Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Finding Kansai Events

Finding Events in Japan

Japan has a long and storied history with many traditions, local events, community activities, active support of arts, facilities for entertainment and sites of natural beauty.
Finding and accessing these events has become easier than ever in the age of information.

There are many sources of information, navigating these sources can pose a challenge.
Collecting, mapping, photographing and researching these events is the primary function of this blog. To do so, information is gathered from a number of sites; I recommend each of these highly and the sidebar of this blog (the desktop version) has links to several of these online sources.

Most of these information sources are specialized or represent specific interests. When looking for information about events, the best source of information would be to go directly to the people who organize the individual events as schedules may change, weather conditions may force events to cancel or be delayed, events may cease to function due to declines in resources or special considerations. Information consolidating sites such as this may carry information about festivals that have ceased or changed venues.
This post will look at several sources of information for finding events in the Kansai region of Japan; train companies, social networks, print media, organizing groups, community centers, websites, event facilities and others.

Train Company Materials
In order to encourage people to ride the rails and explore the country. These publications tend to limit their coverage to only places that are accessible via their train lines, or they will suggest their own train routes while competitors routes offer easier/cheaper/faster access to event sites.

  • Nishi Navi. This is a free newspaper that you see at JR stations served by JR (Japan Railways) West. The back cover of the newspaper offers a calendar with sightseeing offerings for every day. Many of these events are museum exhibits but this is a great way to get a sense of events that are available. The information is only printed in Japanese. Looking inside the newspaper you can see a brief description of some of the events and lots of information about resorts, local foods, travel packages, luxury trains and major attractions in far off areas of Japan. Along with the event descriptions the paper lists a contact phone number for most events but no URLs for internet information.
  • K-Press News. This is a free newspaper from the Keihan train company. The offerings are far fewer than JR. The Keihan line is much more limited than JR, but as the line runs through Kyoto this is a good source of information about traditional events in Japan's old capital.
  • The Kintetsu train company has posters at many of their stations which display a calendar with local events. The Kintetsu company serves many rural sections of Kansai so you can find small and remote festivities on these posters. As the Kintetsu lines lead into the countryside you can also see calendars which advise visitors on the forecasts for the blooming schedule of flowering plants. The posters are only in Japanese and usually have small print, so they are easy to miss. The company has a website that has some English information for tourists:

Social Networks
The internet allows for event organizers to share their events and for individuals to share this information and invite friends.

  • Many events take have a presence on Facebook. Usually, Facebook is used in addition to official homepages. Large shrines and temples (such as Osaka Tenmangu, Sumiyoshi or Hasedera) have Facebook pages where representatives share photos and videos of their events, rehearsals and community activities. Groups of expats (such as In Osaka 大阪) share information about gatherings, house parties, hikes, barbecues yard/"sayonara" sales and maintains forums for users to ask questions about life and various services. Expat groups attract a lot of singles and heavy drinkers. Commercial party organizers (such as WhyNot Japan) share information about upcoming events and are similar to expat groups just with more raucous club settings.
  • This website has a popular smartphone app that is popular with travelers. Setting up an account on Meetup helps users find events based on the users interests and physical location. Events are posted on the site by social groups and professional event organizers (in Osaka these are mostly pub crawl staffers, churches and language exchange groups)

Print Media
There are several publications that are putting out the word about great events and most of these publications are free! Unlike the train company papers, these publications are not focusing on events based on their proximity that specific rail lines.
  • Kansai Scene
  • Kansai scene is a free magazine that is distributed to places where You sould expect to see expats; foreign restaurants, international centers (Uehonmachi and Moriguchi), bookstores with English sections (such as the Namba Junkudo), English schools, etc. the magazine is sponsored ny various businesses that cater to foreigners. There is a classified section that readers are welcome to post ads in using the magazines web interface. Frature stories about restaurants, tour destinations, activities and biographical pieces. The highlight of the magazine is the events section which makes a list of regional events in the Kansai area witg information about admission fees, public transit access, dates/times, event deacriotions and (often) website addresses.
  • Kansai Walker
  • Kansai Walker is a Japanese language publication that is one of the most popular local publications, sonyou can find it at bookstores, convenience stores and many waiting rooms. This is a thick magazine dedicated to travel and leisure. Theae magazines cost about 400¥.
  • Hiragana Times
  • This is a monthly magazine desicated to bilingual (Japanese/English) language study aimed at people studying Japanese (but I find it useful when teaching English). These magazines cost about 500¥ and are fairly thin (about 48 pages) but they provide good information about Japanese culture, English conversation materials and foreigner life experiences. Sightseeing information is fairly rare here, especially as the magazine and the advertisers are based in Tokyo. att.JAPAN and att.KANSAI. These are similar to Kansai scene in in style but the att magazines are much more heavy on advertising but you can find some good information about sights and travel destinations among then hotel, resort travel company ads.
  • Japan Times
  • The Japan Times is a very active content provider in Facebook. They often have information about festivals and museum exhibits. If you follow them on Twitter watch out for their free ticket giveaways for museum events.

  • Kansai Culture. The blog you are reading is a compilation of information provided by a wide variety of source.
  • Kansai Scene. The website version of the magazine has become more difficult to extract information from after a recent redesign. Recently the magazine has unexpectedly skipped publication some months which may indicate some internal instability.
  • Osaka Info provides information in English and Japanese (the Japanese version usually has better information). This is a professionally run tourism department page. Their character "Osaka Bob" also provides English information axeoss various social media platforms. 
  • Kyoto Guide. The tourism department of Kyoto has a great website that provides information each month on Kyoto's traditional events and antique/flea market scene. 
  • Google Maps. When using Google Maps you sill notice markers on points if interest (such as public gathering places, shrines and temples) which link to the official web pages for these places. You can check out these pages which usually have information about annual festivals. 
Convention Centers
  • Kyocera Dome mostly serves as a venue for baseball games and music concerts but they sometimes have special conventions there; such as the World Hobby Fair or large scale, interactive 3D illusion art displays.
  • INTEX. The International Exposition Center in Osaka hosts a number of events. Large scale events can fill all the buildings on the campus (such as the Automesse Car Show). The website has an English version but only a few of the international events are posted there. To find the vast majority of the events here you will need to check the Japanese version of the website. Look for the comic markets (Comic City)that appear there about every other month; those events are full of young people in cosplay selling homemade crafts as well as original or fan fiction manga (also a lot of erotic material, which is perhaps why it is not advertised to foreigners). INTEX has a lot of industrial and or niche trade fair events (such as green energy or camper van shows). INTEX has frequent job fairs, at which time you can expect to see a lot of sullen young job seekers putting on suits and making the rounds.

Local Communities
You often see posters on community message boards or on the sides of homes and businesses. watch out for these small postersmor flyers as they often point to small local festivals, events, volunteer opportunities and classes.
  • Kumin centers. Loca l community centers have sports facilities, classrooms and conference rooms. These rooms can be rented out English teachers. The conference rooms can be used for language exchanges or international groups (such as the Fukushima Kumin Center).These centers have pamphlets as well as websites. Osaka city has an umbrella website that indexes many of these centers together in one website.
  • City Hall/Ward offices (even some tax offices). These government offices have stands of pamphlets for local organizations, museums, attractions and services that are useful even for visitors.
  • Yamato-Koriyama City Tourism Association. This small town, south of Nara city, has a good example of tourism website for smaller areas (as opposed to prefectural or metropolitan organizations). Yamato-Koriyama is home to a castle and many temples and gardens.

Yukata Hunting
Simply looking around and noticing gathering crowds and investigating is a good way to find events.
The practice of yukata hunting is means of finding events in the summer. Simply note the people of the trains wearing yukata; most of the time you can expect them to be getting dressed up for summer festivals and fireworks shows.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tempyosai 2017

Heijo Palace Tempyosai 2017

Nara holds an annual tanabata festival at the site of the emperors ancient palace at the end of every August.
The event features a parade of people in costumes from the ancient Nara period modified with LEDs to fit the theme of the event.
The event has stage performances such as traditional kagura dances as well as modern musical performances.
The main attraction of the event atr the evening lights including artistic displays that change each year and attract many photographers.
The huge palace courtyard also features a number of LED and candle light displays including thousands of candles which are
Arranged to represent the Milky Way (Ama mo Gawa or River of Heaven) from the Japanese folk mythes around the Tanabata story.
It is basically a tanabata event so, of course, there are stalks of bamboo for cisitors to hang their wishes on.
Low angle shot of the light art at Tenposai.
Foggy haze obscuring the moon.
Somehow feels very Japanese, like a woodblock print.
2 second exposure.
Note the patterns traced on the ground by the disco ball lights.
You can see the palace in the background.
Low camera angles near flatten the perspective on the candle field setting the candles as an artificial horizon line. 
The light display has a ceiling of wires that look like a luminous web while reflecting the lights.
Near closing time the staff relaxed their restrictions
The core piece of the light display.
Like an enormous Christmas ornament.
Experimenting with lower ISO settings gives greater contrast to the blackened background against the foreground lights.
Stage performances.
Traditional dancers portray a mythical scene.
A masked character as a tengu.
The light art provides a nice background for the performance.
This scene represents a supernatural being who moves boulders blocking a shrine.
A foam "boulder" being moved.
Stage decorations representing a shrine.
Candles arranged to represent the Milky Way.
Visitors in yukata bring selfie-sticks to capture their memories of getting dressed up.
Visitors in yukata.
You can see the moon in the sky and vendors booths in the background.
Projectors cast light on jets of water mist.
Dancers interact of timed events in the projection show.
Wish papers (tanzaku) provide tradtional tanabata decorations.
Smiling face at the southern gate.
Heart design in front of the southern gate.
Southern (Suzaku) Gate.
Parade cart shaped like a crescent moon. Similar to the actual moon that evening.
Ships sailing on a sea of stars.
In the background you can see the southern gate with a train passing by on the Kintetsu line.
Miniature ships (about 2 meters tall)

Architecture, art, lights and candles. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sky Lanterns; Sakai Summer Smile Impact 2017

Sky Lanterns; Sakai Summer Smile Impact 2017
Sky lanterns being released
The Summer Smile Impact is a free festival featuring music and fireworks at Ohama Park near Nankai Sakai station in Sakai City, south of Osaka.
Sakai is a port city and Ohama Park is a large park located between the port facilities and the main train station of Sakai.

The festival seems to have 87% of their funding goal (one million yen/$10,000) with sponsors and people who purchased sky lanterns through the website.
The festival featured about 88 vendors booths, dance music, foam canons, stage dancers, fireworks and sky lanterns.
The sky lanterns were a big draw for the event, with most of the crowds arriving around sunset. Any event with fireworks tends to draw huge crowds but this event was not too crowded. The area in front of the stage still had large open spaces making it an unusually comfortable scene.

The performers were mostly DJs playing hip-hop and electronic dance music. 
There was also a performance by a "hoop dancing" group; they performed dances with hula hoops. That group seemed to be some sort of dance school with a number of children performing.

The sky lanterns were the big novelty for the night. Sky lanterns have a long tradition in China and have been increasingly popular since they were featured in the 2010 Disney movie "Tangled" (called "Rapunzel" in Japan). There have been some concerns about the environmental impact of sky lanterns. The lanterns are traditionally made like small hot-air balloons; a paper bag with a small candle inside which produces the light and hot air. When those lanterns run out of fuel and come to the ground they leave litter and pose a fire threat if the candle is lit or if the paper lanterns catch fire.
Japan, being a country that is characteristically obsessed with cleanliness is naturally averse to such risks, altered the sky lantern design for this festival.
The sky lanterns for this festival were actually balloons (regular, latex balloons filled with helium) with paper coverings to give them the traditional look. The light inside the lanterns seems to come from some sort of flickering LED. The lanterns were also tethered with kite string. There was a countdown for the sky lanterns were "released" and at that time most people kept their lanterns tied down. The lanterns were all tethered at different lengths so they were spread out beautifully over the park. About 30% of the lanterns were simply sent adrift at the countdown.
With modern concerns about air traffic and pollution it is surprising to see enough people supporting a new form of public spectacle to initiate something like this; I am reminded of the disastrous Ballonfest '86 in Cleveland which caused major problems in America.

Below is a video clip of the famous sky lantern scene from Tangled.

The following is a photo journal from the Sakai event. You can click on any image for a full screen slideshow (when viewing the desktop version of the website).

Yatai, vendors booth, at Ohama Park.
The sky lanterns spreading out.
Visitors preparing to hoist their sky lanterns.
A vendors booth selling fidget spinners ("hand spinners").
They have been a popular item this year, let's see if they can maintain their momentum (literally and economically).
Ascending sky lanterns.
Below You can see video from the Sakai Summer Impact sky lantern release. The music being played on outdoor speakers was loud enough to enjoy even as the fireworks were bursting.

Colorful fireworks followed the start of the sky lanterns event.
The bright lights of the fireworks drown out the subtle internal lights of the sky lanterns.
The red fireworks produce a nice color in this photo.
The festival lights create a gradient background to set these lanterns against.
The smoke, atmosphere, lanterns and lens effects all add to a nice scene.
Fireworks bursts with the sky lanterns.
Hoop dancer stage show.

UK Wildcats Cafe.
A restaurant with an oddly specific theme; the University of Kentucky.
This restaurant is located across the street from Ohama Park.

The video below shows a large sky lantern release in the Mojave Desert (between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the USA). Using a desert means that there were fewer concerns about pollution of fire, but the Sakai event was between the sea and an urban area.

The video below shows a sample of the hoop dancers performing on stage with LED hula hoops.