Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Kishiwada; Kansai's Rowdy Danjiri


As the teams pull the danjiri around narrow streets and tight corners you can expect a few collisions.

Inflatable danjiri balloons were popular this year and a group of kids in these photos, who were already in costumes, recreated the Kishiwada tradition; with pullers, runners and whistle blowers. They even recreated what Kishiwada is famous for... danjiri crashes!

The danjiri festivals in Japan often involve elaborate ladies hairstyles as part of the pageantry of the event. At Kishiwada the style is typically tight braids that draw the hair close to the head so that it does not flail about.

A man in the crowd was drunk and disorderly but the Japanese police officers deescalated the situation with patience and smiles. Good job Japan!

Pokemon Panic at the Aquarium!!

Tempozan is a popular attraction in Osaka, with a shopping mall, museum, Ferris Wheel, park and a major aquarium (Kaiyukan). September 19th, "Respect for the Aged Day," a public holiday in Japan. While people were enjoying the day off and Tempsosan was hosting The World Performaces Fair.

Pokemon flashmob
Around 4pm, hundreds of people suddenly appeared, all of them playing Pokemon Go. Many of them were serious Pokemon trainers who were using multiple devices (two phones, or a phone and a tablet) and following social Pokemon mapping apps and websites that point them toward locations that have rare Pokemon.
Pokemon Panic at Kaiyukan!
Pokemon Go fans, drawn to the Squirtle (Zenigame), Dewgong (Jugon) and Hitmonchan (Ebiwalar) reports, would react to Pokemon tracking sites and swarm to specific location. In this video hundreds of people are seen sprinting to a small side road parking lot, slowing traffic and bumping into each other while creating a real life spectacle for non-Pokemon bystanders.
Security staff spoke into megaphones and put up sandwich boards cautioning not to walk while looking at smartphones

"Searching far and wide"* - even in a typhoon
*lyrics from the Pokemon theme song
Even as night fell and typhoon began to roll in the pokemon trainers, often times in family groups, remained. When a wild Gyarados appeared near docks there was a mass dash to that location; although the Gyarados only had 37CP.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Automesse; Custom Car Show in Osaka, Japan

Automesse Car Show
Automesse is an annual event at INTEX, the international expo center in Osaka.
The event focuses on customized cars but also features major manufacturers who bring out concept vehicles.

Car show girls
The booth models are a major attraction at car shows. Models, hired by exhibitors, will be brought out at intervals during event and pose for photos. 
The models often wear themed outfits and pose for everyone at regualrly scheduled intervals. Very rarely do the models have other tasks but you may see a few handing out promotional material.
Some independent models will ask for contributions and make themselves available to photographers who can then request specific poses. Other models try to promotevthemselves on social media by displaying their Twitter handles.
Swarms of photographers gather around the models during the brief model session, creating a competitive situation in which you occassional see old men getting very angry over perceived slights (blocking a camera or bumping into someone).
Racing exhibits

Some racing companies display their cars and some drivers are brought out for photos and staged interviews. This includes some foreign drivers.
"Ita" cars are a popular type of customization in Japan which features large decals and artwork usually around a theme of anime girls.
The term "ita" comes from the word "ittai" (痛い) meaning "painful" and is a joking salute to the "eye-sore" nature of these flashy cars.

Japanese trucker culture
Featuring elaborate, expansive art with traditional motifs this trucks often look similar to the tattoos of Japanese gangsters.
The tractor and trailor are combined and have enormous numbers of running lights making these trucks look like a rolling casino.

Customized exteriors
Customized car shops show of their handiwork with gold and crystal covered cars, carbon fiber, ground lights, rims and more.

Vintage Cars
In addition to modern vehicles there is a showing of a few classic cars.

Custom Parts, interiors, audio and entertainment systems
Exhibitors who specialize interiors show off lighting, specialized seats, custom upholstering, entertainment systems and over powered speakers.

Software developers display their race simulators with elaborate displays where players can sit in fiberglass units with large LCD screens, specialized controllers and built in speakers.

Expo booth art, displays and performances
Works of tangible and performing arts are displayed by exhibitors including this lion made of shredded tires. Some stages host musical performing arts to attract attention, including acrobats.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Japanese Summer Traditions; Are young people actually doing this?

Japanese Summer Traditions

There are certain things that permeate a culture to form nostalgic images, idealized standards and stereotypes.
Summer has a very particular set of images associated with summer; wearing yukata, eating watermelon (or more specifically, playing suikabari), going to festivals...
These images are often reflected in advertisements, product packages and anime.

Are young people actually doing this?

As an English teacher in Japan I took a survey of my high school students, asking them about about their activities diring summer vacation. I felt surprised by some of the results. These numbers represent high school seniors from an Osaka suburb class (only 25 kids).

I visited my relatives for obon: 8%
I wore a yukata: 12%
I ate watermelon: 36%
I ate soumen noodles: 68%
I had a part-time job: 12%
I rode a shinkansen train: 4%
I went to the Tenjin Festival (the biggest summer festival in Osaka): 16%
I caught a fish: 0%

These numbers make me wonder if young people, in general, are moving away from observances of some traditional activities. Are these traditions quickly fading away?

As a foreigner, it is expected that your preconceived notions will be challenged while living in a new culture; some Japanese people probably imagine Americans wearing cowboy boots, shooting guns and eating hamburgers.

Are there any other English teachers who have surveyed their students about participation in traditional culture? What questions did you ask? What was the response?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

8.8 million person disaster drill

Every year Osaka prefecture stages an emergency drill for everyone in the area.
During the drill, the government tests the tsunami and earthquake warning systems including sirens and the cellular phone system's warning service.
The drill is called the 8.8 million drill in reference to the population in the Kansai area who are affected by the drill.
The cell phone warning are transmitted through all phone service providers and varies depending on your location at that moment. Each local municipality transmits instructions relative to the severity if the emergency and availability of emergency facilities.
The drill encourages citizens to be prepared with their personal supplies and  emergency plans.
Before the drill, the city publicizes the drill details, including the date and EXACT time of the test, with many posters around the city.
Students take time out of class as school staff announces the oncoming test and asks students to turn ON their phones.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

武道祭; Osaka Martial Arts Festival

The Osaka Martial Arts Festival


The Osaka Martial Arts Festival is an event that started in 1996. It serves as a showcase event where various martial arts federations come together to give demonstrations. Some of different the martial arts represented: kendo, karate, naginata, jukendo, kyudo, iaido, kempo, taekwondo, judo and kobudo. 

なぎなた    Naginata; the Japanese halberd 
This is one martial art where you will see few males. This discipline has, classically, been the preferred martial art for Japanese ladies since the end of the warring states period.
The exhibitions include practice routines, swings, demonstrations of target points, competitive matches in bogu, and demonstrations of rhythmic naginata. The rhythmic naginata portion of naginata has become a growing part of all public naginata demonstrations, where the participants (mostly girls) perform choreographed routines to recording of lively music (often western pop music in English).

銃剣道 Jukendo; Japanese bayonet fighting
Jukendo is a rare martial art and this is one of the few places where you will have a chance to see a public demonstration. Many of the practitioners at this demonstration were association with the military. Jukendo protective has some differences from kendo bogu: a broader throat covering, a thick covering over the left shoulder and gloves that independently articulate trigger fingers. During the jukendo demonstration there were demonstrations of the basic scoring points, kata and a demonstration matches between two fighters with bayonets as well as a match between a bayonet and a short sword.

古武道 Kobudo; ancient martial arts
This group is actually under the umbrella of the Kendo Federation. Kobudo refers to some obscure and rare martial arts. It includes jodo (a straight staff) as well as the sickle and chain.

The event is held on National Foundation Day, around February 11th at the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium, near Asashiobashi station and is free for spectators to join. Organizers often give out free promotional merchandise (pens, notebooks, clear file folders...).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tsubosakadera; the temple of eye health

Tsubosaka Temple, is a mountainside temple in Nara Prefecture near Tsubosakayama station. It was founded in 703 and is formally known as Minami-Hokkeji (南法華時) which is how you may find it on maps. The name of the mountain and the temple, Tsubosaka ( 壷阪 ), meaning  "jar slope," refers to a mystical jar, made of lapis lazuli crystal, that was discovered near there by the founding monk, Benki Shami, when he heard it "singing" out to him. The temple became associated with fantastical healing abilities. Around the year 717, an empress who had become blind from a disease, called upon Benki Shami to treat her. The empress recovered her eyesight and provided funding for the construction of octagonal temple building.

The temple has a huge statue of the Buddhist figure Kanon which stands over 20 meters tall.

Kanon is a renown for mercy and healing. The statues of Kanon, in particular, are known for helping people recover from eye diseases. The construction of the temple For this reason there is a giant pair of eyeglasses sitting in front of the 3 story pagoda. Visitors are encourages to walk laps through the glasses to grant a year of eye health (like a specialized version of the chinowa seen in Japan).
The temple has a strong connection to India. The art style of the stone relief carvings and the stone buildings all show a strong Indian influence from as that was the original home the Buddha. The temple itself still holds an ongoing relationship to India. You can often find vendors from India who sell crafts and curry cuisine. The temple has been involved with charitable missions to India to treat leprosy.

Tsubosakadera, was given the formal imperial name of Minami-Hokkeji, so that is how it is seen on this map: 南法華時. The temple is about 4km from Tsubosakayama, but there are buses which run from the station to the temple.