Kimonos, (more) Mountains, and Fire Festivals

October started off with a bang, as my school had it’s culture festival… And guess what! I was asked to participate in the kimono club’s stage performance!

First of all, the idea of school cultural festivals is super cool. In Japanese, it’s called a bunkasai (ぶんかさい or 文化祭), and it is a celebration of the various clubs and classes in the school. My school’s bunkasai consisted of two days, the first being a series of presentations in the gym, and the second being a day on which each class put on some sort of entertainment for the rest of the school.

On the first day, all of the students gathered in the gym and sat down looking at the stage. My school got some technical people to come in and help with lights and sound.  The program consisted of various performances, like the caligraphy club painting quickly on huge pieces of paper and displaying them to the assembly, certain classes and groups putting on skits or dances, and even an external (local?) female acappela group coming in and singing for the students.  The kimino club’s presentation was on this day!

I met them in their club room before the festival and the advisor put the kimono on me, which was quite a process. The next few lines are what I remember of the process, which at this point was a month and a half ago so please bear with me if I am wrong! Feel free to correct me in comments! First, I had to dress down into a tshirt and lycra shorts. Then, she put on a white skirt like sheet that she tied at my waist.  Then came a white towel-like thing that she folded around my shoulders to form a sort of collar. Next, came the actual kimono! :D She slipped it over my shoulders and then adjusted the length so that it stopped at my ankles. She only had to fold it over about an inch at my waist since I’m a giant.  Then, she placed a ribbon like thing around my waist that acted as a belt and secured the kimono. On top of that came a wide and stiff belt-like thing that also wrapped around my waist and REALLY secured everything. It was tied pretty tightly and it felt a little restrictive, but also as though somebody were hugging me really closely. :3 Then, the advisor tied a really long sash around my waist, which tightened the wrappings beneath.  She also attached something kind of looped and bulky to the back, but she wrapped the sash around it and created a beautiful bow at my mid-back. Finally, they added some clips to my hair, and I was ready to go! (I was also told to wear white socks because my feet were too big for the special kimono socks).

Then we learned the walking formation for the performance and headed out! :) Check out the pictures!

The advisor of the kimono wearing club was putting my coworker’s pin in my hair – it matched the kimono!
Full view!
On the stage, back view! The bow was really beautiful.

This was a lot of fun! It was a little uncomfortable being in the spotlight on the stage and smiling blindly at the darkness, but when the students applauded and shouted I felt a little better. :) I felt really thankful that they asked me to join their group!

The second day of the cultural festival consisted of booths and exhibitions, and also some performances that I didn’t get to see. The main attraction was the food, which was prepared by each third year class. I wanted to try it all but there wasn’t enough room! There was yakisoba, takoyaki, udon with soup, and a ton of other things. The PTA also made smoothies and crepes! I got to visit my first year students and say hello to them in one of their homerooms, which they turned into a room full of carnival games!

Now, for Mt. Gozaisho part two! Ashley’s friend Luke was visitng from Canada, and Ashley was busy with school things on the weekend, so Justin and I took him up the ropeway and to the top of the mountain! Last time I went up it was really foggy and I couldn’t really see much, but this time around the weather was amazingly clear! We took the train to the end of our line, then hopped on a bus, then walked a little ways to get to the ropeway, which we took ALMOST to the top. We had to walk a little farther, but again, the weather was great.  Here are some shots from that day! Some of them belong to my friend Justin!

The little buildings and shops at the base of the ropeway on our walk from the bus stop to the ropeway! There were many onsen (public baths or springs) in the area, as well as restauraunts. Many of them were built in the economic boom of the 80s/90s but since have been shut down… So kinda like a Spirited Away vibe ahhh! (Justin’s photo)
The mascot of my town, in a wood carving! :3 (Justin’s photo)
Going up the ropeway! This time, there was sun!
You can see some old hotels built into the mountainside behind me! (Justin’s photo)
(Justin’s photo)
1212 meters?! I think?! I see the kanji for mountain there (山) but not really sure a bout the rest… Regardless, look how high up we are!
BUT! This is the real peak! I think I had a shot of this in my previous post about the mountain.
Luke and me! (Justin’s photo)
Below is a clip from the top of the mountain! :)

When we were done sightseeing, we headed back down (ran for the last gondola ride since we headed up there a little late and they stop running the ropeway at a certain time).  We headed back down in time to see the beginnings of a two night festival called Souhei Matsuri! I am not 100% sure what the festival was about, so I’m going to gloss over that part… and show pictures of what we did haha.

Food stalls for the festival!
Some Taiko drums set up, ready for the festival!
We bought these fried egg things – I am not sure what they were, but they had bonito flakes and mayonaise and other delicious things on them!
At this point, there was some kind of prayer ceremony going on.

This video shows the prayer ceremony!

We bought these really awesome cups of sake that were made from BAMBOO! And we got to keep the cups, whaaaat! We were told they might rot but mine stll hasn’t!!

The next day, we came back to the mountain for part two of the festival. Another teacher in the area named Cara invited us to take part in carrying a shrine during the festival. It was wild – we got all dressed up in black clothing, purple robes, head bands, these gauzy ribbons that looked like wings, and carried a shrine around winding streets in the mountainside.  Cara, Khiana, Ashley, and I were carrying the women’s shrine with other women, and Justin and Ashley’s friends visiting from Canada kind of followed along with the shrine. There were quite a few stops where we could get snacks and drinks as well! All of the following pictures are Justin’s (other than the top few), check them out!

Getting ready in the backroom!
 My bow!
All of the women who carried the shrine lined up for a photo shoot. There were so many cameras on us that it was blinding and we didn’t know where to look! It really felt like some kind of crazy celebrity thing. :o
Me, Ashley, Cara, and Khiana with the women’s shrine!
This is the women’s shrine next to the men’s shrine. The men’s shrine would later be lit on fire, and you can see the little torch holders on the top of the drum-like thing!
This photo is funny because it’s the story of my life… Head taller than everybody around me. :'( We were listening to a priest say a prayer before the commencement of carrying the shrine. All the women lined up to listen and be blessed.
My first job was carrying this flag! :D
Trippy shot of the shrine beginning to move forward!
We had all these breaks where we put the shrine down and rested. Many of the breaks had snacks and drinks (including beer!) for us to nibblle on.
And then I carried the shrine too!! :D
And this… was the men’s shrine!!! :o From far away – so beautiful!
Embers on the ground!! These were falling off the shrine as they walked!
At the the end they had fireworks!! :)
When we got to the top, we waited a bit to see the men’s shrine come up, which was totes magotes on fire. Ours was just heavy, but theirs was dropping sparks and flaming pieces of wood onto their heads and onto the ground, which they then stepped on. It was absolutely crazy.

So that string of days was pretty awesome. (: It was a good start to October! We were sad to say bye to Ashley’s friends but excited for fall weather and the leaves that were beginning to change color… and for…

KYOTO!!!! (coming up VERY SOON :DDD)