Higashiyama Onsen Water Throwing Festival – by Nathan O`Meara

I’ve seen my fair share of festivals since I moved to Fukushima two years ago.  While festivals always make for a good time, it often feels like I’ve done it all before.  Every festival seems to have the same yatai (food stalls) offering the same varieties of food, generally accompanied by a parade, fireworks, or a bon dance.   As a result, it’s the ones that shake up this formula that usually stick out in my mind.

This year on August  8th, a large group of JETs went to see the annual Higashiyama Water Splashing Festival (東山温泉お湯かけ祭り).   The premise of the festival is straight-forward, a large group of people carry a mikoshi (a portable shrine) to each of the onsen hotels in Higashiyama.  At each stop, people throw water from the onsen onto the shrine, as well as all the people carrying it.  While just watching the spectacle can be entertaining, the real reason this festival is memorable is the fact that bystanders are free (and often encouraged) to participate.

At the start of this year’s festival, the group of 20 or so foreigners sheepishly followed the shrine around, occasionally throwing buckets of water onto the shrine.  By the third or fourth hotel, an older Japanese man approached the group and asked if we’d like to help carry the shrine.  5 or 6 people said yes, and the rest of the night we rotated in and out of carrying the shrine.  At the final hotel, beer and onigiri were provided for anyone who helped out.

For people who missed the festival this year, make an effort to make it out next year, I guarantee you won’t regret it.  It’s one of the most exciting festivals the Aizu region has to offer.  I do have a few words of caution though.  If you’re tall, don’t get too excited about carrying the shrine.  Even at 6 feet (183cm) tall, I was taller than most of the Japanese guys carrying the shrine, and had to squat down a bit while carrying the shrine.  Any taller than that and you’ll have a hard time.  If you do carry the shrine, be prepared for a sore, bruised shoulder.  And be prepared to get wet.  Even if you’re just throwing water on the shrine you’ll be soaked by the end of the night.  If you want to stay dry, you’ll have to watch from a distance.

Whether you want to carry the shrine, throw water, or just watch the madness around you, this festival allows you to participate at any level.  While this festival might not be particularly large or well known, it’s one of the most unique that I’ve seen.   Next summer, when you’re making plans for August, give this festival some consideration.

Reflection on Fukushima’s Soma Nomaoi Festival by Renata Janney

Reflection on Fukushima’s Soma Nomaoi Festival by Renata Janney

Although we are well on our way into fall with this recent weather, let’s take a look at this past summer and start looking forward to next year! 

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Centuries ago, the samurai lords of the Soma region released wild horses into their soldiers’ ranks to simulate enemy soldiers.  That event has since evolved into the Soma Noma Oi, Japanese for ‘Soma Wild Horse Chase’.  This horse race is the main tourist draw for the Soso region and one of the best festivals Fukushima has to offer.  I visited the Soma Noma Oi for the second time last month, and once again I found it to be a great visit.

The hardest things for most FuJETs trying to visit the Noma Oi is transportation and accommodations.  Minamisoma, the city where most events are held, is not connected by rail to any town except Soma, and the small town’s few hotels fill up quickly.  I was able to take a bus from Fukushima city to Minamisoma and stay at a friend’s house there.  If you’re not lucky enough to know anyone in Minamisoma whose floor space you can take, talk to your friends in Iwaki or Fukushima-shi, both of which are within two hours’ driving distance of Minamisoma.  Once you are in the city, you can either brave the heat and walk or try to catch a ride on the free shuttle bus between the festival site and Haramachi Station.

11973487_10153651572228336_1816436171_oWhile the Noma Oi is a three-day, Saturday-to-Monday event, the main events happen on Sunday morning and early afternoon.  First off is the parade.  You get to watch all of the horses in the race pass by, with riders decked out in beautiful samurai armor.  The trick is finding a seat with a good view, but out of horse-kicking range!  The second event is the big race, where riders in armor and flags attached to their backs race around the track.  This event is cool during the actual races, but there are long breaks between the races for awards ceremonies and such.  The final event is my favorite- the flag catching!  The race officials fire bright flags into the air, and the men and horses run around trying to catch them!  Even if you’re high up in the stands, it’s fun to watch.

The Soma Noma Oi is a great event that every FuJET should go to at least once, but know that this weekend always seems to be the first big scorcher of summer.  Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and tons of water.  If you’re prepared and don’t mind getting sweaty, you’ll have a great time!  If you’re a photo person, be sure to bring your camera and get some great shots!

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A big thank you to Renata Janney for writing this article! 

 

 

Nagano ALT Soccer Tournament 2015 Interest Poll

All right everyone! Spring is just around the corner and with it– one of the most famous ALT events in Japan! The Annual ALT Soccer Tournament in Nagano! This year’s autumn tournament is the weekend of October 3rd! Two days of soccer, one wild night of dancing, pub quiz, and meeting ALTs from all across Japan, and a curry-lunch on Sunday! We’d love to send teams (men play 11 a side, women 6 a side) and have team Akabeko kick massive amount of booty! Please take a minute and help us out by filling out this form so we can gauge the interest and see if this year’s ass kicking is a go!

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You can read more about the event and previous tournaments at these links!

Official Tournament Site

2011 Event Information

2013 Event Information

2013 Event Recap (Where the Fukushima Girls were the Champions! And the boys got an A for effort!)

Aizu Hongo Pottery Market

Aizu Hongo Pottery Market

On August 2nd, I woke up at three o’clock in the morning, rolled out of bed, into the car, and drove to Aizu Misato town. The Hongo Pottery market was that morning, and it started before dawn at four in the morning.

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Even that early, there were so many people ready to take advantage of the great deals on pottery! That’s some dedication!

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Tons of pottery, both locally made in Aizu and from all over Japan, were laid out in booths.

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The competition for good deals was fierce, and some shops were practically sold out by 8 am.

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There were plenty of interesting displays!

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At the Soma pottery booth, the stall owner was kind enough to paint us their famous horse mark on some calligraphy paper! She’d been painting these on potter for over ten years, and so knocked out one picture in less than five minutes!

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The finished products!

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Time for a break with some green tea and traditional sweets!

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Aizu-Misato’s town mascot, Aizu Jigen!

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What I walked away with in the end. I got some great bowls in a beautiful blue and teal glaze, a wind chime with hydrangeas, some little flower magnets, a blue and silver mug, and a painting from Soma. I think it was worth the early morning wake-up!

The Lucky Island September 2015 Events

The Lucky Island September 2015 Events

Name: Hinoemata Kabuki

kabukiDate: Saturday, September 6, 2015

Area:  Minami Aizu

Time: Seating starts at 6pm, performance starts at 7pm

Price: 1,000 for day-trip people; free for those staying in hotels in the town

Address: 〒967-0521 福島県 南会津郡檜枝岐村 字居平

Details: Watch traditional Edo-period Kabuki that has been passed down by Hinoemata villagers for more than 260 years. It is held in an outdoor theater and will only be cancelled due to heavy rain. It is only accessible by car and a bit out of the way, but I am sure if you ask nicely, one of the Minami Aizu JETs will let you crash at their apartment!

English Website: http://www.aizu-concierge.com/map/spot/10133/en/

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Name: Aizu Fruit and Flower Festival

Date: Sunday, September 13th

Area: Aizuwakamatsu

Time: 9am – 1pm

Address: Yasuragi Firefly Park

24 Miyanohigashi Kitaaizumachi Shimoarai  Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken 965-0111

〒965-0111 福島県会津若松市北会津町下荒井宮ノ東24

Details: Although the name says it is a fruit and flower festival, it appears to be more like a farmers market. Kita Aizu is known for producing great agricultural foods, so if you are looking for some cheap, delicious fruits, vegetables and other produce, stop by!

Japanese Website: http://www.aizukanko.com/event/174/

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Name: FuJET Canyoning Trip

Date: Friday, September 18th – Sunday, September 20th

Area: Gunma

Time: Friday evening – Sunday evening (depending on your pick up location)

Price: Check out the Facebook event for more details, but I guarantee it is worth the money!

Address: Gunma! You don’t have to worry about the address, our chartered bus will shuttle you there and back from a select number of stations (Fukushima, Koriyama and Aizuwakamatsu)

Details: Get your outdoorsy on with river rafting, paragliding or bungee jumping – after you are sent splashing down rivers and jumping off cliffs first, of course.  Check out the Facebook event for more details!

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/131376433870348/

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Name: Aizu Samurai Festival 2015

Date: Monday September 21st – Wednesday September 23rd

Area:  Aizuwakamatsu

Time: Lantern Parade: (Mon.) 6pm – 7pm; Obon Dance: (Mon. / Tues.) 7pm – 8:30pm; Drum and Fife Parade (Tues.) from 10am; Aizu Clan Parade (Wed.) 9:25am – 3pm

Address: near the castle and all around that area. It is hard to miss. The closest station is Nanukamachi Station. Aizuwakamatsu Station is the closest major station, but is a further walk to the castle. You can also catch a bus from the station to shinmei or the castle.

Details: Aizuwakamatsu is known as the Samurai City, and with good reason. Thick with history, Wakamatsu pulls out all of the stops every September 21-23 and takes you back to a time of the Shinsengumi, White Tiger Brigade, Niijima Yae…the time of Samurai. This is one of the BIG festivals that Fukushima is famous for! Some of the events to look forward to is the lantern parade (Mon.), Obon dance (Mon., Tues.), Drum and Fife Parade (Tues.) and the Aizu Clan Parade on Wednesday, which is the main event.

 

There should be a Facebook Event page sent out soon for more information!

Japanese Website: http://www.aizukanko.com/kk/data/2015aizuguide07.pdf

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Name: Abukuma Cave Autumn Festival

Date: Saturday, August 26th – Sunday, August 27th

Area:  Kenchuu Area

Time: 10am – 4pm

Address: Abukuma Dou (Cave)

Higashikamayama-1 Takinemachi Sugaya

Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture 963-3601

Details: Celebrate Autumn with some stage events and food! What makes this festival unique is that it is set up in front of Abukuma Cave, so you can do some cave exploring at the same time! Or you can do a little more serious spelunking in the nearby, less touristy Irimizu Cave (check out the article I wrote about it here!)

Japanese Website: The 2015 event is not posted on their website yet, so here is the 2014 one for reference! http://abukumado.com/archives/432

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Name: Raramyu Yosakoi Dance Festival

Date: Sunday, September 27th

Area:  Iwaki

Time: 10:30am – 4:30pm

Address: Iwaki Station, South and West entrance areas.

Details: Enjoy the yosakoi festival dance that is popular all over Japan and the world! There will be over 20 teams participating from all over the prefecture!

Japanese Website: http://www.lalamew.jp/index.php?module=View&action=EventMore&EID=591

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Name: Furudono Sumo

Date: Saturday, September 12th

Area:  Iwaki

Time: 11am – 5pm

Address:  37.091872,140.598579

Details: Get your Sumo on. Literally. Who wants to just watch sumo when you can actually be a sumo? Or watch your friends body slam each other in nothing more than a loincloth? How about winning some prizes? Come over to Iwaki and enjoy a day in the mountains with other Japanese spectators and participants. It is a lot of fun, lots of drinking (spectators, we recommend you bring some! Participants, you will probably get more than you want.), and all around a good experience. Unfortunately the wrestlers are male only, but women, you can admire some farmer tans and more skin than you probably wanted to see from your male friends. Also – this IS a traditional Japanese event (not a tourist trap) that we have been graciously invited to, so please be respectful of the rules and the Japanese people participating / spectating at the event.

 

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/879008128852378/