This weekend, I went to Okayama to see the Hadaka Matsuri; the Naked Man Festival, which was held in a town called Saidaiji, just outside Okayama city. I'm really glad that I saw this; hundreds of loincloth clad man, running around a temple and crushing together to dispel their misfortunes, in the cold, bitter Japanese February is something that I am unlikely to get the opportunity to see again.
The festival began with hundreds of men dressed in fundoshi, running through the little paths of Saidaiji shouting 'Washoi! Washoi!', which apparently means 'enhance yourself' (manly) and ending up at the temple.
Once at the temple, they did a bit more running around and some more 'Washois!', with a nice little dip in the water. I suspect that this part might have been a window of time in which the men mustered up the courage for what they were about to endure next...
The most exciting part of the evening was when the clock struck ten. By this point, all of the men had gathered inside the temple. I have never seen so many scantily clad men in such a small space in my entire life. Look at them!
At ten o'clock, all the lighting in the area was turned off apart from the lights inside the main temple, which looked eerily beautiful. Pieces of wood called shingi were then dropped from inside the temple. Those who catch the shingi are said to have a year of good luck. When the shingi are dropped, all I could see was an ocean of flailing arms and a crush of men falling over eachother and down the temple steps. I was quite a way back from the main temple, so the sight of falling men actually looked quite graceful and beautiful - like a set of lovely man dominoes.
By the end of the night, my feet felt less like feet and more like little lumps of ice encased in boots but I had such a fun time watching the Naked Man festivities. I also loved all of the little food stalls, bedecked with lights that lined the streets. If I had had more time, I would like to have tried some of the sweeties that were being sold - there should always be time for sweets.
On Sunday, after a green tea/white chocolate muffin and coffee breakfast, Iain and I spent the afternoon pottering around Okayama. I love Okayama, it's a real city and somewhere I should really take some future jaunts to, especially given that it is only a forty minute train ride across the bridge. It's a really contained and attractive little city, with a beautiful river walk and gardens. It also has clothes shop aplenty....wonderful clothes shops. The kind that make my eyes light up. The pleasurable quest for spring and summer clothes is about to ensue and I bought a beautiful crisp white broderie anglais top, I love it.
The plum blossoms were out on the trees at Korakuen Park...soon the cherry blossoms will be on their way...Sunday was the first day that I was able to walk around without my coat on. I am so happy to say goodbye to winter for another year, I feel a little jaded by it.
School has been up and down lately. I've had days of true happiness at Josei with my classes of sweet natured students. I really look forward to seeing my classes there, and I feel like I am actually doing my job;an average job of it mind, but nonetheless,I leave each class knowing that at the very least,I have taught them a set of new phrases on a given theme and have enjoyed being in their company. I haven't been enjoying my classes at Maruko at all lately; I've had a string of disastrous lessons complete with scrutinising teachers and obnoxious seventeen year olds, but exams are coming up this week, so I shall attempt to erase those disasters from my thoughts.
I feel excited about the next couple of months. The weekend after next, I want to go back to Osaka and one weekend later is the beginning of my two week Spring holiday. Iain and I are going to Okinawa. I'm looking forward to dipping my feet into the sea and trying Okinawan food. Okinawan cuisine is said to be very different from the food on the mainland in that it has some Taiwanese influences. I especially want to try the kinugoshi tofu; it has a really soft, almost silky texture with a nutty flavour, yum yum. On my return from Okinawa, I have another five days in which to do something fun. It looks like whatever I do will be on my own, which is unfortunate as I would much prefer to have company. Any suggestions as to what I should do? Here are my thoughts, please help me to decide. I want to go somewhere where I can have an enjoyable time, despite being alone.
* more exploring here in Japan (though it will be really expensive, and I want to save for Golden Week)
* take a jaunt to Seoul
* go to Hong Kong
I need to decide where to go in Golden Week too. I want to go to Vietnam more than anything, but the flights are either very expensive or all sold out, boo. Perhaps Thailand...
Tomorrow, I have a day off school. I'm going to go to my favourite cafe here in my little metropolis, catch up on some letter writing and do some reading. I've been doing lots of reading these past few weeks. Because I don't feel a great deal of job satisfaction here, I often get pangs of fear that my brain will turn into a vacuous lump of jelly so I am trying to read as much as I can. Any recommendations (or offerings!) would be lovingly welcomed :-)
I've been reading loads about the Kowloon Walled City recently. It's one of the strangest, most fascinating human settlements I have ever come across. Apparently, because buildings were so high and densely packed together, sunlight did not reach the floor, which made for a haven of deviant activity. I want to find out more.
Here's Vivian and I - on our matching bicycles, outside the lovely ginger tea cafe. I love my little town and my lovely friends here so much. <3
Ohh, and something very nice happened today...I have a mandolin! Maruko has a music festival coming up in three weeks time and I am going to play with one of my classes, so I have been leant a mandolin. I have wanted to play the mandolin for so long. I am so happy, I love it :-)