Twice a year, ALTs from across Japan gather to compete in the All Japan ALT soccer tournament. The eastern division of the tournament is held at Sania Sports Park in Sugadaira, Nagano. With verdant pitches nestled in between the mountains, there is more than just soccer drawing people out for this weekend.
Every year, Fukushima attends the autumn tournament. While the Lucky Islanders aren’t always the strongest team on the field, Team Akabeko is always the champion of the cheering and partying divisions of the tournament. This year, the tournament will be held on October 5th and 6th. While Nagano might seem a bit far away, your trusty FuJET co-presidents have organised a charter bus to get us there in the peak of style (seriously, the bus has a chandelier). The bus will do pick-ups on Friday October 4th, after work, in Fukushima City, Koriyama, and Aizuwakamatsu. From there, that is where the party starts.
On Saturday, each team will play three or four games (fifteen or twenty minute halves) in a league style tournament. Following these games, teams will be ranked, and then on Sunday all teams will enter a knock-out cup competition. For the men, it is likely that we will have two tournaments on Sunday for the ‘The best’, and ‘The rest’ (depending on the number of participating teams).
But what if you don’t play soccer? Will you have to miss out on this fantastic weekend? Poppycock! This is a trip for the entirety of Fukushima. You see, not only is there soccer to watch and cheer about, Saturday night there is an amazing party, kicked off by a pub quiz and charity raffle. All in all, it’s an amazing weekend where you don’t only bond with your fellow Akabekos, but also form friendships with other ALTs from across Japan. So, what are you waiting for? Check out the Facebook Event Page and send an email to email@example.com and sign up now!
As a new JET, I was really excited to get involved in some of the unique festivals in Japan. Higashiyama Onsen is one of the most popular onsen villages in Tohoku for its outdoor hot springs by the riverside and waterfall. お湯かけ祭り means “water tossing festival” where a mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried around all the onsen lodges, and hotel guests are encouraged to splash buckets of their hotel’s onsen water on the mikoshi. Standing on the mikoshi are two girls throwing 5 yen coins, threaded with different colored yarn, representing luck in love, health, and fortune. The girls and mikoshi are carried by a bunch of drunk people, including JETs tall enough carry the bars. Being short, I was only able to touch the mikoshi carrier for maybe 2 minutes before feeling almost trampled. For non-mikoshi handlers, the other option was follow the mikoshi and respond to “Seiya!” (or was it “Shoya”? or maybe “Sorya”?) with the same. Whatever the call and response was, it was a great opportunity to shout at the top of your lungs and let out that genki spirit. Before heading out, everyone is offered a can of beer. This is so you enjoy the moment rather than getting annoyed by all the hotel guests who splash buckets of water at you because they missed the mikoshi. Or because they just want to splash the gaijin. You can even break rank and throw a couple buckets of hot water on the mikoshi (or your fellow JETs) yourself! With the humid summer heat, it was great getting soaked and cooling off on the way to the next onsen.
On August 8th, the culmination to the Iwaki Tanabata Festival, the Iwaki Odori, was held in Taira. Last year, I watched the groups dance in the loop wishing I could join in – this year I got my wish.
The Iwaki International Association dances every year and so this time I joined in. About a week ahead we had a practice evening where we learnt the moves which I was very glad of (they make look simple but they’re a real challenge for the uncoordinated!).
On the day, we met up and changed into our costumes – I (akabeko) Fukushima T-shirts with Hawaiian shirts over the top (you may be wondering about the Hawaiian shirt – it’s actually the uniform for city officials in Iwaki as Iwaki has strong ties to Hawaii). After another quick practice on the sidewalk, we headed to the dance. We would dance for forty minutes, with a short break in the middle. It was great fun! but of course really tiring in the summer heat. People cheered encouragement from the sidelines, and many of my students and ex-students yelled out my name when they saw me! A brilliant experience – if you ever get the chance to join in in any events like this, make sure to raise your hand!
Your first question might be, “What is API AJET?” API AJET stands for the Asian Pacific Islander Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching. Our mission is to provide peer support for the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community in Japan, as well as to raise local and global awareness about the diverse range of issues that face this community. API AJET is open to any and all who wish to share experiences and/or promote cross-cultural understanding through discussions, events, and activities.
My name is Erika Ehren, and I am the Block 2 Representative for API AJET, which covers Fukushima, Miyagi, Niigata, and Yamagata. First of all, let me just say welcome to Japan! I hope you have a fantastic upcoming year. JETs of Asian descent have a very different experience from JETs who are more visibly foreign, and it can sometimes be difficult. If you ever need someone to talk to, I’m here to chat. Feel free to send me an email, and I’m happy to help in any way that I can!
I would also like to take this opportunity to invite you to contribute to the API AJET newsletter called @API. Whether you write creative pieces, have someone you would like to interview, would like to write an op-ed piece, or would even like to showcase your photography, we’re always looking for new voices to feature in our monthly publication. You can contact @API by emailing us at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
If you want to learn more about API AJET, we have a Facebook group called API AJET where you can talk with other JETs about your experiences in Japan and ideas for how to improve understanding and awareness about the API community. If you would like to receive information about API AJET events close to home in Block 2 or in the rest of Japan, you can sign up for the API AJET newsletter by following this link.
Block 2 Representative
Aizumisato, Fukushima email@example.com
Aizuwakamatsu is a fascinating place steeped in Japanese history. Also known as the Samurai City, Aizuwakamatsu brings out the big guns (literally!) for the Aizu Samurai Festival (会津祭り) held every year around September 21-23. The people of Aizu will take you back in time to the Shinsengumi, the White Tiger Brigade, and Niijima Yae, giving you a glimpse into what it was like to watch Japanese warriors ride down the roads on horses, proud and ready for battle.
The main event, the Aizu Clan Parade, takes place on Monday Sept. 23 (a public holiday), but there are many other events leading up to the big parade. Saturday, Sept. 21 will be the lantern parade down Shinmeidori (the main street of Aizuwakamatsu) starting at 6pm, followed by the Aizu Bandai Bon Dance. On Sunday Sept. 22, there will be a Drum and Fife Parade/Nisshinkan Children’s Parade from 10am – 12:30pm, with more Bon Dancing in the evening at 7pm. The main parade will begin Monday around 9:30am and festivities will last until 4pm.
The festival is centered around Tsuruga-jo, the local castle and one of the biggest castles in Tohoku. I’m sure many of you have seen pictures of this famous castle, or you might have even walked the grounds and gone inside, but the Aizu Festival offers a rare opportunity! You can get a tour of Tsuruga-jo COMPLETELY IN ENGLISH! Volunteers from the Aizuwakamatsu International Association (including local ALTs!) will be giving tours of the castle in English for those who want to know more about the history that surrounds Tsuruga-jo and Aizu. If you’re interested, stop by the AWIA booth on the castle grounds on Monday to sign up. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and one that you shouldn’t pass up!
Aizu isn’t just limited to Tsuruga-jo though. Come and see Iimoriyama, Doctor Noguchi Street, Aizumura, and more! (I can go on and on, but I won’t.) So come out to Aizu and enjoy the samurai atmosphere that the locals are so proud of. Can’t you hear the delicious festival food already calling out to you?