Japan Summer of Peace, Love, Festivals, Beer, Mountains, and Rock and Roll

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August 12th 2006
Published: November 15th 2006
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The temperature heats up, the humidity is on overdrive, and all the students are off for the summer. As for me, what summer vacation? Although no students are at school and there is nothing for me to do, I have to be there! I could be traversing the many incredible destinations in Asia, yet I guess instead it has been a summer of saving money, and relaxing in Hiroshima. So, what did I do to fill the rest of my time in July and August? Well, tons! In fact, it was a great summer relaxing, doing fun things, meeting all the new JETs, and definitely doing all things humanly possible to beat the humidity and heat.

Japan is definitely the place to go if you like festivals! Since festivals usually consist of fun costumes, dancing, and drinking…I am a big fan of them! Throughout summer I feel like there is a different festival every weekend….just in my prefecture! Every city, town, and village is throwing some sort of summer festival. I went to four: The Hiroshima City Festival (early June actually), Yassa Festival in a town called Mihara, the Suigun Festival (Pirate festival) on an island called Innoshima, and the fireworks festival on Miyajima. The Hiroshima Summer Festival is held in early June to welcome summer, and designate when it is okay to wear summer kimonos and yukatas, which are much lighter than the heavier winter ones. All the streets are closed to visitors, the token food stalls are everywhere, and young girls and boys are decked out in the latest yukatas and kimonos- which are absolutely amazing. I had been waiting all year to put on a yukata and finally got my chance! i felt like a princess walking around in my yukata!

For the Yassa Festival, as gaijin we made our own dance team to participate. I am unclear of the purpose of this festival, except for drinking and getting to dance in the street. Team gaijin got decked out in orange yukatas, vaguely learned the dance, and set out to show the other Mihara-ites what we could do. The first problem was that we all learned different versions of the dance, making for a group of foreigners with no rhyme nor rhythm no synchronization for miles. We were quite the sight! Throw in a few chu his, beers, and some face paint and we were
Hiroshima Summer FestivalHiroshima Summer FestivalHiroshima Summer Festival

Me, Allison, and Jessie
rocking along the streets. Every once in a while we would get in a huddle and yell YASSA YASSA YASSA! We won no prizes but all in all a very fun night.

The third festival I went to was the Pirate Festival. There were no jack sparrows wandering around. Instead there were Japanese pirates, which were dressed up very similar to samurai. We arrived on the island in the late afternoon with just enough time to take a dip in the Seto Inland Sea. Its not Thailand, but definitely refreshing and a way to beat the heat. As the sun set, the festival got started. There were many different dance groups (some good some bad) and taiko drumming (again some good and some bad). As the torches were lit, the Japanese pirates came out, shot their guns, and gave a bunch of speeches, marking their territory on the island. In the distance, these long dragon boats approached the shore as more pirates stormed the beach. It was really really cool. They put on a little show for the audience, and then stormed off back in their boats. The night was finished with a great fireworks show over the sea.
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Brian and I decked out
The next day we went back with the intention to get to try to row the dragon boats! But, by the time we got their, the sign ups were full, and were only spectators.

The last festival I went to was the fireworks festival on Miyajima. This was the same festival I went to last year, all lost and still claim to be the hottest day of my life in Japan. This year I toughed the heat (which I surprisingly became used to) and crowds, and wore my yukata to the island. We had a great time watching the fireworks on the island, and managed to see the final set from the boat back to the mainland. Fireworks are a big deal in Japan. If you leave Japan without seeing some, you have missed out on a big part of their culture.

August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima City, flattening it to the ground. Every year there is a memorial for the victims who were killed by the bomb. Again, I opted out of the morning ceremony, and ended up going to the evening memorial. The peace park is swamped with
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Evania and I making friends
people. It is a good day to go, as many different people express their views of peace. There are artists, musicians, and there was even a ‘lie in’ for peace, where people laid around the atomic bomb dome to advocate peace. Brian and I enjoyed the beautiful sunset as lanterns were sent down the river. We even bought our own and floated it down, spreading peace and love from California. This is definitely a day in history that is tragic and should never be forgotten, especially with all the talk of nuclear warfare taking shape in our world….

Definitely one of the best parts of the summer…Japanese Beer Gardens. All you can eat and drink on a patio for 3500 yen (roughly $35). The food is pretty nasty, but the beer flows like water. We had our Leaver’s Party at a beer garden, and managed to go when I had some visitors. I managed to befriend a group of jazzercise ladies at the Mutsukoshi beer garden, who then proceeded to give me a demonstration of jazzercise. I don’t know what I am thinking when I am drunk or how I get myself into these situations! These only
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Jeff knows what he is doing!
come out in the summer though!

So yes, there are beaches in Japan, yet they are so far! Instead I would often call Jeff and say, ‘hey wanna go to the pool?’ The family pool in central Hiroshima became our favorite watering hole during the summer! We thought it would be completely swarming with kids, which to an extent was true. Yet definitely not unbearable! A great way to relax and catch some sun.

I just can't seem to get away from summer camp. Kabe High School had their own English camp, yet instead of using me, hired an outside English teacher (an ex-JET even!), to come in an teach. A bit of a slap in the face. Yet, I did go to the English summer camp out on Etajima. Summer camp is in my blood! This was not like my days at Skylake though. We actually taught lessons. This was a bit intimidating because it was the first time I was in a class BY MYSELF without another teacher! It was a breath of fresh air too because I was around students who wanted to learn English and were good at it. They
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Group Shot
had no problems answering "How are you today" with more than just a "I'm fine, and you?" It was great to bond with the kids and I was sad to see them go at the end of the week. It was also fun to hang out with the 6 other JETs who were teachers. I got to know them a lot better, and like at all summer camps, pull some pranks on the boys. We came back to a pile of mattresses, and the boys came back one night without toothbrushes. hahaha ;-). God we are childish, yet fun. I even taught the students a camp song from Skylake!

So this actually took place in June, but since its such a fun story I thought I would share it with everyone. Ben Harper came to play in Hiroshima. I love Ben Harper- his music and would consider having his children. Lisa and I were getting some ice cream from Bar Lawsons before heading over to the venue. As we are walking down the main street, we look over and stop mid-sentence, realizing that Ben Harper was walking our way down the street! I get starstruck
I love these peopleI love these peopleI love these people

Brian, Evania, Jane, and me
very easily (sad but true) and have no qualms about approaching movie stars, so meandered on over to him. He sees that we recognize him, chuckles to the Innocent Criminals behind him, and starts walking towards me. I go (real slick i know) "You're Ben Harper." He looks at me, laughs, bends down to grab my ice cream, takes a bite and walks away. I was in shock. I didn't know what to do! Lisa and I giggled and scurried off in the other direction. I didn't know if I was allowed to eat my ice cream! Indeed I did, and finished the whole thing- leave out a few minor details and you can say I have made out with Ben Harper! :-). The concert was amazing.

This is quite possibly my favorite Japanese proverb now, of course with reference to hiking Mt. Fuji. Label me the fool because I have climbed that mountain twice. As AJET chair with Lisa, we planned the annual trip to hike Mt. Fuji, and for a second time, scaled the mountain. As we started our
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festival masks
ascent, Lisa and I said "what are we doing? Why are we here?" Yet, we did make it up the mountain. We hiked it much better this year with a whole strategy to avoid moldy mountain huts, preserve energy, and make it in time to see that sun rise over the horizon. We told others our routine and they were quick to ignore our strategy (which is fine, I did the same the year before as a novice!), yet a group of Indian guys working in Tokyo decided we had the right idea. Despite feeling like I was going to freeze to death and a small case of altitude sickness, and again tackling the long lines towards the top, we made it, and experienced one of the best sunrises of my life. We yelled BANZAI!!! as the sun rose over the edge, and popped open our Fuji Beers. Lisa and I again had a strategy to get down the mountain and were down in 4 hours. At first we were dreading the hike, but when done I know that we were both glad we did it. It's a bitch of a hike that's for sure. Others were not so genki coming down, and wondering how in the hell we managed to do it twice. I can officially say I am good luck with Fuji, as we encountered perfect weather both years. As others slept while we drove to the sento, I looked out the window and saw the outline of Fuji looming in the distance, and smiled, knowing that I had made it to the summit TWICE. The idea of hiking to Base Camp is becoming more and more appealing....

At the end of August, school started again, the temperatures subsided a bit, and the new JETs were settling in. As much fun as I had all summer, the days were passing slowly because I was counting down the days for my trip back to the motherland in September. Stay tuned....

Additional photos below
Photos: 43, Displayed: 29


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Pirate Picnic

Enjoying the performance and beauitful sunset over the seto inland sea

searchin for some booty
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Dragon Boats

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Dragon Boat

Getting ready to launch his crew

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