Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's Fun to Hang Out with Japanese People

There's no time like the summer time/fall for a festival! Eating shaved ice and getting wicked sunburned while little kids run around eating candy and screaming gives me such fond memories of the 4th of July or any county fair of my childhood. The difference here is that summer festivals feel like this window of opportunity to see people let loose a little (and this seems to make a huge difference for a people who seem ultra-composed most of the time). This is a festival I just went to with one of the teachers I teach with in a small town to the west of Kagoshima city. I ate lychee slushy and drew a mountain scene on a tile and watched little kids in various costumes being forced to perform and couldn't have been happier.
What is cuter than Japanese kids in uniforms? Nothing. Ok, Japanese kids in uniforms and hats with chin straps. There you go.
These kids were carrying the kid-version of Shinto shrines to offer thanks to various spirits and gods for the rice harvest. Woo hoo!

Once and while when I am walking home from the bus stop or wandering through my neighborhood I see little kids playing on playgrounds wearing this kind of hat. Wow, it has a chin strap so it doesn't fall off and a neck flap so you don't get sunburned on the back of your neck (yeah, it really hurts to get sunburned there), or at least that's what I figure its for.
Jumping on ahead, this is what it is like to get really drunk and become convinced you can karaoke to Shakira to impress your new Japanese friends that you can sing in Spanish. Whoops.
Karaoking friends! Ultimately anything goes...they forgave me for Shakira, so I went on to some Mariah Carey and no one will ever forget that...
In mid August there was a fireworks festival (Hanabi Matsuri) in Kagoshima city. For an hour or so they set off fireworks over the bay and they actually were pretty impressive. Everyone got real dressed up for the occasion. Young women wear summer kimono called yukata that are much more lightweight than kimono and they put these snazzy bows on them. If they want to be super cute they curl their hair real big and have a small clutch to go along.
People are often very supportive when I take pictures of them. These guys were so delighted they gave me some free ginseng drink that tasted like wood and absynthe.
The Hanabi Matsuri was the first time that I saw people eating in public. In Japan it is taboo to eat in public (as a Japanese friend whispered to me "that's what poor people do!"), which I find to be fairly inconvenient if you want a snack on the go, so that is yet another Japanese social code that I don't abide by. But here we have lots of stands selling all kinds of treats. What a great feeling to walking around with a stick of grilled pork in one hand and a beer in the other and just oggle the fireworks and the people!
More yukata from behind. I just can't figure out how they tie those bows!
More people delighted that I am pointing a camera at them. Also, no Japanese person can take a casual photo without their friend the peace sign. I don't know why... I've tried asking people "Why does everyone like the peace sign so much?" but maybe that is just a ridiculous question in itself.
To jump topics a little, here is some sushi with charred mayonaise. Japanese people have a huge mayonaise shaped hole in their hearts and I'm not really into it. Conveyor belt sushi is the way to go, its real cheap (I get make it out of there having eaten 'til I'm full and had some sake for no more than $12) and the food comes at you on a conveyor belt! It's really interesting to experience what kinds of sushi exist here that don't at home and vice versa.
For instance, baby squid on rice, and its hard to see it, but in the background is mayonaise tuna with corn. Yeah. Also they are really fond of a sort of cottage cheese with corn wrapped in nori (the seaweed wrap) and most kinds of sashimi can come with mayonaise on top that has been lit on fire by the chef. I haven't gone there with the tuna and corn, but the charred mayo on fish isn't that bad...
I love a trip to the grocery store at home, but here I feel like I am young again. So many wacky things to look at and really delicious foods! I usually go to at least one grocery store a day to just check out what they got or wander around hypnotized by the florescent lights. Ha, a lot of aisles have little movie screens with cartoon characters that convince you to buy a certain kind of yoghurt or chips.
Back to the festivals, here is some okonomiyaki, grilled cabbage egg and other goodies.
Grilled mochi and squid. Delish! You just get that squid stick and really chew on it for half an hour and you feel like you really accomplished something.
Making Japanese friends, Part II. One day Philip and I were walking through a park and saw a group of people drinking red wine. While wine is available here, its not too great and for some reason Japanese people think that all red wine should be served chilled... But anyway, we were really drawn to it after weeks of only rice or sweet potato alcohols and were invited to join the party.
We ended up having dinner at a shabu shabu restaurant. You get a big bowl of boiling broth and swish thinly sliced raw pork through it until it cooks and then dip it in a vinegar-y sauce and its like a dream.
This is called nabe, a big pot where you cooks lots of veggies, mushrooms, tofu and meats in a broth and presto! Incredible soupy goodness!
The meat before cooking it! Mmmm.

Here is a video of the cutest kids in the world, doing the cutest thing ever - playing tiny drums!

video

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