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Video: ups and downs – How I Joined a Japanese Choir

It’s been many months and summer is almost here. Cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen. During the holidays and into the spring, a few bumps along the way led to headaches and delays. Beneath all that however were the trips, festivals, and most importantly the people there to push you through those times. In Nagasaki, one such group does that through the magic of music.

A special thanks to The Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club. I love you all and couldn’t have done this without you!

Sorry for the delay. Had to borrow a friend’s computer to do this! Thanks so much Matt!

Music:
Hold Me Down – Foreign Fields
いざ起て戦人よ – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club
ふるさと – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club

 

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8 (most used in this video)

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CC 2015

Check out my previous episode on traveling to Yakushima and Tanegashima, and taking video of the stars above Japan.

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Video: under the stars – Filming the Night Skies of Japan

A trip to the islands of Yakushima and Tanegashima at the beginning of fall provided an opportunity to visit one of the most picturesque landscapes Japan has to offer. My favourite photos however whether back home in Canada or in Japan, are taken simply by pointing my camera up into the night sky.

My longest video thus far with over 1500 km driven for footage around Kyushu and about 2 months to film everything, hope you enjoy!

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0 (most used in this video)

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Nagasaki and my summer adventures.

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Video: summer lights – The Highlights of Summer in Japan

Summer is over and school is starting again. Here are a few of the highlights experienced during the last 2 months.

This video definitely took a bit longer to make than I hoped. School starting up and just generally being busy has made it especially difficult to find time to simply sit down and edit. Hopefully it’s entertaining and stay tuned for the next episode which I assure you will be filled with a few surprises 😉

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 (most used in this video)

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Omura and first moving in.

specials

How to stay cool/warm during Japanese summers/winters

The harsh reality of Japanese summers and winters

Surviving Summer

summer

If you’re like me and your Japanese apartment did not include an air conditioning unit, then you may need to live by these next tricks to stay cool.  I’ve long dreaded summer, it’s my least favourite season, at least in Japan.  Back in Canada, I didn’t mind the summers because they were dry heat.  Yes, they were hot, but at least you didn’t sweat like a beast.  Everyone warned me, as I complained that the teacher’s room was too hot in winter with the kerosene heaters blasted to the max.  My coworkers repeating the sentence 日本の夏暑いよ nihon no natsu atsui yo (Japanese summers are hot) over and over, I asked myself: Can they really be that hot? I mean, summer is just summer…right? Boy was I wrong.  Imagine daily temperatures ranging from 35ºC-45ºC night and day, PLUS humidity.  I feel so sorry for whoever is coming to Japan in August, as I can remember so clearly those first 10 minutes after getting off the plane.  Thinking to myself, are the air conditioner’s broken? Did I just step into an oven? Oh, I see. They just turned on the heaters by mistake…right? No…That humidity that wraps around you and suffocates you, that heat that pierces through every single inch of your body…This is what you will experience every summer that you live in Japan.  You will be miserable. You will sweat from places you never knew could sweat. Your body will be drenched in sweat and be sticky all day long, but honestly, you eventually get used to it. Behind that intense heat and humidity, Japanese summers are one of the best seasons to enjoy. It’s a time where you can wear summer yukatas and enjoy summer festivals, eat cold delicious food, and travel around beautiful areas.  I also really love the tsuyu and typhoon season because the rain cools down the earth and brings down the temperature! YAY! To help you survive a Japanese summer, I’ve compiled a list that you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable in this intense heat.

  1. Buy an air conditioner.  Yes, this is the most obvious one, but some apartment may not come with one. E.g. mine.  I managed to survive a Japanese summer without the use of an AC up until the first week of August.  Yes, it was hard, and yes, it was hot, but it wasn’t impossible.  However, when August came up, the nights became too hot to handle and I had to buy an AC. I don’t personally use it during the day, just at night so that I can sleep comfortably.aircon
  2. DRINK WATER. I’m not kidding. I don’t know how to emphasize this enough.  Your body needs water, and lots of it.  That amount of water your sweating needs to be re-hydrated. DO NOT underestimate the heat.  It will bring you down and you may suffer a heat stroke.  Heat strokes happen every single day in Japan because people don’t stay hydrated.  Don’t take this lightly as it’s really dangerous. I used to drink a 500mL bottle of water a day back in Canada, but after coming here, I started drinking 2-4L of water per day.  If you notice that your head suddenly starts to hurt, it’s because you’re dehydrated. You need to re-hydrate a.s.a.p.heat stroke
  3. Close your curtains and windows during the day, and open them up at night *(hopefully your windows come with a screen, or else GINORMOUS bugs will come flying in).  You don’t want the sun rays and heat to heat up your house during the day, but you do want the *cooler* breeze to come in at night.
  4. Install a fan in your window and turn it on at night. This will bring a cool breeze inside your house.  You can also buy more than one fan and install them at various places in your house to get the air flow going.fan window
  5. If you don’t have enough money to buy an AC, then freeze some ice packs and install them in front of your fan.  This will send wind through the ice packs and make the wind feel a bit cooler. You will need to repeat this process a couple of times per day as the ice packs will melt pretty quickly.  You can also use frozen water bottles and place them in front/back of your fan.  fan ice packsIf you feel like you’d rather buy a fan that does all of that for you, you can buy a cooling fan and only need to add ice to the bucket inside the fan.cool fan
  6. Sleep with an ice pillow.  An ice what?!  It’s a gel pillow that you pop into your freezer that freezes halfway so that it’s still squishy.  Once it’s frozen, you place it inside the pillow case and sleep on it.  This way, your head will stay cool during the hot summer nights.ice pillow
  7. If you’re home and don’t have an AC, you can always wet a long neck towel and wrap it around you.  This only works ’til a certain point though.  The wet towel will no longer be effective after July as the air temperature is just too hot to make a difference.wet towel
  8. Wet a long neck towel and put some ice cubes in it.  Wrap it around your neck or place it over your head.  This only works until the ice melts off. It’s a good temporary solution.
  9. Buy cool towels. You simply need to pour water over the towel and wrap it around your neck.  The towel supposedly keeps the water cool until it has all evaporated, to which you then fill up again.  They sell these at various department stores.cool towel
  10. Carry a bag of ice packs.  Some of my Japanese friends do this.  They carry a “cooler” bag and load it with like 4 large ice packs.  Whenever they feel too hot, they either hug the pack until they cool down, or they grab one ice pack and rub it all over their body to cool down.ice pack bag
  11. Buy sweat wipes.  We don’t have these in the West, but they’re awesome!  I buy the ‘cooling’ wipes.  It’s basically wipes that you use to clean the sweat off your body.  They clean your skin leaving a cooling agent all over your body.  This works for 10-30 minutes.gatsby
  12. If you’re outside in the heat, then you’ll need to carry a portable fan.  They sell them everywhere or give them out for free in front of stations, at festivals, or in convenience stores. The word for these is sensu or uchiwa.uchiwa
  13. If you need to cool down right away and you don’t have any ice on you, then you can use these fever stickers.  They care called 熱さまシート netsu sama shi-to. People usually use them when they are sick and their head is boiling hot.  Stick it on any part of your body that feels too hot, and it’ll automatically cool it down.  These work 5-10 hours. I showed them to my mom when she came to visit me and told her it was for her head.  She took the box and stuck them everywhere on her body.netsusamashito
  14. Buy a sun umbrella.  This is great if you don’t want to tan or make your body absorb all the sun rays.  It really does help when you’re outside all day in the sun.sun umbrella
  15. Buy a dehumidifier.  The reason you can’t sleep at night isn’t because of the heat, it’s because of the humidity. You furniture, clothes, bed sheets, and so on, all have this layer of humidity on them. Getting a dehumidifier will make your apartment so much more comfortable to live in.
  16. Get cotton sheets for your bed.  Any other fabrics will just absorb the heat and bake you as if you were in an oven at night.   Speaking of cotton, wear cotton clothing.  It’s breathable and perfect for summer.  DO NOT wear polyester clothing.  It absorbs all the sweat and traps it inside making you super uncomfortable all day/night long.
  17. Turn off your computer, lights, and appliances when you’re not home or at night.  These not only use your electricity, but they also generate heat.  This is what was happening at my house: the sun warms up the house all day long, so it’s basically a little oven.  Your computer generates heat (in my case, my iMac) + all the heat that’s been accumulated.  It’s gotten to the point that my furniture, yes…my furniture is now HOT.  My chairs, my bookshelves, computer desk, carpet, etc, are all hot.  I swear I could fry an egg on my desk.  Also, my iMac has been shutting down automatically because it’s becoming too hot for it to handle.  Unfortunately, you can’t do anything about the sun heat that comes into your house, but you can try to limit the heat by turning off your computer and other electronics that may be using heat.

Surviving Winter

winter

I remember coming here wondering if the winters would be cold.  I come from a land of long, dry and cold winters, where the lowest temperature can reach up to -50ºC, just like beyond the wall.  Whenever spring comes in Canada and the temperature drops to 0ºC, you can see people rockin’ pairs of shorts and light vests, and essentially come out of hibernation.   0ºC is like a dream come true; a sign that the long harsh winter is finally over and that summer is finally coming.  Before coming to Japan, people warned me that it would be cold, and so I trusted them.  They explained that Japanese houses weren’t insulated and didn’t have central heating so the winters would be long and cold.  Coming to Japan in January, the coldest temperature it got in Saitama was 0ºC.  Okay, not bad at all! I don’t think Japan is cold, not like in Canada.  I mean, I would walk in the streets with my light jacket and see people wearing huge ‘North Face/Canada Goose’ jackets, snow pants, and snow boots as if they were ready to march through Siberia in the middle of an ice age.  Unless you’re placed north of Kyoto, I wouldn’t bother bringing snow boots, snow pants, and a huge winter jacket.  Chances are, it probably won’t snow where you live, and if does, it won’t snow very much. Yes, it does snow up north, so be ready for that.  So like I said, Japan isn’t necessarily cold, but it is SUPER cold inside!  Basically the inside and outside temperature of a house will be the exact same. The lowest temperature it will get to in Hokkaido will be -25ºC. But fear not, I agree that houses do get cold in winter, but there are loads of ways to deal with the cold! I personally think that if you put enough layers on and follow these next steps, you will have no problem surviving non-insulated Japanese houses!

  1. Buy a heater if your house doesn’t already have one.  You may need to buy additional ones if you think it may not be enough.
    1. This can be a heater directly attached to your wall. In Japan, these are also air conditioning units.
    2. It can be a kerosene heater where you need to add gasoline in it every time it runs out.  Note: this will stink up your house and be hard to breathe, but it will keep you warm and you eventually get used to the smell.
      1. There are different types of heaters that you can buy.  These include heater, carbon, ceramic, electric, oil, stove, and kerosene.kerosene
    3. Buy a portable heater and stick it right in front of you wherever you are in your house.
  2. Buy a kotatsu.  These are the most genius Japanese inventions.  It’s essentially a low table that has a heater installed at the bottom.  The table is then covered with a gigantic blanket and another piece of wood is placed over the blanket.  You then sit on the floor, cover your legs and lower body with the blanket and crawl under the table to stay warm.  The only problem is that your upper body gets cold, while your lower body is boiling hot.   I usually sit under my kotatsu and cover myself with a blanket so that all parts of my body stay warm.kotatsu
  3. Buy an electric carpet or/and blanket.  Seriously, buy one.  Those are life-saving! Basically, you put your futon over the warm carpet, or any other furniture you foresee yourself using every day, and sleep over it.  The warm carpet will keep your futon warm all night long!  You can also just buy an electric blanket and place it between your blankets when you sleep.  This will ensure that you’re warm all night long.  I personally have this and use it whenever I’m at my computer and cover my legs.electric blanket
  4. Insulate your house!  This can be achieved for a very low price using only a couple of tools.
    1. Buy bubble wrap and tape it all over your windows.  This will keep the cold air from coming in, but still keep the hot sun rays warm up your place.
    2. Buy sukima teepu.  This is tape that you can use to fill in the cracks or gaps in doors or windows that may be letting the cold air in.sukima tepu
    3. Buy thicker curtains.  This will act as a blanket for the house walls to keep them warm and stop the cold air from coming in.
    4. Buy a noren.  This is one of those sign curtain that’s hung in restaurants and shop entrances.  This won’t exactly insulate your house, but it will keep the heat in one room.
  5. Buy a humidifier.  This may seem silly, but the Japanese winter’s are extremely dry.  When you sleep at night, your throat may get really parched and you may become sick, so having a humidifier really helps keep you comfortable and healthy.
  6. Buy hokkairo.  Those are small pouches that get warmed once opened.  Great for pockets or for inside shoes.  There are sticky types that you can stick to your clothing, or non-sticky type that go wherever you want them to go.hokkairo
  7. Drink lots of hot liquids to prevent sickness!

Note: Japanese weather apps or websites do NOT include the ‘real feel’ option.  So you may think it’s 0ºC or 35ºC, but it actually feels like -6ºC or 43ºC.

If you know of any other ways to keep cool or warm in Japan, please write a comment below!

 

SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVALS

Summer Music Festivals in Japan

It’s summer now, and for those musically obsessed of us out there, that means SUMMER FESTIVAL SEASON! Japan, which boasts a recording industry second only to the US, has about as many music festivals as there are people in the country. There’s just so many! What this means is that there’s just about something out there for all tastes.

Sadly, by the time of this posting, some events may have already passed, but hay! There’s always next year, right?

July

DEAD POP FESTiVAL

deadpopfest

Where: Kawasaki, Kanagawa

When: July 11th & 12th

With a goal to “Knock Down the Wall,” this festival’s line-up is all across the board. From comedy bands, to rock, to punk, to ska, to the very border of metal, walls are definitely getting knocked down.

Sekigahara Live Wars

sekigahara

Where: Sekigahara Battlefield, Fuwa-gun, Gifu

When: July 18th-20th

This festival is particularly fun. It is a yearly “battle” between day 1: women (though, women fronted, not specifically women ONLY), day 2: men, day 3: idol groups. These divas will definitely relight the fires of war at this festival.

JOIN ALIVE

Where: Iwamizawa, Hokkaido

When: July 18th & 19th

JOIN ALIVE aims to be a very chill festival, going so far as to offer free admission to junior high school and under kids. And seriously, looking at that line-up, I would KILL to have gone to this festival as a junior high schooler. Also, there are rides! How cool is that!?

Fuji Rock Festival 

Where: Yuzawa-cho, Niigata

When: July 24th- 26th

One of the biggest yearly festivals in Japan, Fuji Rock Festival takes places at an off-season ski resort, and as such, one of the main draws (aside from the concerts) is the fact that you can camp it. Though an even bigger draw to it is that it features a huge line-up of non-Japanese bands. And these aren’t a bunch of nobodies. These are HUGE acts! Because of this, the website is FULL of handy information in English. Enjoy!

Punkafoolic! Bayside Crash

Where: Tokyo

When: July 25th

This is a nice little punk rock fest that takes place deep in the heart of Tokyo, pretty close to Tsukiji Fish Market. BUT! It’s just before orientation. Sorry incoming people. Maybe next year.

Tokai Summit

tokaisummit

Where: Nagashima Spa Land, Kuwana, Mie

When: July 26th

Tokai Summit holds the claim to fame of being the first outdoor festival dedicated to Hip Hop. Even better, it takes place in my home prefecture! YEAH! Though it’s only a one day event, NagaSpaLand offers an amusement park and outlet shopping to fill the rest of the music-less hours of what should totally be a weekend affair.

August

Rock in Japan Festival

Where: Hitachinaka, Ibaraki

When: August 1st & 2nd then August 8th & 9th

Rock in Japan Festival is put on by music mag “Rockin’ On” and is one of the biggest festivals of the year. It’s so big that not only is it a given that it’s going to sell out, but you can’t even just expect to buy tickets for it. No, you have to enter a raffle just to be allowed to throw your money at it. It also takes place on two separate weekends, all the way up in Ibaraki, so unless you’re placed in a surrounding prefecture, good luck seeing the entire festival. With one of the most diverse line-ups, there is easily something for everyone here…and not gonna lie, probably 10/10 of my favorite current artist list.

Zushi Fes

zushi fes

Where: Zushi, Kanagawa

When: August 7th-9th

MTV, yes THAT MTV, invites you to get your party on in your swimsuit at this resort festival featuring quite a few Japanese DJs, R&B singers, hip hop groups, and everything in between.

Rising Sun Rock Festival

risingsunrockfest

Where: Ishikari, Hokkaido

When: August 14th & 15th

This is a music fest for people who love Japanese music and hates sleep. Concerts go on ALL NIGHT LONG, and the festival prides itself on only featuring Japanese artists. Ishikari, next door to tourist hotspot Otaru in Hokkaido is a gorgeous area, and being able to enjoy amazing music as the sun comes up on a new day is definitely an experience to check out.

Sonicmania/Summer Sonic

Where: Chiba and Osaka

When: August 14th-16th

Summer Sonic is a MONSTER of a festival. Technically the fest begins on the 14th with Sonicmania, a one day EDM festival that, though run by the same people, is considered a separate event with a different name. Summer Sonic itself takes place in both Osaka and Chiba at the same time, often with artists playing one city one day then the other the next. Not only is it geographically huge, but it also draws some major foreign artists, as well. Generally, if you go to one summer music fest in Japan, for most people, it’s this one.

MONSTER baSH

Where: Yoshino, Kagawa

When: August 22nd & 22rd

Not to be confused with the OTHER Monster Bash, the International Classic Monster Conference, Film Festival and Expo, this MONSTER baSH is the original outdoor music festival of Shikoku. Its aim is to bring people together, year after year, to smile and enjoy amazing music. I can definitely get behind that sentiment, though they chose a rather odd name for that kind of goal.

Sweet Love Shower

sweet love shower

Where: Lake Yamanaka, Yamanashi

When: August 28th-3oth

Taking place in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Sweet Love Shower is celebrating its 20th year in existence. It is presented by none other than Space Shower TV, who once deleted my youtube account for hosting too many of their videos, which explains the slightly odd name. The festival itself has a lot of great artists, mostly if you’ve seen them on SSTV, you’ll see them at the fest.

September

Sunset Live

Where: Itoshima, Fukuoka

When: September 4th-6th

Taking place in Kyushu, Sunset Live promises a laid back, very chill music fest in the late summer heat. The artist list features an eclectic line up of rock, folk, jazz, and electronic artists. Looks to be a very chill event, where you can catch the sun setting below the ocean horizon. A very nice coda to the summer.

OTODAMA

otodama

Where: Izumiotsu Phoenix, Osaka

When: September 5th & 6th

Looking at this setlist, this festival looks amazing and insane at the same time. It looks like the first day is super laid back, very chill, and the second day, all hell breaks loose. A very nice collection of really great, yet not terribly known groups. I really want to go to there.

Inazuma Rock Fes

Where: Kusatsu, Shiga

When: September 19th and 20th

This festival is a highly popular gathering of major pop acts, such as two of the ridiculously popular 48 groups and TMR. If you are wanting to hit this festival, better get in quick. Tickets are already selling out.

Punkafoolic! Shibuya Crash

shibuya crash

 

Where: Shibuya, Tokyo

When: September 20th

Another punk rock festival presented by Punkafoolic! For one glorious day, punk rock from all over the world takes over O-East and O-West (am I the only person who still thinks of them as On Air?). Those of you who had to skip out on Bayside Crash will definitely be able to make this one.

Kansai Lovers

kansailovers

Where: Osaka Castle Music Hall, Osaka

When: September 23rd

At only 1000 yen (drinks for an extra 500), Kansai Lovers is a great chance to bid farewell to the summer and enjoy some great up and coming musicians. I, for one, am highly tempted to drag myself all the way out to Osaka for this one day festival.

 

While this is quite a long list of various music festivals all over Japan throughout the summer, it is by no means exhaustive or complete. I hope, though, this will inspire some of you to hit up a festival or two. They’re no comparison to seeing your favorite artist at a one-man show, but they can be a great way to expose yourself to some great new bands you’d never heard of before. Great way to find new music at a pretty decent price. Enjoy!

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The Top 5 Festivals in Japan

One  of the greatest things about Japan is the insane amount of energy put into festivals.  Festivals are one of those rare times of the year where Japanese people as a whole can let their hair down (so to speak) and celebrate.  Every little village or town does something at some time or other here, and the sheer variety of spectacles you can witness and be a part of is truly remarkable.

Here’s a sample of some of the best:

5. Saga’s International Balloon Fiesta (October 30 – November 3)

Photo Credit: Masami Chikita

Photo Credit: Masami Chikita

Like Saitama to Tokyo, Saga is usually overshadowed by its neighbour Fukuoka, but on at least one weekend a year it’s brimming with excitement.   Saga hosts an annual International Balloon Fiesta where you can see dozens of awesomely-designed hot air balloons from around the world take off and engage in a variety of competitions.  The sight of the sun rising as the balloons take flight is breathtaking; and if you’re around in the evening you can enjoy a special ‘light up’ event.  What adds to the excitement is that the Karatsu Kunchi Festival that takes place in the north of the prefecture on the same weekend.

4. Okayama’s Naked Man Festival (3rd Saturday of February)

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Okayama’s Naked Man Festival, or ‘Hadaka Matsuri’ is one truly like no other.  Participating men are stripped down and strapped into loin clothes called ‘fundoshi’ and parade around the streets huddled in groups chanting and drinking sake as spectators douse them in cold water.  And this is not even the main event!  These hundreds of men then pile into and around a temple where they wrestle over scented ‘fertility sticks.’  The prizes are often insane: money, cars, concubines (OK, I made that last one up, but the other two are true!).  It’s definitely a sight to see, or, if you’re brave enough, take part in.

3. Akita’s Kanto Festival (August 3-7) 

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In Akita’s Kanto Festival, dozens of teams take turns hoisting up sails of lanterns with long bamboo sticks.  The point is to see how many bamboo sticks you can extend below the lanterns without it snapping.  I would say how high you can get the lanterns, but when you add a certain amount of poles, the entire thing bends and you get a really cool effect!  The participants balance the apparatus on their hands, their shoulders, their heads and even their butts while an unseen MC and spectators chant “Rokusho Rokusho” to aid in concentration.

2. Aomori’s Nebuta Festival (August 2-7)

fdadas

A very close number 2, Aomori hosts the spectacular Nebuta Festival every year where gigantic lit-up floats are pushed through the streets and spun around for spectators’ delight.  The floats are accompanied by music played live on the streets and screaming, jumping, bell-jingling groups of participants yelling “Rasera, Rasera!”  It is impossible not to get caught up with the excitement.  What truly adds to Nebuta’s appeal, though, is that you can participate in the festival the same day you visit.  That’s right, for a little over 2,000 yen you can rent an outfit and basically join any group you want to jump and chant in the streets.

1. Tokushima’s Awa Odori (August 12-15)

Awa Odori is the biggest dance festival in Japan, attracting well over 1.3 million visitors a year to Tokushima City.  Groups of dancers stream down the streets while the sound of Japanese taiko drums crash into the air.  The absolutely best part of Awa Odori, though, is not even in the main performance areas, but in the side streets where dancers and drummers deluge into, popping up and dispersing spontaneously as their noise echos off the walls of the outdoor shopping arcades.  Nearly every corner you turn down you’ll encounter a breathtaking spectacle of excitement!


Do you agree with our list?  Any glaring omissions?  Tell us about them in the comment section or, better yet, give us your own take on the best of Japan.

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Sakura Blossoms and Hanami in Japan

One of the most longstanding and recognizable symbols of Japan is the humble cherry blossom tree, or Sakura.

Every year, the Sakura trees blossom into magnificent totems of dark wood contrasted by a dazzling array of pink flowering cherries. These flowers are known as sakura, or sakura blossom.

However, the sakuras bloom for only a very short period of time. In the Tokyo region, they typically blossom at the end of March and reach their full bloom within a week and a half. By the third week, all but a scant few petals remain on the trees as the rest billow in the wind and scatter along the ground.

Thus, they are revered throughout Japan for not only their beauty, but for the enduring metaphor of the ephemeral nature of life that they represent.

This concept is known as `mono no aware`, lit. the pathos of things, and can be thought of as the Japanese term used to describe impermanence. However the nuance of the concept has a more poetic connotation – it is the idea that in the transience of all things, there exists a gentle sadness in its eventual passing and it is in this awareness of impermanence that heightens the appreciation of its beauty. Interestingly, this is a notion that is reflected throughout both historical and contemporary Japanese culture.

Personally, I find this to be a beautiful way of looking at the world. Too often, we get caught up in the responsibilities, obligations and troubles of daily life. We constantly find ourselves thinking about the future and looking forward to the next big thing, never bothering to slow down and just enjoy the moment. If you think about it, the present is all we have. I mean, you hear that a lot but really THINK about it. Each moment is always, forevermore cascading seamlessly into the next. There is only an ever unfolding “now” and the only way to really and truly live is to live in the moment and appreciate it.

The Japanese are pretty good at understanding this, or rather, at least once a year when the feeling is especially poignant during Cherry Blossom season. Every year around this time, people hold Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties. Friends, coworkers, and families put out tarps on the floor and hold picnics to view the cherry blossoms and enjoy each other`s company with food and drink.

This year, a bunch of the Gunma JETs and ALTs gathered together for a Hanami at Takasaki Park.  Although this year there was a notable decrease in Hanami parties due to the events of March 11, many people, us included, decided that the best way to show solidarity for Japan was to appreciate the cherry blossoms and reflect on the fleeting nature of life together.

After the hanami, I went for a drive with my friend Jeevy (red car). We drove down the worn down streets of old Japan and as the cherry blossom petals fell over the road, and whisked about in the air around us, we decided to stop for a few pictures.

As i write this, the cherry blossoms are almost gone. Although I`m sad to see them go, I know that they wouldn`t be as beautiful if they never left.

At least we`ve got pictures to look at until next year.

Vlogs # 5 and 6 – Mountains, Go-Karts, Sushi, Waterfalls, Fireworks!

A couple of fun videos for you to watch today. Vlog #5 is a short video showing some of the beautiful mountains of Fujioka on top of the picturesque Sakurayama. I wrote about and posted pictures of that place before, and now you can enjoy some of the gorgeous scenic views as well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDjBWvg7mDE&fs=1&hl=en_US&hd=1]

Vlog # 6 is a music video montage of some of the clips I’ve collected over the course of August.  I cut lots of stuff out because it didnt fit with the music or it ran over the time limit, but if I get a chance, I’ll add that footage in a future video.

Shots included are of:
– driving in and around Fujioka and Takasaki
– eating at kaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi)
– go-karting in Isesaki
– playing in random waterfalls in Fujioka
– driving up the tallest mountain in Fujioka
– Shibukawa Festival
– Maebashi Fireworks

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBux7uLOYpo&fs=1&hl=en_US&hd=1]

To be honest, I just threw the clips together against some music with minimal editing because right now I don’t have the luxury of devoting lots of time to editing, what with work, writing, catching up on backlogged posts and more videos, and you know, those inconvenient time sucks of the day – eating and sleeping. Once I’ve caught up more and have figured out how to use Final Cut Pro properly (It’s tough being an Adobe Premiere lifer and jumping ship to FCP) The calibre of these videos should improve. But nonetheless, please enjoy the fruits of my efforts and live vicariously through me, since I want you to be able to experience the awesomeness that is Japan as well.

Driving the touge, Shibukawa Festival and Maebashi Fireworks

Aug 14

The following morning, I went to go workout at the local community gym. I don`t remember if I`ve written about this before, but that gym is pretty much one of the saddest excuses for a training facility I`ve ever been to. The only freeweights they had were welded barbells that maxed out at 100 lbs. I was benching 100lbs for 20-30 reps to the absolute amazement of the other gym patrons. It was pretty sad.

After the workout, it was back to Takasaki to get a ride with one of my friends, JY to go to a festival. JY is a cool dude, he`s a fellow Torontonian JET. He`s a man of short stature, but bursting with spunk and attitude. He calls himself the WRX Demon due to his love of Subarus and I think it`s a pretty fitting alias. He drives a ridiculously fast turbo-charged kei-car, and is an absolute monster tearing up the mountains of Gunma.

The plan was to head to Shibukawa, a city in the centre of Gunma, for a big festival. However JY took a detour up and down Haruna mountain which was absolutely insane; one of the craziest drives of my life. It was literally like being in a roller coaster that wasn`t securely attached to a rail.

Drift lines. Multiple ones, and the guard rails were all banged up. This road was a legit drift course.

When we finally got to Shibukawa, it took us an over an hour to find a place to park. We eventually caught the end of the festival which was pretty cool as there were these huge shrines being carried by groups of people. It was sort of like a parade like back home, but instead of floats just slowly rolling down the street, these massive shrines were being carried on the shoulders of the participants.

After the Shibukawa festival, we went to Maebashi to watch the fireworks display. I didn’t think it possible, but these fireworks were even more mind-blowing than the ones on Haruna lake. They were absolutely incredible, and they went on for over an hour. I`m pretty sure millions of dollars worth of fireworks were used up. I have some videos which I`ll put up soon.

Haruna Water Fireworks

After ordering an iphone and getting Mos Burgers, Ken and I drove up Haruna Mountain (which should we well known to anyone who`s familiar with the anime Initial D – It`s called Akina in the series). Near the peak of Haruna Mountain was a big lake where there was a small fireworks festival taking place. I say small in the loosest sense of the word because if there`s one thing that Japan prioritizes in its fiscal budget, it is apparently fireworks.

The two really cool things about this fireworks display were
1) The water fireworks – teams of speedboats would speed up and down the lake, and people would push boxes of fireworks out the back of the boat, where they would explode off the surface of the lake several seconds later.

2) Real actual legit lasers. These things were unbelievable, and I had no idea they existed. They shot solid looking beams of lasers into the sky, in much the same way spotlights are used, but to much cooler effect. At one point the whole thing looked like a war scene against alien invaders. It was like if someone at some point thought “ Hmm, yeah these fireworks are pretty cool, but you know what would make them even more awesome? LASERS!”, and that’s exactly what happened.

This was so freaking cool…

The rest of the festival was also a lot of fun. There were pretty girls dressed in yukata (summer kimonos) and lots of delicious food, albeit most of it was fried. It was an enjoyable festival although the drive back got a bit frustrating due to the traffic.