Monday, 21 September 2009

Nio Doll Festival

Today I took a daytrip with my colleague Taoka-sensei.

This is a terrible picture of myself but I want to show you Taoka-sensei because she is so wonderful. I love her and Taoka-sensei loves life. She enjoys growing vegetables,going to square dancing classes and "laughing until my eyes spout tears". She sits behind me in the staff room and I can always hear her chuckling away to herself. Her e-mail address is laid.back.mama;the perfect description of the kind of lady Taoko-sensei is.

Today we took a trip to a small fishing town called Nio for the town's annual Doll Festival. Nio is apparantly the sunniest place in Japan. Hinamatsuri (The Doll Festival) is a day to pray for young girls' growth and happiness. Most families with daughters, display a set of dolls on a tiered stand in their home and decorate it with peach blossoms. Like this:

The Doll Festival is a national festival on 3rd March but the town of Nio celebrates Hinamatsuri on 21st September. Hundreds of years ago, Nio Castle was attacked and taken on the 3rd March by feudal lords from Kochi prefecture hence why the event is not celebrated on that day.

The whole town was decorated so beautifully. We walked up and down the little streets where we could see shop fronts and houses displaying dolls to show traditional Kagawa folk tales. Everybody in the town was really excited and proud of their Doll Festival, it was the nicest thing to see.

The displays were sweet but I didn't think that the dolls were that beautiful. I preferred the dolls made by children in the local primary school. They were so colourful and made me smile so much:

There were lots of signs dotted around the town saying that there was one particular shop at which there would be a mechanical, moving display of a folk tale! At 1pm, the shop was filled with chattering old women and children, waiting in anticipation for this newfangled take on a very traditional Japanese custom. It was hilarious. At 1pm sharp, from behind the curtain of the display, out rolled a stuffed toy tortoise on a pair of wheels.The wheels were stuck onto the bottom of the tortoise, making him look somewhat futuristic. I have seen this tortoise in the 100 yen store, so I suspect that the town of Nio may have had a smaller budget for this year's festival. Balanced precariously on top of the tortoise was one of the traditional clay dolls. It was the most incompatible pairing I have ever seen. So anyhow, as the tortoise reached the top of the display, the clay doll fell off onto the floor which prompted lots of 'ohhh zannen desu!' 'ehhhh?!' from the audience. Many of the old ladies looked genuinely upset. It was the funniest thing , especially given the numerous signs encouraging people to come to this wonderful event.

There was also a Japanese drumming performance which was dead good; the drummers were in perfect unison for the entire performance. The drumming was interspersed with lots of hearty yells from the drummers.

For lunch, I tried Nio's local dish; rice topped with shredded egg, seaweed, a little orange and seabream which had been made into a paste. It was delicious. I love the carrot cut into a flower shape.

One of the folk tales I learnt about today is that of Taro the Fisherman. I think it is really whimsical and beautiful.I don't want to forget it, so I am going to write it down. If you want to read the tale, please do, I would love to know what you think of Japanese fairy tales. If you are not a dreamer like me, skip the next few paragraphs!

Long ago in Japan, there lived a kind young fisherman called Taro. One day when he was walking along the seashore, he saw some boys hitting a large sea turtle with a stick. He told the boys to release the turtle back into the sea. The next day, Taro was out fishing when he heard a voice calling his name, "Taro, Taro". It was the large sea turtle who had come to tell Taro that the Sea Princess wanted to meet him to thank him for his kindness. Taro jumped on to the turtle's back. He had heard of the palace under the sea and had always wanted to visit it. The turtle took him to the deepest part of the ocean, to a magnificent palace of coral and crystal.

Taro had a wonderful time at the palace; there was fine food, dancing and singing recitals by the fish. After a few days however, Taro began to feel a great sadness in his heart. He missed his family and his village, so asked to return home. The palace people were saddened by Taro's request. The Sea Princess gave Taro a parting gift; a beautiful jewel box, tightly bound with a red cord. "Don't forget me, Taro", said the Sea Princess. "Keep this box with you and never open it. That way you will always remember me. Do not forget!" Taro bowed and thanked her repeatedly. The turtle started off, moving slowly through the water, for he did not want to say farewell to kind young Taro. Soon, the palace was out of sight and Taro was back on the beach of his village. He recognized the rocks offshore, the curve of the beach and the Ebisu shrine not too far away. But the other buildings were not the ones he knew, and many were unlike anything he had ever seen - not as wonderful as the Sea Palace, but every bit as strange. His own hut had been near the shrine, but there was nothing there now.
After a period of confusion he decided to ask an old woman who was slowly making her way down the path toward him. "Good morning, may I ask you something? I was looking for the home of Taro."
" Taro?", replied the old woman "When did I last hear the name of Taro? My grandmother told me that her grandmother told her that she had heard the story of Taro, who lived in this village 300 years ago. A kind young man, but he disappeared before he could marry. Ah, don't they all! I don't think I've seen you before. Who are you staying with? My grand-daughter could stand to meet a nice young man, but they don't come to this village often."

Taro thanked her and walked back to the beach. He had left his home for the Sea Palace three hundred years ago?! He sat on the sand and longed for his village, the village he had known, but realised that not even the fastest sea turtle could take him there. With that, he took out the jewel box; perhaps this could help him. With difficulty, he removed the tight red cord, and raised the lid. There was nothing inside but a white mist, which rose, its tendrils curling slowly in the air. He breathed it in and smelled the mat in his hut, the salty wind of storms he had escaped, the fish he had cleaned, the wine he had offered to Ebisu-- the box held the 300 years Taro had lost, and as he breathed them in, he became a very old man.

Here I am with Taro and the Sea Princess!

The Sea Princess was so beautiful :-) They gave me painted sea shells to make wishes and this bag of oiri sweets; small rice puffs flavoured with cinnamon - delicious

I really enjoyed the festival. One of the things I wanted to do in Japan was to learn as much as possible about a culture that is not my own. I learnt heaps today and I loved the folk tales so much. In the evening, Taoko-sensei drove me back to her house. Taoko-sensei lives very traditionally; The house has sliding doors and tatami mats, there are bonsai trees in the garden, and her mother and father live in the house next door and grow vegetables. All the vegetables that Taoko-sensei and her husband eat are grown by her parents. We ate watermelon and figs grown by her mother, they tasted so good. It felt great to be eating watermelon in Japan without paying over thirty pounds for it!

Taoko-sensei collects yukata and kimono and she was really keen for me to try some on. Initially, I felt a little reluctant - although I can't put my finger on the reason why, seeing foreigners dressed in the native costume of another culture always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Taoko-sensei was so excited however, that I couldn't refuse. She spent ages picking out different ones, taking pictures and cooing "Ooooh sugoi! Kawaii!" Here I am:

My trip to Kobe, seeing lots of handmade things today and reading this blog everyday: are really inspiring me to do creative things again. I have been writing lots of letters, making things for my lessons and I am making a felt cake (utterly pointless, but it is nice to sit, sew, listen to music and see felt, thread and stuffing, slowly but surely, become something beautiful) Tomorrow, my friends who live in Okayama are coming to visit. I am having a great Silver Week :-)



  1. so now you will be teaching me about japanese culture.sugoii!!many hugs izabela

  2. I've started being crafty again too...i'm learning to crochet and i've just started making my very own patchwork quilt...i hope it turns out nicely :) I found the folk tale about Taro a little sad...he did a good deed but he ended up losing everything he loved...unless he gets it back when he opens the box...but he was told not to open it...I found it a bit confusing really...perhaps because I'm not Japanese! I think you look very nice in the Japanese outfit though :) x