A year (or two) in review

I haven’t been highly motivated to keep this up to date, but perhaps I should be trying harder.

In the last year I have

  • moved back to Utah from Japan
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  • got a puppy
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  • started boxing
  • started back in school: taking undergraduate classes at the University of Utah in the Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department
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  • did an internship with the National Ability Center
  • spent Fall break in Texas with Rebeca
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  • taught ski lessons at Deer Valley
  • and Park City with the NAC
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  • started rock climbing (again & finally)
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  • spent Spring break in Australia with Karli
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  • got accepted into the PRT graduate program at the U
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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey day everyone. I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday and thankful for wherever they currently are in life. I know I am. I’m thankful for my family and friends, my health, and my job in Japan. This time last year I was a lot more homesick, missing family and friends and craving Turkey. This year I did something about that.

I planned a Kuma-gun Thanksgiving.

Wednesday was Labor thanksgiving day in Japan and thus we had the day off from work. So I ordered a turkey  (and some other food for myself) from foreign buyers club and organized a potluck dinner. Everyone volunteered to bring something delicious and we planned to have a FEAST! Melissa’s husband Ian threw together a smoker out of terra cotta pots, and smoked the turkey for a good 10 hours. It was absolutely fantastic and we demolished the turkey. But we had the works! Steamed veggies, biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, fruit salad, stuffing, pumpkin pie, chocolate walnut pie, and 2 cakes! It was fantastic having everyone gathered. Definitely filled my house up which was a change since most people don’t make the drive all the way out to where I live.

I’m also attending another feast on Saturday with friends in Amakusa (we’re spending the night) and going on a hike Sunday morning. So I had to decide what I would bring for this dinner. I’ve been messing around with various recipes and ingredients and after making some Almond milk the other week (and having left over almond meal) I thought I might try making some almond flour muffins.

My first attempt last night, while delicious, did not rise as much as I wanted it to. I think I need to dry out the almond meal a little bit more and maybe use less egg. I’m a little nervous to give it another shot when I’ll be forcing other people to try it, but at the same time I think it would be delicious if it worked out (and so wonderfully low carb). So this time I’m going to try just grinding up some almonds into fresh almond flour (instead of using the meal from the almond milk since I don’t have enough anyway), and give it another whirl.

I’ll try to get some pictures up soon too (whenever I get them off my camera, which should happen at least after this weekend).

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Uhhh . . . . . derrr. . .

So apparently it has been over 3 months since my last update, and let me tell you there has been A LOT going on in those 3 months. Last thing you all read about was my trip to Tanegashima in July. So I guess I’ll just start with the big things that happened in August.

  • New JETs arrived and we had Kumamoto Orientation! Yay new people! As much as I miss people from last year its nice to have some new faces and conversation buddies. I was responsible for a presentation on life as a rural JET at Orientation which was interesting.

    Beer Garden

    The Beer Garden event put on for new ALTs after the 1st night of orientation and before we all headed out for pub crawl.

  • Also my new role as one of the leaders on KumAJET (our local branch of AJET) which helps plan events throughout the year for JETs in Kumamoto, was ramping up. We had 3 events in August (our busiest month) The bar crawl on the first night of Orientation, a hike to Mt. Aso and onsen after, and the Ashikita Beach Party. All were a great success and we had a lot of fun.

    mt aso

    Everyone looking down into Mt. Aso

  • During August I also took a week long trip down to Okinawa again for some more scuba diving. I went with Mary and we both had our underwater cameras to play with this time. It was fun to be down there again and do some more diving!

    Yonaguni Ruins

    Mary in front of the Yonaguni underwater Ruins in Okinawa.

September was a little more relaxed, I had a few weekends to myself, and had less planning to do. (Technically the Ashikita Beach Party was the first weekend in September)
  • This year I participated in the Ken Taikai for swimming. I was supposed to participate in the Gun Taikai as well, but that was the same weekend as when I went to Tanegashima. Anyway, I competed in a few relays and the 50 freestyle. It was sort of silly, but fun.
  • I also (with the help of the other Gun leader) arranged a weekend trip for the people in my area to the Kurokawa Onsen town outside of Aso. We drove a long ways and spent the night in a hostel and then spent the next day soaking in various onsen. It was quite the adventure and very relaxing.
Finally we get to this month (though I’m sure I’ve missed things and/or glossed over a lot, but really its not all that exciting :p) But this month is more recent so everything seems more fun and exciting.
  • The first weekend of October was split between the Kyushu Beach Ultimate Frisbee day and my Elementary School Sports Festivals. The Frisbee Event was a KumAJET Event but mostly planned by Adam with the help of the owner of a frisbee organization here in Kumamoto. It was open to anyone in Kyushu so we had a lot of people show up and it was a combination of Japanese players and ALTs. 

    lights

    Bamboo set up with candles for the evening of the Kumamoto Kunichi festival.

  • The second week of October fell over the 9th of the month which is a holiday here. I drove up to Nagasaki with Mary to go to their Kunichi Festival. It was nice to finally get to Nagasaki though we didn’t stay too long or see too much. It was a long expensive drive, but I love driving, and we took the car Ferry back so it was all an adventure. At the festival we played a game called Kametsukui. The normal version of this game is something like kingyotsukui. Basically you are given this bowl and flat paper net and have to catch (goldfish in the original) Turtles in the Kame version. The paper gets soggy and wet so eventually your “net” breaks and you’re done. But you are given a turtle as a pet as your prize for playing, regardless if you win or not. Mary and I both played, but she already had goldfish so didn’t want her turtle so now I have two! I’m calling them Tom & Jerry, though really I don’t know yet if they are male or female because they are still babies. And I’ve spent far more money than I realized I would setting up a large comfortable home space for them. It’s really quite nice to have some sort of pet around and I wish I had done it sooner. 
tom and jerry
Here they are the day I got them.
  •  On the way back we stayed in Kumamoto and cheered for our friend Justine who was participating with her school in a taiko event at the castle. They were trying to break the world record for most people playing taiko at one time, and they did! They had almost 3000 people there playing taiko, it was crazy.

    kumamoto castle taiko

    You can see all the sticks for taiko raised in the air in front of the castle.

  • The weekend of the 15th and 16th was spent Rafting and hiking. KumAJET had planned for the Kumagawa white water rafting this weekend and we got about 15 people out to enjoy it with us. After that CJ (owner of the rafting company) put on a BBQ for all of us and the guides. It was great to just sit around, socialize, and eat food. The following day, some of the ALTs from Kuma-gun got together for a hike. Rebeca and Yusuke had also stayed the night so they joined our adventure. We decided to find our way to the Kumagawa Suigen, or head of the Kuma River. It’s somewhere I’d been wanting to go to for a while, but hadn’t yet. It was a bit of a drive, around an hour to get to the trail head, but with beautiful scenery. The hike had challenging parts, but definitely wasn’t as difficult as Ichifusa.

    kumagawa suigen

    Here is the Kumagawa Suigen. Or Head of the Kuma River

  • Finally, this weekend. On Friday some of us got together at Melissa and Ians for a pizza/drinking night. It was nice to have almost normal pizza!!! We stayed up VERY late and I got up REALLY early the next day to watch my sisters soccer game online. But it was worth it. Saturday night we took the train up to Yatsushiro for their annual giant fireworks festival. It’s apparently one of the largest firework events in all of Japan and you could see why. There were SOOOO many people, and the fireworks were pretty spectacular with quite a few of them being coordinated to music. Sunday I slept in (glorious!) and sort of relaxed (though I should have done more cleaning) before driving into Hitoyoshi with Melissa and Ian to run a few errands and meet up with other ALTs at Baskin Robbins. And on the way back we stoped at Pizza Pino in Asagiri. Don’t let the name fool you, they only had 2 pizzas on the menu and the rest was typical family restaurant Japanese style food. And the pizza they did have wasn’t nearly as good as the ones we had made as Melissa found out. But still it was nice to finally stop at a restaurant none of us had been to before despite it being so close.
I think that’s it for now, Halloween is next weekend, November so far isn’t looking too busy, but December will be an adventure. Since you know, it will probably be a bit before I update again possibly. No promises one way or the other.
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Tanegashima

I planned a weekend trip to Tanegashima with some friends. The main goal for this trip was to do some scuba diving down on this island below Kagoshima. But we planned to have some other fun too!

sunset

Sunset from where we stayed.

We took the Princess Wakasa Ferry over which is a slower option, but also cheaper. We had to leave bright and early from Hitoyoshi to catch the 8:30 ferry, and fitting 5 people plus their luggage for a fun weekend in my little white plate Nissan March was a squeeze, but it worked out just fine.

Land Earth

Yumiko, CJ, Rebeca and Amanda at the Tanegashima branch of Land Earth

Right when we got there CJ the owner of the Land Earth company that I have done a few rafting trips with picked us up from the ferry and brought us to the Tanegashima branch they have down there, so we could join them for some sea kayaking.

sunset view

Sunset View. Held true to its name!

Our accommodations were provided by the company we were scuba diving with. The house was called Sunset View and it was fantastic. Fits 1-8 people comfortably, is set up with a kitchen and ready barbeque which we totally took advantage of. It’s only 1man a night (about 100$) So split between each person it was a fantastically cheap and comfortable option.

food

Getting ready for the bbq

bbq

Yum. While kayaking we did some snorkeling and CJ came up with these shells that you bbq. Tanegashima is famous for them and they're quite expensive to buy. Quite the rare treat we got to try.

CJ helped us do some shopping after kayaking and then stuck around and helped us barbeque. Quite the nice relaxing evening watching the sunset and then fireworks at night because there was a festival going on in town.

everyone

Alex, Amanda, CJ, Mary, Rebeca, and myself

dive ready

Getting ready to dive.

Sunday morning the owner and Michael (one of the English speaking employees) at Sea-Mail (diveshop) came to pick us up and get us ready for our dive. We were only able to do one discover dive, but it was still a lot of fun. Good chance for me and Mary to play with our cameras before Okinawa, and a good experience for the folks who hadn’t been diving yet. Unfortunately there was a typhoon headed our way which was kicking up waves and silt in the water so it wasn’t the clearest diving ever and there was a bit of current where we were. Just our luck of course.

strong

woo, go Mary

divers

Alex and Michael in the lead. Michael is originally from Britain, but was working at a dive shop in Thailand where he met his wife who is originally from Tanegashima.

dive done

Came up at the end of the dive. Very deceiving weather. It looks so pretty, but the typhoon was a comin

The coming typhoon also made it so the companies were cancelling ferries because of the high waves. They had already cancelled the Wakasa ferry for that day so we had to upgrade our tickets to the Rocket (same company faster ferry) It was only 1300yen extra, so not too bad and it was only 1.5 hours instead of 3.5. It’s unfortunate we had to cut our trip short but we were just glad we were able to get back to Kagoshima and get home so we didn’t have to miss any work or other appointments.

It was a great weekend and I would love the chance to get down there again and do some diving when the weather is better.

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Ichifusa (again)

So today I climbed Mt. Ichifusa again with Alex. Took about the same amount of time 2.5 hrs up, 2 hrs down. But I was looking through some other hiking blogs and found some more information on it that I feel should be more easily found.

This blogger has created a lovely map of Ichifusa with all the trails outlined!

The hike we did starting from the upper trailhead was 3km up (6km roundtrip, or a little more than 3.5 miles) This starts us at an altitude of about 790m and we go all the way up to 1721m at the summit. That’s an elevation gain of 931m (3054ft) That means something like 1700ft per mile elevation gain. For all of my Utah friends and family, that’s a little more than Mt. Olympus. Not quite as much distance to cover, but still gives you a little more perspective on how challenging this climb can be. We weren’t scrambling over rocks so much as tree roots and the places where runoff from the rain had destroyed the trail.

Anyway, I wanted to throw that little bit extra information on Mt. Ichifusa out there. Hopefully I can find more people to hike with and explore some more Kyushu mountains next year. I’m scheduled to hike Ichifusa again the end of July (Aghhh. It’s gonna be EVEN HOTTER), but next weekend is diving in Tanegashima! Woo!

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Getting a drivers license in japan

So last week I embarked upon the adventure of getting my driver’s license in Japan. I’d heard plenty of horror stories from previous ALTs and wasn’t particularly looking forward to the process.

I spent some time doing some research to figure out just what I was up against. The most useful site I found was this one. They detailed the whole process and what documents were necessary as well as things to do to help you not fail. Despite all this it still took me 3 times to pass. Here’s what I did:

  • Took a 2 hour practice lesson the day before my first test – this was useful because they went through the whole process of getting in the car and how to correctly signal and turn and whatnot.
  • Had all my paperwork, went with my supervisor for the first trip.
  • The first time I failed they told me I needed to be closer to the curb on the left turns, and that I needed to spend more time making sure I signaled (pause) look and turn back forward (pause) and then switch lanes or turn (whichever I was doing at the time)
  • The second time I failed they dinged me for not checking a SECOND time just before I turned left for bikes.
  • Third time obviously I passed! Yay! I was so happy when they told me it was ok. Then I had to get my inkan, go pay for my new license, get my picture taken, wait for them to print it out, go back and show it to the office, and then I was free to go!

A fellow JET up in Aso also had written a useful post about the Kumamoto driving test specifically. And someone else had written a nice two part piece about getting a drivers license in Japan. The new Kumamoto website also has a whole section put together about driving, getting a car, and getting a license which was useful, but mostly stuff I already knew since the site wasn’t finished until after I’d been searching for a while.

Anyway, this isn’t much, but it puts all the useful things I found in one place, so I hope it helps some future test taker!

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Amakusa Triathlon

This last Sunday was the Amakusa Triathlon. I drove out with Funada-sensei and Aiko-san from the Kuma-gun area. We met up with some other folks on the IC just outside of Hitoyoshi and  made the multi-hour drive to Amakusa from there. The weather on Saturday was beautiful and I was hoping all the weather forecasts would be lying and somehow it would stay for Sunday, but alas we had a day of rain for our triathlon 😦

On Saturday we checked in for the event and had our bikes checked out (They had to make sure we had helmets and tape our numbers on and everything.) We rode from the check-in place to our hotel and checked in there and brought our bikes up to our rooms. After that we had a little bit of time before the evening welcome ceremony/orientation thing where they explained all the rules of the triathlon. I could understand some of it, and the fact that I had done triathlons before helped me guess some of what they were saying too.

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This is where we will be finishing. Into the stadium.

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The lovely Kuma-gun Triathlon group/team members. Aiko-san, Harima-san, and Funada-sensei are in front. (I don't remember everyone elses names. . . . )

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Everyone is checking in the day before.

On the day of, we woke up early and had a typical Japanese breakfast. After that we got our stuff together put bags in the cars and checked out of the hotel and rode our bikes to the start. The rain made the whole thing rather unpleasant and I didn’t want to take out my phone for pictures (I forgot my camera, but wouldn’t have wanted to take that out for pictures either.) We had to be there fairly early and get all set up so we pretty much all got into our wetsuits and tried to hide from the rain for as long as we could. Unfortunately the only cover was pretty much in the transition area so we were kicked out when the Sprint groups were getting ready to start.

The swim for me went pretty well. I hate swimming in wetsuits (someday I’ll invest in proper tri gear) and I’ve never done an open water ocean swim (omg waves). I finished in about 29minutes. So not too horrible given the circumstances, though not great either.

The bike was ok. Riding in the rain of course complicated things, and I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be for the ride. It probably didn’t help that we were riding into the wind on the way back, but I finished that in about 1hr 40 min. Not as good as I hoped, but not far off of the time I had planned for on that portion.

The run was probably the worst for me. My knee had been hurting just a little on the bike. And my calves started cramping as soon as I started running. I ended up walking the first 2-3km in the hopes just giving them a little rest would help. It didn’t, so I finally stopped at a water station and they gave me some compress things which were basically icyhot patches and taped them on. The tape helped support my knees a little too and the brief stopped gave my legs enough of a break I was able to mostly run the rest of the way with a few moments of walking at water stations.  It ended up taking 1hr 24 min when my goal time was 1hr.  The whole thing was 3hrs 32min when my goal time was 3hrs.  Overall it could have been worse, but I want to do better. And now I have lots of ideas on what I should and shouldn’t be doing in preparation, and on race day.

So now I just have to keep training, and find another race to sign up for! woooo

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Left leg

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Right leg

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Random pretty place we stopped on the way out of Amakusa so people could by omiyage

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Delicious cake they gave me along with a medal for getting 3rd in my age group. Yay for being the slowest!

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Okinawa

I suppose it’s about time for another update. The beginning of May is known as Golden Week (GW) because there are three holidays all in a row, and one right at the end of April. Basically it’s a good time to take off because you have super long weekends and don’t miss a lot of work! So I’d been hoping to go up to Korea, but that fell through for various reasons. I had about 2 weeks before GW and was frantically trying to figure out what to do and book tickets and arrange whatever. I ended up talking to two friends from the area I live in and we decided to fly down to Okinawa for the week!

Ready to start our vacation! Me, Sarah, and Mary

Since it was so close to the time we were lucky to still find a semi-decent deal on airline tickets. About 500$ roundtrip on what would normally be around 300. Once we had tickets the next step was to find a place to do and figure out what we were going to do with our time down there.

Over winter holidays I had pretty good luck with couchsurfing, so I went that route again and asked around down there for a place to stay. I think we ended up with one of the greatest hosts ever. Pete works at the Naval Hospital down there and was super generous with his house and free time. He had great suggestions on activities and places to go which really helped make the week that much better.

Pete, Mary, Me, and Sarah. At the Pineapple park. An interesting tourist experience to say the least

We ended up going to the Churaumi Aquarium which is famous for its Whale Sharks. They also had a dolphin show, and nearby is a giant gardens area with all sorts of flowers and fruit trees. The day before that we had gone to an adventure park with loads of ziplines and various rope course type setup.

One of the rope courses

Mary and I got two days of scuba diving in, and Sarah tried it on the first day. My one regret is that we didn’t have a camera. It was absolutely gorgeous. The waters were so clear and blue. We took a boat out by the Kerama islands, and had some fantastic guides. Hopefully Mary and I will be going back down for a full week of scuba diving later this summer with Reef Encounters again. We were able to see some squid and a puffer fish, a whole bunch of Lion Fish, an octopus, a manta ray, sea turtles, sea snakes, garden eels, and pretty much everything else, but those were the exciting ones. Our guide spotted an octopus on one of the dives and urged it out of its hiding place so we were able to see it closely and feel it. That was one unhappy octopus and it inked its way away from us as fast as it could once the guide let it go.

kerama

pretty islands! and water! and just yay!!!

During the week we were also fortunate enough to be allowed on base a few times for some absolutely delicious and much needed American food. Yum! And we got our fix on various other foods off base too, some Thai, Indian, Pizza, Mexican, etc. It was such a different world and experience down there with a huge American presence.

Soundtrack of the week was Neon Horse. Claritza had burned copies of their discography for pretty much everyone we hung out with/drove around with so it was playing in almost every car. It was awesome.

Thanks Claritza!

And more pics can be found on facebook of course. But here’s a sampling.

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Spring Has Sprung

It’s been a while. Though I have my excuses. A lot has happened recently, but I’ll try to break it down.

      • By now I’m sure everyone knows about the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor triple threat disaster in Northeastern Japan. The epicenter was near Miyagi prefecture which is about 800 miles from where I am. So I was far enough to be safe, but also far enough to feel just as useless as anyone else. The best thing to do is donate money to the Japanese red cross, though at this point more charities are taking food stuffs and clothing and other necessary items then they were after the initial disaster.
      • I’d been hoping to go to Okinawa with some friends over the school spring break, but that didn’t pan out. My supervisor wanted me to stay here for some school parties and various events at the same time. In the long run it was a good thing because I ended up making an emergency trip home. My grandmother had taken a turn for the worse after a couple years of various medical troubles. I was able to see her, but she passed away on Saturday, March 26th.
      • Despite that, I did have a nice trip home. It was good to be with family and I managed to have some fun too. Got a fair bit of skiing and partying in. Went to the Festival of Colors, which was awesome, etc.

        festival of colors

        Amalie, Chalee, Me, and Karli celebrating Spring

    • Coming back to Japan was much more difficult this time then the first. The first week back I was more homesick then I had been my whole time here. I knew I had to keep myself busy and find things to look forward to. I was talking with friends here in Japan and started making plans for the weekend. Rebeca (who I spent winter break with and have seen many time since then) drove down Saturday morning to visit me for the weekend. We drove around Mizukami and Hitoyoshi with Amanda on Saturday taking pictures of sakura and just having a good time.
      mizukami fountain

      This is a water spout thing in the Ichifusa Resevoir. Surrounded by cherry blossoms.

      pretty ladies

      Rebeca and Amanda. Nice pose!

      timer

      We had quite a bit of fun setting the timer on all our cameras and posing in different spots.

      waterfall

      This is a waterfall in Hitoyoshi that Jake led us to.

      On Sunday Kristen joined us for a hike up Mt. Ichifusa. It took us a good 2.5 hrs to climb up and 2 hrs down. We rested at the top and ate lunch and took lots of pictures. Basically it was exactly the weekend I needed.

      climb

      There were some pretty crazy parts to our hike. Such as ladders like this.

      top

      But we made it to the top! 1,722 meters.

      view

      It was a great view of the dam and Mizukami

    • Finally school was starting up too. Though I didn’t have any classes until this week. I got to go to the opening ceremonies for the Jr. High and Iwano Elementary school. It was so exciting seeing the new students come in and sing the school songs. I’ve also been meeting the new teachers and going to plenty of enkais.
    • Once I got back I finally got around to paying for the triathlon I had signed up for, so it’s basically official now. I will be doing an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) on June 5th, 2011 in Amakusa. I’ve been training a little but probably not as much as I really need. I started swimming at Ohga Swimming School in Taragi 3 times a week. Sometimes I bike before that, but recently I started running with Kristen again so I’ve been alternating bike and run days.
    • Finally, I know it’s really spring because the bugs have been starting to come out again. I heard the first cicadas the other evening. And it’s warming up so it’s time to start putting the extra blankets away! Also, I’ve already started getting a tan line just from the hike up Ichifusa, and a longer run yesterday.
Hope all is going well in everyone’s lives!
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Noh

Bunraku

Bunraku. Image via Wikipedia

Hey folks, sorry it took me so long to get this posted. I’ll try to be better about writing more.

There are three main traditional types of performance in Japan. Kabuki, Bunraku, and Noh.

I was fortunate to see Bunraku in Kyoto when I first studied abroad here in Japan. It is a Japanese drama acted out with large stylized dolls and quite entertaining to watch even if you can’t understand most of it.

I also got to see Kabuki in Yokohama the same semester. Kabuki is a bit more slow paced and long. Many performances last the entire day, so some people only go for one half or the other. It was interesting to see once, but unless my Japanese got to a fluent level (in which case many Japanese people still can’t understand Kabuki) then maybe I’d try seeing it again, but until then I’ll stick to other entertainments.

This last weekend of January UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) hosted a NOH workshope in Kumamoto that I went to with a couple other folks from Kuma-gun.

Noh Performer

One of the Noh Performer/Instructors.

Noh is a classical style of dance theatre where all the roles are played by men, and many of the characters wear traditional masks. It’s all very specifically traditional and every little thing has a meaning. At the workshop we learned how to walk or shuffle in the traditional way, and how to hold our arms. It was more exhausting than you would think, but also fun in that new thing sort of way.

Me

They let us try on some of the masks too!

Mask

There is a very specific way to hold the masks. You can only touch the sides where the strings attach. That way you don't get oil from your hands everywhere.

before

They had one of the Kumamoto Jets volunteer to be dressed in the full costume. This is before.

After

After. Full Kimono and mask on. In Noh only males peform, so they play the female roles as well.

 

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