Thursday, October 25, 2007

Matsuri, The Traditional Japanese Festival

Before coming to Japan I knew very little if anything about Matsuri 、Japan`s Traditional community festivals, but it has come to be one of my favorite aspects of Japanese culture. Matsuri are held all throughout the year to celebrate a whole range of subjects, such as the solstice 、changing of the seasons, historical events and just about anything. There are national festivals celebrated by everyone, and most communities has local festivals also. Some of them date back hundreds of years, and some are very new, having been stared in the last few years.
Because Saitama city is the result of the amalgamation of many former cities, there are several annual festivals held here. I got to experience the Omiya  and Iwatsuki Matsuri and the newly formed Saitama city matsuri. Iwatsuki is famous in Japan for traditional Dolls, and as a result the Iwatsuki Matsuri is a doll festival, which includes a huge replica of the traditional Japanese doll wedding arrangement, but with real people. There is a competition and the winning couple gets to have their wedding at the festival, dressed as traditional dolls.

                       Iwatsuki Matsuri

The Saitama citizens festival has only been around for a few years, since the formation of the city, and is a Dragon festival, with each ward entering a dragon float which is paraded around the Super Arena area. I had the great opportunity of participating in the festival, and helped carry the giant 80m Snake (gunnies record for longest bamboo snake). Great fun! But I had a sore throat for days from yelling Washoi (kind of like,
heave ho I guess) for hours at the top of my lungs.

Me at Saitmatsuri with one BIG snake

By far the most entertaining and oldest Matsuri I went to was in the nearby city of Kawagoe and has a rich history dating back many centuries. The festival involves parading giant Dashi, wodden carts covered in ornaments. The cart usually has a large doll on the roof, and houses a band of small drums and a traditional flutes, as well as a single masked actor. There are dozens of Dashi that parade around the streets, playing music. If two of the Dashi should meet along the way, they have a musical battle, each one trying to put the other off beat. The Masked actors also have a mock battle, trying to intimidate the other with dancing and miming. It is an amazing sight to see these 16m tall wooden carts dueling, and the actors can often be quite hilarious.
                Two Dashi mid-duel at Kawagoe Festival

                           A full scale

If you ever get a chance to go to be sure to try and get to a Matsuri if you have the chance, you wont regret it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Still Alive

Ok, Ive got to admit it, I`ve been a total failure at keeping up on this Blog, and I`d be surprised if anyone is still checking it, but if it means anything, I have been having an amazing time over the past five months. Roughly the entire time since I posted last time, until now, I have been undertaking my traineeship at Saitama city council, very soon I will be putting up a post about the local government system and environmental management in Japan, and the differences with Australia. (I mean it, I really will post)
Saitama is a great part of Japan to be, Its about 30mins from Tokyo by JR rail, and is home to about 1.2 million people, many of whom commute to work in Tokyo. Since Ive been here I`ve worked in over 20 different departments at Saitama city hall, roughly spending a few days at each one. This can be extremely tiring at times, meeting new people all the time, going on site facility tours and answering the same questions over and over, but it is also an amazing learning opportunity. Most of my training is undertaken in Japanese, which was very difficult at first, but gradually go to the point where suddenly It snapped in my head and I could take in the main point of what was being explained to me nearly all of the time. I have been doing home stay whit a Japanese family too, which is very useful for picking up the language quickly. The time has gone so incredibly quickly, I knew it would, but now looking back and realising I only have one month left, it is almost scary how much time can seem to speed up when you are having an experience like this.
Anway, I honestly promise to post again soon, with a more details about my training, place Ive been to, festivals visited etc,
thanks, and sorry ;-)
Andi san,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I have not posted in quite a while, I`m sorry about that. There has been lots of Japanese language exams, speech contests group projects etc at JIAM lately so I haven`t had much free time. Last week however, we did go on a study tour to Kyoto, and visited many famous sites. As you probably know Kyoto is another former Imperial capital of Japan. In fact is was capital form about 794 right up until 1868 when power was transfered to Edo (Tokyo). Whilst there was visited Kiyomizu-dera (pure water temple), an 8th century temple, with a waterfall near by that is said to cotain pure water with healing properties. We also visited Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Temple) which is a pavilion entirely covered in pure gold leaf. It is a pretty amazing site, as you can tell from the photo to the left. Originally it was build as a villa for the Yoshimitsu Shogun, however years later his son became a Buddhist monk and converted it into a temple. The picture below is from the large beautiful garden which surrounds the temple.

Next we visited Nijo-jo the famous residence of the Tokugawa shogunate. It was built relatively close to the imperial palace as a show of power by the shogunate, as historically there was tension between the imperial court and the shogunate as to who would actually control the Japanese government. It was at this sight that the administrative power was eventually handed back to the Emperor, culminating in the Meji restoration. The castle is also the site of the famous `nightingale floor` mentioned in Australian author Lian Hearn`s novel Crossing the Nightingale Floor. Under the floor boards, metal struts are installed, so that as you tread over them they make a noise, alerting body guards to the presence of any would be assassins. Photography is prohibited in the inside of the castle, but the photo below shows the elaborate gate at the castles entrance.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Nara, Japan`s First Capital.

Yesterday was Saturday so during my break from studies I took a trip to Nara, the first official capital of Japan, and home to no less that 8 UNESCO world heritage sites. To put is simply, It was amazing.The highlight by far was visiting Todai Ji, and ancient Buddhist temple which has history dating back to 728 AD. The building above is the Daibutsu Den, the largest standing Wooden building in the world. Amazingly, it is only 2/3rds the size of the original building, destroyed centuries ago. It houses the massive Daibutusu Statue, a staggering 14.98 meter tall statue of the Dainichi Daibutsu (great cosmic Buddha). It is impossible to explain the massiveness of the hall and the statue until you have been inside and seen it for yourself. The photo below has people in frame, at the bottom right, which gives some idea of proportion.

Another very impressive site was the two Nio guards at the main entrance gate to the temple. The are 8m tall wooden statues of almost daemon like protector / guardians, found at the entrance to many Japanese Buddhist temples. These two at Todai ji are said to be some of the most impressive Nio you can find, some of the finest examples of wooden sculptures in the world. Unfortunately, the protective wire that surrounds the statues ruined my photos, but a good one can be found here: It is definitely worth checking out.

A huge number of Deer can be found all around large parts of Nara, the Shinto belief is that they are messengers from the gods, so they have been granted special protection. Today they remain in huge numbers, very close to the main city, which is quite amazing. I grabbed a shot of this family having a rest on a piles of leaves in the park.


So we traveled by shinkansen for about 3 hours from Tokyo to the Japan International Academy of Municipalities (JIAM). The trips we great, and along the way we got an excellent, almost totally clear (which is very rare I`m told) view of Fuji San, which was great.
JIAM is located in the small town of Krasaki, which is part of Otsu. It is only a short walk from BiwaKo, Japans biggest lake, which provides much of the drinking water for Kyoto and Osaka.

Years ago black bass were released into the lake, and now are a major pest. there is a lot of recreational fishing in the lake, but the local don`t like the taste of the bass at all. Strangely similar to North Queensland where we have Tilapia, a major pest in our fresh water systems, which is widely eaten through out Southeast Asia and Africa, but the though of eating one would be quite repulsive to most Queensland's. Otsu is just over the hills from Kyoto, and not too from from Osaka and Nara also.

Whilst at JIAM I am studying Japanese language, so that I may have a basic conversational level to build upon when I move on to Saitama to undertake my traineeship. The classes provided are excelentand the facilities and life at JIAM, whilst very structured and scheduled, are great also. Getting to learn a bit about Japanese language and culture, and getting to know the other trainees here has been an excellent opportunity. While my language skills are progressing slowly, and we are still very much at a basic level, I will stay at for aprox. another month yet, so there is plenty of time for improvement. 日本語 とても むずかしです。(Japanese is very difficult!!)

Also, I ducked into Osaka the other day and went to the 8 story camera store near the station there and picked up a camera, so I now have some of my own photos to show you. the one below is of the hills from my dorm window at JIAM

Well Not Quite Saitama Yet.

I finally arrived in Japan on may 20th after much anticipation and preparation. The first few days were spent in Tokyo going through the program orientation and being shown a few sites around Tokyo by Clair staff. This included a visit to the Nation Diet (paralemt house) which was very interesting. In spite of it`s sheer size and vast skyscraper clad sky line which was to be expected, I was very surprised with Tokyo. It was incredibly beautiful, not to say that I did not expect it to be as such, but for different reasons. The weather is very mild at the moment and the city is extremely green, with avenues of ginko (and other) trees lining the streets. From my short three day visit, mostly around the Akaska area, the city appears to be very green! I also visited Ginza, which was an awe inspiring experience. If you get a chance to go, make sure it is at night, all the gargantuan buildings totally lit up are like a much cleaner, more beautiful scene from `Bladerunner`, if that makes any scene to you. Unfortunately at that point I did not have a camera on me yet, but I gnabed a public domain image of the web which gives you a little bit of an idea. After my three days in Tokyo it was into the shinkansen and onto JIAM................