagoe has an autumn matsuri (festival). It’s actually a really big matsuri and people from all over the area attend. And an important part of the festivities is the inclusion of dashi! Dashi are floats, basically. They’re owned by neighborhoods, cost almost as much as a house, and are pulled by large teams. During the dashi portion of the festival, when two floats meet they have a battle made up of music and cheering, both from the people on the float (costumed and carrying instruments) and the people pulling.

When I was on JSP, we got to join a neighborhood and help pull their float. It was really fun and really memorable, so I’m going to share some pictures with you.

Kawagoe Matsuri Dashi

A dashi!

Dashi

Almost too tall to get under the pedestrian overpass.

Dashi Battle

It’s on now.

Dashi Fight

FIGHT!

Dashi Team

The neighborhood team.

Bonus shot: Annie and me, dressed and ready and squinting into the sun.

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An Interesting Take on Marketing

Sticking with my JSP theme, today I’m coming to you with something from the strange Japan files. I don’t know if it’s still there, but back in 2008 a men’s clothing store in Kawagoe’s Crea Mall (a shopping street) had a… unique marketing technique. They put a mannequin with a scary horse head out on the main street, usually dressed in their clothes, in a bid to draw in traffic. Apparently it worked because that thing was out there every day, always dressed for the season. When Christmastime came around, after passing it multiple times a week for months, Annie and I finally had to get a picture.

Scary horse mannequin: Santa Edition. Co-starring Annie.

Blast From the Past: TIU

Yes, good old Tokyo International University (東京国際大学). The way I first went to Japan, in August 2008. TIU, which is in Kawagoe, Saitama, has a program for foreign students called the Japanese Studies Program. It’s primarily language-oriented, with three hours of Japanese class four days a week and two Japanese studies classes, once a week each. I took modern Japanese history and Japanese literature. I only did the program for one semester, because I was an English major, but a full academic year is also an option.

I actually really recommend JSP, if you want to study in Japan. It’s near Tokyo, it’s homestay, and there are other things involved, such as a one-week trip to Kansai and a few local cultural activities. It’s a pretty great program.

Most of my TIU pictures are full of former classmates, but I did find three pictures of the campus itself. Better than nothing, right?

Tokyo International University

The building where JSP classes are held.

Tokyo International University

The library.

Tokyo International University

The exterior stairs leading to the “English language lounge”, and one of the cafeteria buildings to the right.

Japan Misadventures

Despite promising tales of international misadventure in my About page, I rarely deliver. So it’s time for a JSP story, dating all the way back to fall 2008!

About six weeks into JSP, my friend Annie and I decided to visit one of Kawagoe’s public bathhouses. We didn’t know where it was, though, so we asked around and, armed with directions, set off. Only to discover that the directions sucked. The bus part was okay, but when we got off the bathhouse was nowhere in sight. So we walked a bit, realized we had no idea where we were, and went into a convenience store to get help. Conbini lady was nice and gave us new directions, which also sucked. So we tried a golf supply store and finally got help that, well, helped. Third time’s the charm?

The bathhouse itself was great, but the adventure wasn’t over. Not by far. Before we left, we asked a bathhouse employee where we could get the bus to Kawagoe Station. We confirmed her answer twice. Her answer was wrong.

First we couldn’t find the stop, so we went into a restaurant to ask yet another hapless Japanese person for help. Then, as we neared the stop, on the wrong side of the street, the bus came. So we recklessly took a break in the traffic as a chance to race across four lanes to catch it. All was well. Or not.

I got up about two minutes later to ask the driver if we were in fact going to Kawagoe Station. He kind of smiled and shook his head.

I cracked up.

Annie despaired.

The driver told us to wait.

So we waited. And waited. And waited some more, long past the last stop on the route. By then we’d realised that we were in Sakado. Sakado is not in Kawagoe. I was still laughing helplessly, Annie was still despairing, we were both wondering where we were being taken and whether we should start panicking.

As it turned out, the driver was kindly taking us to a bus depot where we were able to finally get one back to Kawagoe. So we went to Italian Tomato (best chain ever) before heading home, after dark and much later than planned.

It wasn’t our best day, but hey, at least the bath was nice.

The inside of Kawagoe Station. Photo borrowed from Wikipedia because I apparently have never taken one.

The Awesome of Homestay

Homestay, also known as my introduction to Japan and one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was extraordinarily lucky in the figurative homestay lottery because I got the best host family ever, and your mileage may vary, but I think everyone who can do a homestay should. It gives you a better, more rounded perspective, living with a family in a proper home. It’s a very good experience to have.

Now I could just sit here and ramble on… or I could share some pictures from my host family’s house. They have a really, really nice house and they’re kind of old school in a lot of ways. Everything I know about more traditional Japanese family life I learned from living with them.

Onward!

Homestay

The front garden, going up to the door.

Tatami Room

My room. Still my room, in a way, since I was their last host student.

Japanese Home

The front hall from the genkan, where you leave your shoes.

Japanese Bath

And the bath, just for fun.

So homestay. Do it. It’s awesome.

And We’re back!

After another long absence, but only a month this time, I’m back! April was a mix of job-hunting, exercising, and studying Japanese, which resulted in not feeling like I had much to blog about. Currently, I’m doing some freelance writing (while keeping an eye out for full-time employment), exercising, and studying Japanese. So it’s… not much different, really, but it’s better. I’m definitely keeping myself busy!

Other news of note: I’m hopinh to go to Tokyo for October into November, to go to language school. And, to celebrate her high school graduation, I’m taking my sister to Disneyland in June. So there will be more travel in my immediate future!

I’ll finish this up with a Japan photo (because everyone likes Japan photos, right?). This one is from my JSP days, actually, so it’s a blast from the past! December 2008. For our graduation from the program, most of us wore kimono. I asked my amazing host family if I could borrow one from them, rather than from the university, and then almost had a heart attack when they gave it to me. Entirely. Obi, geta, and all. Professional kimono ladies had to dress us, because it’s crazy complicated, and my friend took a picture of my obi to show off their awesome work.

Beautiful, huh?

And, if you’re interested in checking out some of my other writing, ぜひぜひ!

(By all means)