November 2011 - Vikingess Voyages

Monday, November 28, 2011

十日戎:I'm gonna be a Fuku Musume(福娘)!

12:50:00 AM
Today I went to Osaka for an interview in the Imamiya Ebisu shrine regarding the upcoming Toka Ebisu festival that is going to be held in January. 

The interview was for a role as one of the so-called Fuku Musume (福娘), or what one could translate to something like the Daughters of Luck. We are going to be shrine maidens at a famous festival called Toka Ebisu, which is taking place in the Imamiya Ebisu shrine in Osaka in January. Here we will be selling lucky charms to people who wants their businesses to thrive. 
Each year there are apparently more than 3000 girls applying, so the competition is tough. That is to say, of the 50 girls who are chosen to become Fuku Musume 10 of the girls are foreigners. And since the number of foreigners applying is way below the number of Japanese applicants we gaijin do have a big advantage here.

Anyway, out of the foreign girls who was chosen to be a Fuku Musume, one of them was me!

Which means I will have some pretty busy weekends from now!
There is going to be various arrangements before the festival in January, like for instance a TV interview this upcoming Sunday. So I've decided to keep this first blog-post short, and come back with more information and pictures later.
Stay in tuned;)!
Me in the official Fuku Musume-kimono for January 2012

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

8 Months After the Tohoku Earthquake: Trip to Ishinomaki

12:55:00 AM

As you probably already know, in March 2011 Japan was hit not only by one of the most powerful earthquakes in history but also an enormous tsunami. More than 20,000 people lost their lives, not to mention all the damages and all the people still without homes. 
The areas around Sendai (to the north of Tokyo) were among the places hardest hit by the tsunami, and many of the nearby villages were completely destroyed.

The media has mostly gone quiet when it comes to the people in Tohoku, but their need for help is definately still there. This weekend I took the trip to Ishinomaki-shi right outside Sendai city to take a look at the situation there, to do some volunteer work and to gather information for my thesis paper.

It was quite a strange experience to actually go up there and see what it looks like for myself.
I was quite lucky; my adviser at Ristumeikan had introduced me to Izuhara-San who has been volunteering in the Sendai area twice before and was planning to go volunteering again. We decided to go together, and since he already had been there before he also had some contacts willing to help us getting around. His friend, Sannou-san, did us the favor of showing us around in Ishinomaki, which is one of the areas where the damages were the biggest. And trust me, there is still a long way to go when it comes to the recovery of the area..
Kadowaki Elementary School (門脇小学校): Gasoline from cars carried by the tsunami caused curtains and trees to catch fire. Today the school looks like a ghost town.
Kadowaki Elementary School seen through a broken widow
Flowers and teddybears
Though there has been done a lot of cleaning, and the place doesn't smell in the way it apparently did in the months after the earthquake, it was still a shocking experience to see the villages totally viped out, the destroyed and burnt-out school buildings, or the flowers remainding you that it was not only buildings that got destroyed..
Items left by the tsunami
Still, the locals are working together to make progress, even when it is just small steps. A couple of months after the tsunami, the people of Ishinomaki experienced another flooding. This time it was a typhoon, and people who finally had had their houses dried from the water caused by the tsunami had to go through the frustration of water-filled houses once again.. As a consequence, a lot of volunteer groups are now cleaning the grounds and drains to make sure that the water will flow easier back to the sea if another typhoon were to occur.
Volunteers cleaning up the areas in Ishinomaki
Still after all these months you can still see the traces of the natures forces; it was both frightening and amazing to see how the big wave had left traces in places you would never believe a wave could ever reach.
Even though Japan is being known as fast to handle situations like these, there is no doubt that the traces of the tsunami will be hard to wipe away anytime soon.
A big can by the road side
A road that disappears into the ocean

Tanigawa Elementary School
The road to Tanigawa Elementary School (谷川小学校) is totally destroyed
Tanigawa Elementary School is on a cliff high up over the sea. Still, the tsunami managed to reach the building and leave it in ruins.
Trees sticking out of windows in the second floor.
Luckily at least this story had a happy ending: Apparently all the children of this school managed to escape.

It's Not Just Mud
I had contacted Jamie, the leader of the volunteering group It's Not Just Mud, before going to Sendai, and he had agreed to participate in my interviews for my master degree thesis. So after our trip around Ishinomaki me, izuhara-San and Sannou-San decided to go to the volunteer groups location to do the interviews. We really felt welcome when we came there; one of the first thing they asked us about was if we had a place to sleep. Which we actually hadn't got already, so we gladly accepted their offer of spending the night at their base.
After a trip to the local sentou (bath house) we went back there, and I got the chance to spend most of the evening doing interviews. I think that all of them really helped me with interesting insight that I'm sure will come in handy when I write my report. I'm really thankful!!

The group consists of both foreigners from all over the world, and also some Japanese people, both locals and from other cities. I was impressed to see their engagement; some of them even commuted to Sendai every weekend from Tokyo to help out, even though they were working full-time during the week.
I can promise you that you'll make some good friends for life if you spend some time volunteering here; the bond in the group seems to be strong. Besides, It's Not Just Mud already has the facilities and equipment needed ready, so if you want to help them out by volunteering there really isn't a lot you need to worry about.

Some of the members of the volunteer group It's Not Just Mud.
Currently the group is stationed in a couple of the houses that are still standing after the tsunami.
Although I thought it would be terribly cold in Sendai, it is actually not as cold as it has been in Kyoto lately. This might be because the volunteer group had done a great job insolating the house they are staying at, so it did not feel as cold as it does in Kyoto.
For those who wants to volunteer, the group already have the necessary equipment available.
The group is doing a lot of different work in the community. In the start they concentrated on cleaning out houses filled with mud from the tsunami and taking down destroyed houses, but these projects are mostly finished by now. There are still a lot of things that have to be done, and right now they are working on projects to do the daily life easier for the survivors of the earthquake.

Okawa Elementary School
As you all know there are a lot of tragic stories that can be told about the earthquake and the following tsunami. One of the schools with the biggest losses was Ogawa elementary school. Seeing this school was probably one of the things that made the biggest impression on me. The school is situated quite far from the sea, and I'm pretty sure nobody ever though that a tsunami would pose a threat to the school or its pupils. There is a mountain behind the school, but the distance is long, and it must have been hard to escape. 70 of the 108 children lost their lives, and one is still missing. Almost all of the teachers that were in school that day lost their lives too.
津波到達点: A sign that marks how high the tsunami hit the land.
Okawa Elementary School seen from the highest place the tsunami reached.

We also visited a school where they have been collecting items found in the area that still haven't been picked up by anybody. Here a big hall was filled up with everything from photographies to purses and books. Worst was it to see the typical red rucksacks used by Japanese school kids, all lined up.
I wonder if their owners will ever return to pick them up..

Further we stopped by a local community hall, where we got to take a look at a bus left by the tsunami on the top of the roof. If it weren't for the damages one could almost believe that it had been parked there..
A bus that had been swept away by the tsunami on top of the local community house,
View from inside the community house
Lastly I want to show you guys a picture of an Eon-mall in Ishinomaki. Even though it does not look like it is something out of the ordinary, this place was filmed when the tsunami came washing away the cars at the parking lot, and the video has been broadcasted all over the world. I have posted the youtube-video underneath so you can see how it looked like when the tsunami came.
The area around the Eon-mall has recovered from the tsunami.

As you can see, there has been improvements. Actually we did get to see a lot that had become better during the last eight months. But still I think it is necessary that we do not forget about the people in the Tohoku area just because the media does not write a lot about it anymore.
Ishinomaki has been deemed safe in terms of radiation, and I do recommend anybody who has got the chance to take the trip to the area to volunteer.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ritsumeikan School Festival 学園祭 2011

11:16:00 PM
 This weekend it was time for another school festival at Ritsumeikan University, more specifically at Kinugasa Campus, where I am studying. The campus had been nicely decorated for the occasion, and the whole place was filled with people. And not just students; there was a lot of kids, and what seemed to be parents or grandparents too. Clearly the festival was popular among all generations.
Ritsumeikan's east school gate decorated for the festival
Some more decorations on campus
Me, Yuki, Asami and Yuji at the school festival
The Rits Fes, the name of this festival, is one of the biggest events at school, especially for people who are active in interest circles (サークル) or or clubs (クラブ). This is the chance for them to show off what they have been practicing the last year or semester, and also a chance for them to earn some money by selling different types of food.

Stands where members of the different activity clubs and circles are selling food 
On the Kinugasa Campus there was small stands everywhere with people selling anything from typical Japanese food such as oden, yakisoba and takoyaki, to more western food such as sausages.
They do also have small flee markets spread around campus, where one for instance can support volunteering groups by buying second-hand products. Some of the volunteer circles also sold products that had been made by locals in countries like Cambodia or the Philippines.
A volunteer circle selling second-hand products
Another special thing about the school festival is all the performances; every thing from live music to various styles of dancing, people who has specialized in jump rope entertainment. The clubs and circles have been practicing really hard for this festival, and it is quite impressive to see them in action.
Traditional Japanese music being performed

On campus you could hear not only traditional Japanese music, but also a vide range of Western music.
Dancers having a show at the main stage
Live wrestling show

..with quite some action..
New of this year was that people had found more creative ways of getting the visitors to use money. One could pay to get a massage, or to play a game of the Chinese board game Mahjong. And with tattoos still being a bit taboo in Japan, it might have seen nice to many of the Japanese to get a henna tattoo instead since it can be easily removed..
Those interested could try a quick game of Mahjong
Or just have a relaxing foot massage.
An overview of the west side of campus
The only bad this about the school festival is that it makes it quite hard to concentrate when you are in the library or the research room to study, because there are so much noise outside! Haha.. Since it was in the weekend I guess it still was a nice excuse to take a brake in the studies though.

I actually went to this festival last year as well, and I wrote about it on this page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Field Trip to Kameoka

9:41:00 PM
Hi everyone! Here in Kyoto life at Ritsumeikan is going on as usual. I must admit that I did intend to write about my class-trip to Kameoka earlier, but these days I'm just too busy to write anything unrelated to school-work.. Unfortunately.. Anyhow, better late then never, right?..

My Regional Sustainable Development class
I guess I'll start off with a little bit of background information. One of the classes I take this semester is about Regional Sustainable Development. Quite luckily our teacher decided to take us on a class trip to Kameoka in the end of October. Here he wanted to let us take a look at how they try to develop the community in order for them to be able to withstand a depopulation of the area through various measures. As you might already know, Japan is facing a problem when it comes to the aging society combined with a declining birthrate, which makes it even more important for small towns and cities to keep the area attractive if they want to make sure that it will remain sustainable also in the future.

At a local farmers market our teacher told us about strategies for growing better crops in Kameoka
And, as you might have guessed, Kameoka (亀岡市) is also such a city. It is situated just outside Kyoto City, and it has a population at around 93,000 people. The area has actually been used for farming for centuries, and is known for good quality. However, even though Kameoka seems to have a good reputation when it comes to their agricultural products there are still reasons to worry about the sustainability of the city in the future.
Our sensei has been cooperating with the local farmers on different project in this area for more than 20 years, and is really engaged in the project of developing different ways to keep the city alive.
In the future they are planning to develop the area even more, and with the combination of eco-friendly activities they are going to make it into a tourist attraction. 

In Kameoka they do not want to rely on chemicals to make their vegetables grow
This has resulted in their so-called COOL vegetables-project, where they aim at growing vegetables in an environmental friendly way- 
As we got to see, the projects here focuses a lot on the concept of eco-friendlyness, and this is combined with original ideas to make the project economically sustainable as well. For instance I can mention their use of Bio Char, which both is easy and cheap, and at the same time can be used to facilitate a reduction of green house gases.

Our teacher in front of a poster with information about one of their projects
A windmill and a small shrine
The timing of our field trip couldn’t have been better, because on the 23-25th of October they were having a local festival here as well. Lanterns nicely decorated the streets, and there were also a lot of stands where they sold food like takoyaki and other typical festival food. Not to mention the huge mikoshi (portable shrines)!
A lantern in Kameoka City
The street was so cozy!

There were also some samurai armors for display in some of the small houses
Samurai armor closeup!
One of the huge Mikoshi
The front of the mikoshi
The main street of the festival, where they were selling many types of typical Japanese food.
After a trip through the festival area all of the class ended up in a nice Japanese restaurant where our teacher had done a reservation for us. We had a great dinner (or perhaps we could call it a nabe (鍋) / hot-pot party) before heading back to Ritsumeikan University in the evening.

We ended the day with a great dinner!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween Party 2011!

9:41:00 PM
It was time for another Halloween, and me and Yuma had actually been preparing for this one quite some time. We had decided to go as Popeye and Olive, which seemed like costumes that wouldn't be too hard to make ourselves.
So some weeks ago we went to a second-hand store and bought a top for him, and a sweater and skirt for me. In total it costed us +/- 2000 yen, and that became the base of our costumes.
One of the things I like about Japan, is that they are having so-called hyaku-en stores (百円ショップ) all over the country, where you can buy stuff for.. Yeah, exactly: 100 yen. We went to one of them, and got felt, silk ribbons and buttons, and from there all we had to do was to go home and do the stitching.
Our Popeye and Olive-costumes:)
The result was, if I must say, quite good! A lot of people were actually quite surprised when they heard that we hadn't bought our costumes finished. It is also quite a lot more fun to make your own costumes, instead of buying clothes you only use once. Well, at least I can use the clothes I bought if I just remove the felt and the silk ribbon. I guess it's worse for Yuma's top though, since it is a girl's top anyway. Haha.. And I think it has probably stretched a lot since he used it, so it is not like it is going to look that nice on me either.

Anyway, the Halloween party was really fun. After the party at Ritsumeikan was finished, we just dragged a bunch of people back with us to Yuma's apartment to continue the fiesta, and I think that we might have been close to 30 people in the tiny apartment at most. Quite impressive, huh? It was epic:)
You have to use all the space you've got when you're partying in a Japanese apartment. Haha..
Related post:
Halloween 2010

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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