Friday, October 15, 2010

Festival in the Countryside

From Japan
My host parents frequently spend their weekends in the country at my host father’s family property on a mountainside. This weekend I joined them to take part in a small festival involving about three families. As you can guess, it was very small, but sometimes it’s the smaller things that really give you a clearer perspective on what Japanese culture really is.

Getting to the country home took two hours by car. To get there we had to go over the top of the inhabited side of the mountain and down a narrow, winding road down the densely wooded valley side (with no cellular service). To make things more uncomfortable than peering out the window down a nearly vertical drop, there were a few spots displaying signs of minor washouts and mudslides. One segment was even barricaded away from the edge because the earth under the edge of the road had eroded away.

From Japan

From Japan
When we arrived I could finally catch my breath. We unpacked our bags quickly so my host mother could make lunch. I busied myself by taking pictures of the property which was fascinatingly old fashioned. I had been told there was some property damage from heavy rains last year, and I quickly found it behind the living quarters. A small mudslide had toppled one of the smaller buildings. The washout had taken out part of their garden on a mountain ledge above the house. Even though the damage had occurred well prior to my arrival, it still was a bit unsettling. There already seemed to be so many locations showing signs of the mountain reclaiming its space.

From Japan

The house itself is divided up and enclosed almost entirely by wooden slatted, paper sliding doors. The wooden floor is a platform, and a built-in fire pit sits on the side closest to the kitchen (which is in the ground level portion of the house).

From Japan
While we had intended to do a bit of yard work (collecting chestnuts) the light rain on our arrival had steadily grown into a downpour preventing us from going outside. After much homework time and dinner we went to sleep. In the middle of the night something crashed outside of the house, and in the morning it was determined that the fallen building must have broken apart a bit more.

In the morning I helped my host father and his neighbors clean up the shrine for the ceremony before the festival. We returned home for lunch with my host mother’s younger brother’s family. After lunch we all headed down to the shrine where the three (male) heads of the households involved all partook in a short ceremony while the rest of us watched from the side. Afterwards, we all headed inside for a potluck (after having had lunch not two hours before). Everyone hurriedly doled out food, making sure every plate had one of every kind of food shared.

The men all sat on the half of the table with sake glasses. It is customary to never pour for yourself, so everyone pours hot sake for everyone around them. I was glad to not be given special attention, but couldn’t help be amused when a couple of the men commented that I could clearly handle alcohol better than they could (while I wasn’t very surprised given previous observations that Japanese people are highly perceptible to alcohol). A few of my attempts to turn down more hot sake (on the basis that I still had homework to do when I got home a few hours later) were met with pressure because I wasn’t visibly affected by it yet.

After everyone finished eating and sat conversing for a bit, everyone hurriedly cleaned up the tables and cleared the floor. Everyone grabbed a plastic bag, and two of the men grabbed small barrels filled with all kinds of produce and mochi (round treats made from pounded rice). They began tossing the produce in all directions while everyone tried to catch and bag what they could. I’m pretty sure I saw a whole fish fly by at some point (fortunately wrapped in a plastic bag).  Lastly, they pelted us with bagged mochi which I made sure to nab a few of.

We left shortly after because my host mother’s brother was going to bring me back into the city so my host parents could stay one more night in the country, while I could still make it to school. Being able to experience a old-fashioned rural residence is something most other students will not be able to experience.

From Japan

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