August in Japan begins a month-long celebration of different festivals. This past week Ishinomaki had their Matsuri festival. I think Matsuri just means "festival" so kind of redundant but you get the picture! Tomorrow we will be going to the Sendai festival and then next week to the Miyato festival so we should be pros at this in a couple of weeks!
Where we live in Ishinomaki, they had a parade down mainstreet at noon. We were excited to find out what a Japanese parade was like. Well -- we soon found out! We watched an hour and a half of elementary and junior high school marching bands -- and that was it! We stayed for the whole thing (luckily it was shaded) because we were with some members and their kids were marching and, of course, were one of the last bands to march! This is part of what we saw:
Does anyone know what these instruments are? There were many of them especially in the elementary-age bands. You blow into them but have a small keyboard on them that you can't see because they are facing the other direction:
So we think the REAL festival experience is about the millions of food booths around the city and also there are tons of booths selling things, especially for kids, just like our fairs and festivals at home. BUT as you might expect the food might not be so recognizable to some of you:
First we have octopus balls (small piece of octopus and a few veggies in a ball kind of like a popover) and yaki soba (noodles):
Next, the more traditional, skewers of meat and corn on the cob:
And finally, the most interesting, teriyaki grilled squid (quite chewy):
One really nice thing is that it gets dark really early in Japan so the fireworks begin at 7:30 p.m. (The sun rises at 4:00 a.m.!)
We teach a family English class in a town called Miyato. It is located on a small but beautiful bay. They have been trying to do some fun activities especially for those so badly affected by the tsunami so this year they had a "family" campout. What really happens is that the families drop off their kids and the kids camp out. But that is what they expect and there are plenty of camp counselors and supervisors around so no problem. We were invited to come to the Saturday afternoon activities and BBQ. This was our first view of the campout:
Really it was a gorgeous view of the bay with some islands nearby to enhance the view!
One of the first activities that we saw was so interesting that I had to get a few pictures. They were teaching the kids to make rice in a (empty) beer can!
Basically, the top can has the rice and water in it and the bottom can you put some charcoal in it and it is the "stove." This is a picture of putting in the rice:
And then they stand the can in some sand, light a fire, and hope that they will have a can of rice in an hour or two!
We didn't actually see the finished products of these cans but we did see a sample of one that had been cooked previously. It was pretty slick! It brought back memories of those Young Women campouts of boiling water in a paper cup or making omelettes in a ziploc bag!
The BBQ part of the evening was quite a process. There were about 50 kids and they were all involved in cooking. They loved it! First they cut veggies:
Then they got the fires going in the ten or so campstoves (no propane for these campers!). One of the most important elements of keeping the fire going is the fan:
Seriously, there were fans everywhere. Then the real cooking begins:
They had all kinds of meat and every vegetable you could imagine:
Plus a giant squash that I don't ever think really got cooked to my satisfaction:
And finally this huge pot of soup that I never did see the bottom of:
All in all, it was a lot of fun and the kids were having a great time.
This has been a interesting week of learning culture. Even though parades, festivals, campouts and BBQ's seem pretty American, there is always that reminder that we are not in Kansas anymore. The festival food, people in kimonos, campouts with rice in beer cans, a huge vat of Japanese soup, chopsticks (no forks or knives), NO napkins (so Japanese), eda mame at a BBQ, and Japanese BBQ sauce (not at all like the American version), all remind us that this is a great cultural experience.
These are the flowers we now see growing wild along the roadside. Anyone know what they are?