The festival came to an end Monday night with a two-hour fireworks display. To Americans, that sounds excessive, but it was actually quite nice. It wasn't a continuous barrage of explosions; instead, it was a series of vignettes, sometimes just a single firework and sometimes a grouping, separated by short breaks (up to several minutes).
The relaxed pace and long show meant that families set up picnics where they could hang out, chat, eat, drink, and watch the fireworks together, and we did, too. Unfortunately, since we didn't know exactly where they would be launching, we set up our picnic where a utility pole would be exactly in the way. Oh well, next year we'll know!
It's been so hot and humid in Kitakami for the last week that, most days, we haven't been able to see the mountains west of town. We got a brief respite on Saturday morning, courtesy of a perfunctory downpour from Typhoon Usagi, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached us. We also had a little baby earthquake, for anyone who's keeping track of natural phenomena in Iwate-ken.
Because it's so muggy, nothing sounds particularly good to eat. We've been relying on the old Japanese standby, zaru soba
. Zaru soba
is cooked buckwheat noodles, chilled and then served with a dipping sauce. The dipping sauce is based on tsuyu
, a combination of dashi broth, soy sauce, and mirin (sweet seasoning), and flavored as you like with ginger, green onions, and wasabi. Normally, zaru soba
is served on small mat-lined trays, which we currently lack because, well, we have no space for them. Here's a photo:
Incidentally, although we have a vague working theory, we have no idea who Big Stif is, or who the brave person is who did something with him/her.
isn't the only dance performed during Michinoku Geinou Matsuri
, but it is the most famous.
The first big event of Michinoku Geinou Matsuri
is the Mikoshi
Parade. More than one thousand children march, chant, and whistle in groups while hoisting their hand-made mikoshi
, or demon heads. The amount of energy on display was astonishing.
In final preparations for the opening of Michinoku Geinou Matsuri
, various performance groups were unloading their large demon head creations from the world's tiniest trucks. Later they would march, chant, whistle, and hoist the demon heads up and down with great enthusiasm. Some of the demon heads looked quite fierce, others were rather abstract, and then there was this cartoony guy.
I'm not 100% sure, but I think he is Oni Marukun
, a character created 13 years ago to promote a school. After the school opened, he was adopted as a mascot by the Kitakami tourism bureau because his design is based on the city's Onikenbai
sword dance demons.
Are We Ready For a Matsuri?
Lanterns? Check. Banners? Check. Rented flood lights to illuminate the dancing demons at night? Check.Michinoku Geinou Matsuri
("North Country Performing Arts Festival") starts tomorrow. This is a major festival of Kitakami, and is famous for Onikenbai
, the "Demon Sword Dance". The three-day festival officially starts tomorrow, and ends Monday with a grand fireworks display.
Westerners traveling to Japan, especially the more rural areas, usually hear about the "Gaijin Stare" before they arrive. The Gaijin Stare occurs when a native Japanese, well, stares at you because of your foreignness. This phenomenon is likely not unique to Japan.
At just over two months in residence, I've grown accustomed to curious looks or questions about where I'm from. Many times, my Amerika-jin-ness doesn't come up at all. Matthew gets more attention than I do because of his height and The Moustache. The Moustache attracts wonder, awe, and on unfortunate occasions, laughter. A couple of weeks ago, it got laughed at by two separate groups in the same afternoon. The Moustache felt sad, turning its pointy tips down (or maybe that was the effing heat and humidity). Matthew confessed that this had happened previously and that it gets old.
Today, I got the full Gaijin Stare treatment, and it was kind of unnerving. I was putting my bags into the car after leaving the grocery, when I looked up to see the woman in the car across from mine staring at me. And I mean STARING. Open the car door -- staring. Close the door and move to the driver's door -- staring. Get in the car -- staring. Buckle seat belt -- staring. I did look up from what I was doing at one point to see her looking off in a different direction, but when I looked up to leave the parking lot -- staring. Even when I looked directly at her, she kept staring unblinkingly.
I don't know why today was different. Maybe others have stared and I just haven't noticed. I had my hair up, so it's not like I was rocking the curls, which might be stareworthy (Sidebar: Living in Kitakami has been FANTASTIC for my hair -- it's all bouncy and curly! Now I just need to hope for a decent stylist when the time comes.). Maybe it was because, in heels, I was standing about 5'9", or considerably taller than your average Japanese woman. Or maybe she actually was staring at my handbag, making it the Accessory Stare, known to women worldwide.
Our previous spider
has moved on, and this one came to replace it. We discovered it in the morning, which is a bit more auspicious. (Later, I saw it again at night. This spider seems to offer 24-hour service.)
Its web is really quite distinctive, too - the center is kind of fluffy, with a vertical "ladder" of thick webbing extending above and below it.
Sign Sign Everywhere a Sign
You Want Fries With That?
This is in Mizusawa, a small town south of Kitakami. And no, we didn't stop here for lunch.