Archive for March, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Monday, March 31st, 2008 by Steph

About a week ago, Chris and I returned from a 9-day visit to Okinawa. Instead of outright telling you about the complex awesomeness of the place, let’s see if our new vocabulary gleaned from the trip paints a vivid enough picture.

Of course, there’s all the uniquely Okinawan things you’ll find there: umibudou, awamori, chanpuru, gusuku, ryukyu, utaki, tebichi, habu, togyu, sanshin, bashofu, bingata, mozuku, rafute, beniimo, eisa and shisa.

But several other general-use words adhered themselves to my long-term memory as a consequence of the trip, including: hade (gaudy), kaesu (to return, as in a car), yakeshimashita (sunburned), kokusai (international), suizokukan (aquarium), yatai (a food stall without walls), yakimono (pottery), ei (ray), haka (grave) and jietai (soldier in Japan’s self-defense force).

Create a mosaic in your mind’s eye with that vocabulary (and these pictures), and we’ll return soon to provide the narrative.

Media Madness

Monday, March 31st, 2008 by Steph

A few months ago, Chris and I were contacted out of the blue by an editor at CityWeekend, an expat newspaper in China. He found our photos on flickr, and asked if either of us would be interested in doing some travel writing. As improbable as this solicitation sounded, the inquiry was legit, and I now have a published article to show for it. It’s so beautiful how Flickr brings people together. You can read the article on cherry blossoms in Japan here:

Also, the next podcast with PodAsia is up. This episode is about sacred Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture. The podcast includes an interview with a monk as well as Buddhist chanting and shamisen music. Check it out, episode 93:

I Can’t Hear You

Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Chris

As you surely know if you follow us religiously (and who doesn’t?), Steph and I have been playing with Noshiro Belabo Taiko,* a local drumming group, since last summer. We’ve had a few performances around town, and have gradually gotten better as we settle into the physically demanding technique that this activity entails. But as much fun as we have had, I don’t think anyone would describe us as “hard core.”

Well that all changed last weekend, when we attended a two-day taiko workshop on the nearby Oga peninsula. This is a yearly event put together by Akita-area taiko groups, where master senseis come and impart their wisdom to us regular Joes.

Most of Belabo attended, including all three of us foreigners (Frank, Steph and me), and we were happy to see a few other JETs from around the prefecture as well.

There were a variety of courses to choose from. Being the manly men that we are, Frank and I chose the ?daiko (???, literally “big drum”) course. We even went so far as to purchase the biggest sticks we could find for $25. This course consisted of seven guys and the teeny instructor (Go sensei, who I believe was 27 years old) who whipped our asses into shape. After the first day’s three-hour session, I had more blisters in a smaller area than I had ever known possible. Fortunately the second day (and four more hours) didn’t make them much worse, thanks to some strategic taping.

Steph took the “new song” course, which is the general one for experienced players who don’t need to develop any particular skills. Since most of the people attending the weekend are experienced players, “new song” was by far the biggest course with around 85 people.

At the end of the first day, everyone (about 130 people altogether, as Go sensei gleefully kept reminding us we’d be performing in front of) gathered at the conference hotel and got together for a giant dinner and drumming party. A huge tatami room was lined with four rows of exquisitely apportioned individual dinner tables, complete with every kind of gross seafood you could ever not want to eat. After the food was out of the way, the room was cleared and a rollicking drum party commenced. I hope there weren’t any other guests in the hotel because this was one seriously loud party. (I love a country where you can even have drumming conventions in a room with paper walls.) Each visiting taiko group got to get up and play a piece, and there were even a few widely-known pieces where everyone who knew it was able to get up and play whatever drum was available. At the end of the night, a spontaneous pulsing beat started up and everyone was either dancing or drumming. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in Japan.

We all dreaded the second day, with our bleeding hands and sore muscles. Fortunately it was less painful than I had feared, and Sunday afternoon closed up with a fun performance where all the classes showed off all the fancy skills they had acquired over the weekend. The ?daiko performance was a big hit (am I right, ladies? <wink>) and the 85-person new song was amazing. If you ever get the chance to see 85 people beating the crap out of some big drums, don’t pass it up. Here is a postage-stamp-sized video (starting with Steph at the very beginning!) taken with my cell phone from the second floor:

New Song

Although the pain and fatigue were intense in the course of the workshop, we had a huge amount of fun and are excited for next year. Perhaps then I’ll take a decent camera and get some better pictures and videos.

* If you follow that link, there is a (very bad) picture of us on the front page! It’s our first performance after we had been playing for all of two weeks. ?

There’s Something in the Air

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008 by Steph

Some of us here in Akita have been quite startled over the past few days.  Looking up, there’s blue, and looking down, no white.  Scarves are no longer a do-or-die necessity.  I’ve traded in my white polar bear jacket for something a little lighter.  We’re definitely past the depth of winter, and I’m a little sad about it.