お湯かけ祭り

お湯かけ祭り

5yenby Cat Dinh

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.

This event was arranged by the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association.

Iwaki Odori 2013

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!

A Message from API JET

A Message from API JET

api

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 <api@ajet.net>.

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.

erika_apiErika Ehren
API AJET
Block 2 Representative
Aizumisato, Fukushima
api+b2@ajet.net

Aizu Festival 2013

Aizu Festival 2013

aizu_festivalAizuwakamatsu 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?

A Year in the Life…

A Year in the Life…

by Erica Grainger

Looking back at a first year on JET

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: that is the ideal life” (Mark Twain).  Those words ring true when I reflect on my JET experience so far.

erica_horseLooking back, it was only a year ago, but I can still remember arriving in the scorching hot summer of late July 2012 for Tokyo Orientation at Keio Plaza.  I was feeling a little hot and sticky (from the heat and humidity, don’t get the wrong idea) and was joined by hundreds of other new JETs, who were fresh off the plane and a little jet-lagged.  I think we were all feeling eager, nervous, excited, and overwhelmed to various degrees. There were no doubts or fears in my mind, just a sheer feeling of amazement, “Is this all really happening to little ol’ me?”  Indeed, I was one of “the chosen ones” as Xan once told me.

Those early months were full of new and exciting events in Fukushima and it was a whirlwind of constant self-introductions at my schools. I can’t remember how many times I uttered the words, “I’m Erica-sensei, I’m from Australia,” and the amount of times I got asked if I was Michael’s girlfriend.  “No,” we both groaned. We just happened to arrive together in Group A and teach at the same schools and live around the corner from each other…I suppose looking back it does sound a bit suspicious to those innocent young minds (not so innocent trust me).

From the very beginning I knew I loved JET and the JET community….well, they would grow to love me too (hopefully). One of the reasons was due to FuJET.  They ran so many fantastic events and encouraged everyone to get involved and socialize, forming close friendships and a sense of belonging and identity within Fukushima.  For example, who could forget such misadventures as: the Iwaki Beach Bomb and the rite of passage for new JETs (especially Iwaki JETs) – skinny-dipping at midnight.  Other events include the Nagano Soccer Tournament, where I probably befriended half of the opposing teams and met the infamous “growler/grabber”, she was a little scary I must admit!

My first Christmas in Japan, without my family was a very special time and non-traditional in everyway possible.  Firstly, Christmas eve involved a group sleepover (not how it sounds, trust me) and a ‘Cards against Humanity’ evening with lots of laughs and evil giggles with all my new Iwaki friends and Caveman, an honorary Iwaki JET!  Secondly, Christmas Day was celebrated at Baba’s, which meant a huge Indian dinner banquet with curry and chai tea.  My first Indian Christmas dinner in Japan!  It certainly was unforgettable for all the right reasons.

Throughout the year, there have been many amazing events and celebrations like Christmas that capture the essence of being a JET and the importance of friendship.  For instance, I was extremely touched and humbled when my closest JET friends and many other wonderful JETs joined me at Baba’s to celebrate my birthday in February.  Some of them even drove from Aizu and returned home that night! That night was one of the highlights of my JET experience, just being surrounded by some of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.  Thank you all for coming and celebrating with me.  I would love to do it again next year with you and the new JETs!

erica_with_xanFinally, what I’ve really grown to value during my time on JET is not just the friendships you make and the experiences you have, but what you learn through JET and the importance of being resilient to change.  I’ve lived overseas before, but never on my own and my initial plan was to stay for 1 year and return to Melbourne.  However over the course of my first year on JET, through thick and thin and trips to Hokkaido with Xan, Hong Kong, Kyoto, etc.  I’ve grown to realise that my new home away from home is Japan!  I simply know that Fukushima will always be in my heart.  There are far too many marvellous and special people to thank for making my first JET year such an incredible experience, but you all know who you are.  So, thank you all and welcome new JETs – you are all unique!