Monthly Archives: November 2012

Karatsu Kunchi

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The promised post about Kunchi! First of all, my sister has been begging us to come see Kunchi in Karatsu for ages. So, luckily for me it coincided with a weekend AND Hosei’s school festival so I had the Thursday and Friday before off. So I flew down to Fukuoka on the 1st of November (originally had booked to fly down on the 2nd, but when I found out I had more time off I changed my flight and even got some money back!) which cost 35,000 yen, though thankfully my sister paid me back. Poor broke student living in Tokyo without a job can’t afford that on her own just yet! (If anyone in the Tokyo area is looking for someone to teach English…)

So after a two hour flight, and a roughly an hour or so on a train, I arrived in Karatsu! My sister took me back to her apartment where I proceeded to collapse on my bed due to having had the brilliant idea of staying up til 4 am with my mates in a post disney land disney film sesh. Later we went out and got pizza and I met some of her fellow JET ALTs and then went to an Izakaya. Of course. The next day, Kunchi started.

A quick explanation of Kunchi: essentially it’s a three day festival where these floats (called ‘hikiyama’) are dragged around the city by teams of men, boys and girls (though girls are only allowed to pull the floats until a certain age. And there are two teams where only men and boys can pull the floats). While they pull the floats, a group of musicians sit on/in it and place some music which their float’s team chants the word ‘Enya’ in the girl and boy teams and ‘yoisa’ in the all bloke ones. While they have brief pauses in pulling the floats around, they proceede to drink from several large bottles of sake and get very drunk. There are fourteen floats in total:

1. Akajishi/The red lion

2. Aojishi/Blue Lion

3. The Turtle and Fisherman Urashima

4. The Helmet of Yoritsune Minamoto

5. Tai/ Sea bream

6. Hou-ou-maru/The Pheonix-Shaped Ship (or the Chicken Boat)

7. Hiryu/Flying Dragon (or Dragon Fish)

8. Kinjishi/ Golden Lion

9. Helmet of samurai lord Shingen Takeda

10. Helmet of samurai lord Kenshin Uesugi

11. Shuten Doji/ or the drunken monster and the helmet of Minamoto Yorimitsu

12. Tamatori Jishi/ lion balancing on a ball

13. Shachi/ tiger headed orca

14. Shichichou maru/ dragon headed treasure boat

The floats each belong to a district of Karatsu, and teams from each district pull them in order of when they were made, the oldest heading the procession (Akajishi was made in 1819, so most of these floats are nearly 200 years old), however the last two were made in the same year, and they alternate which one goes at the end during the festival.

The first time they’re pulled around is the evening of the 2nd of November, and then the following two days they are taken out twice a day. On the Saturday afternoon they’re pulled through sand (I didn’t actually get to see this as there were too many people!) and there’s a special closing ceremony on the last outing (again I didn’st get to see this as I had to get on my plane back to Tokyo). It was pretty spectacular I have to say, and seeing traditional things like this is one of the reasons why I came to Japan. Not to mention, not many Japanese people have seen this either! Haha!

Another part of Kunchi is that the women of major families in the street hold open houses. They cook food and serve it to guests as they come in and out of the houses during the day. I went to three open houses when I was there, and the food was amazing! There’s a special fish that they cook for Kunchi, and even me who doesn’t really like cooked fish that much, really enjoyed it!

This is some really yummy sashimi we had. Oma nom nom!

Oh, I also got to hold one of the lanterns during the night parade! I felt very lucky as it’s such Japanese thing and they’re particular about the way people pull the floats look (according to my sister anyone with dyed hair isn’t allowed to pull it, and anyone with tattoos has to wear skin coloured sleeves). But yeah, I was just standing there watching having just drunk a very disgusting kiwi alcoholic drink, and I suddenly pulled into the crowd and given a lantern to hold.  Then people started taking a lot of pictures. I had to give it back once the float moved on, but still I was very lucky!

But if any chance you’re in Kyushu over the 2nd-4th November, I reccommend you go to Karatsu and see this!

Two months down. Day trips begin!

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Well, definitely can say am settled in now. Almost destroyed a kitchen appliance, therefore I am moved in! In the past month, I have been getting down to uni work, attempted weekly gym sessions… so far slightly failed in that aspect, but still better then nothing! Also, I’ve witnessed tradtional singing and biwa performance, still not felt an earthquake and have been attending Izakayas! So far so good.

I have managed to squeeze in a bit of travelling lately as well. I went to Kyuushuu at the beginning of November to see my sister and to witness Karatsu city’s famous Kunchi festival. I’ll dedicate another post to that as it really deserves it. For the time being I’ll just say, it was epic. I’ve attended a Disney Land halloween, which was terrifyingly pricey, but luckily I saved money on bills that month so I could afford to go! Other than that, it was very good fun. Though we all realised how cold Tokyo at night can be. Luckily we have central heating! Oh no…. wait….

The past couple of weekends I’ve been on a couple of day trips. Last weekend I went to Enoshima Island with Sophie. it’s an Island just off the coast of Tokyo/Kamakura, and you can walk over to it via a bridge. It takes about a couple of hours to get to it by train from our part of Tokyo, but it’s fairly easy journey wise. Also it was nice to get out of central Tokyo for a change. When we got there, we bought a day pass for the island which was a 1000 yen (about 8 quid) and with that you could get into all the attractions on the island whenever and how many times you liked. You also got to use the special escalators up to the top of the island. You also get a discount in the shops and some of the restuarants. To go up the island, you walk up a shopping street filled with various food and gift stalls. We decided to try a tub of these teeny tiny whole raw fish. Eyes and everything. YUM! Actually wasn’t half bad after I got Sophie all the ginger poluted ones. So we walked up to the Tori gate, and each got a fortune. Luckily we both got really good ones so we could take them with us, usually you tie the bads one onto a line there to ‘leave your bad fortune behind you’. So we climbed up the island through the various lovely shrines and watched an ‘all round entertainer’ that was funny, but not so special that he does the same show every half an hour. So we strolled through the streets on top of Enoshima, and saw some lovely spiders that I absolutely LOVED, saw an amazing view of Mt Fuji and wandered down to the caves (logically enough, in Japanese, the word ‘cave’ is made of the kanji for ‘stone’ and ‘room’. Makes sense.) After being handed a candle, and left to walk/ almost crawl through the caves to see some buddha/boddhisattva and dragon statues (even Japanese nature isn’t designed for tall people), we emerged back into the daylight. The caves were nice and it’s interesting to see that the Japanese really did just stick shrines anywhere, but I wouldn’t reccomend it if you have back problems.

We then made our way back up to the top of the Island and had a mooch around the ‘Cocking Gardens’ (yes I know….. Straight faces were hard to be maintained). I wondered whether they had gotten the katakana wrong for ‘Cooking’ and then we discovered it was someones surname. Unfortunate. We had a look at the ‘Miami Beach Area’, which in the fast coming, cold, autumn evening wasn’t that Miami like. Then we went up the observation tower, which was brilliant! You could see for miles, one side vast ocean and on the other a mass of buildings penned in by mountains. It was pretty spectacular. After goggling at the view for a while, we headed back to the miami beach area to get a ‘french toast’ desert thing. After waiting for 40 mins or so to have our number called, we, now quite cold, sat down at our outside table to eat. The thought of ice cream no longer seemed good, however, it turned out that the ‘toast’ bit was warm and they also served hot wine, which turned out to be almost mulled wine. Wrapped up in blankets and woolies we had a rather pleasant little meal!

This weekend I went to Kamakura, again with Sophie, my friend Yuki and Ollie and her girlfriend Morgan. It was a lovely day, the sun was out and the leaves are beginning to turn. Autumn is considered to be Japan’s best season, so I’m very excited to see it! We made our way around two of the Zen shrines first, which were stunning. One of them involved walking up a very big hill, but again the view across the valley was worth it. It’s times like this that I realise I came to Japan. After looking at lots of lovely scenery, a couple of national treasures and some tengu statues we went to one of the most famous Kamakura shrines Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. We were a little keen to see this one having heard SO much about Hachiman in the Tale of the Heike (Hachiman is the god of war and stuff. Many prayers to him in Heike) Though it is a great shrine, I went there 5 years ago on the Exchange. After that we were planning on going to the Daibutsu, but it gets dark pretty early here and we spent a lot of time at the other shrines so we didn’t have time. No matter we’ll go back and do it another time (and I’ve already seen it, mwah ha ha haaaa).

That’s my day trips covered then. Still a bit more to catch this blog on but that’ll have to wait as bed is calling me.