Tag Archives: ishikawa

Matsuri of FIRE


Experiencing the Fire and Violence Festival in Suzu

So many pictures to go through >.<! Right now I’m really loathing writing this… but maybe talking about it will help me push through it. I’ve been getting so much better about not putting things off as long as I can remember those things. My little notebook has become more and more of a diary written in shorthand and to-do lists. Since I don’t have internet at any of my schools, it comes down to organizing my life in that little book and writing up blog posts during free periods.

Okay, time warp. Back to July something or other day, 2011. The Fire and Violence Festival oooooo exciting. I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. I assumed the obvious. What I got was, well… the obvious.

Friday was FIRE and lots of it. From the photos you can see what I mean. We thought the starter bonfire was cool. Then they started to light the big boys. There were at least 6 of those huge pine polls with tinder wrapped around them, ready to bust into flames.

A dude would take another long pole, bamboo most likely, wrap a rag around it and then dumped it in a can of something before setting it alight. He’d then very precariously reach out with up to touch the fire to the pine poll.

Off in the distance, across the little harbor at the center of town, we saw a long row of twinkling lanterns.

Oh and here’s us minus me before we got to the ‘stage’ area. There were some fireworks already going off. Sorry about the blur.

Then they came to us. These huge portable shrine things with kids playing music on top and town folks carrying them underneath. It was pretty crazy. The music was all the same song, I assume, but none of the shrines where playing together so it became this strange cacophony of sound as more and more shrines poured into the area. We didn’t even stay to see the last shrine. It was getting really late and we were tired and still had to drive the 2 hours back to Nanao.

Saturday was the Violence night. Nicole and I decided we crash in the car (not crash the car!) following the events of the evening. Liquor was the name of the game that night. Not just for spectators either. Everyone was drunk in some fashion. There were a lot less kids that night though, don’t worry.

Oh and the vendors! Of course there were vendors. It wouldn’t be a festival without them. A couple were particularly awesome. I got a sweet Gundam pin for my boyfriend and some delicious stuff on a stick. I kept going back to this one chicken on a stick place that was fantastic. I heart salt. And there was a beef man. His stuff was amazing.

Anyway, there we were – watching these men carry this wooden shrine down the streets of this compact little town in the middle of nowhere. All of sudden they would stop and throw that sommamabitch down and jump all over it yelling and screaming. They’d rock it over, back and forth, a preistly looking character would say some prayers and then the men would turn it back over, pick it up, and continue on their way to the next spot. Sorry for the lack of pictures but there was no way I was taking my nice camera. I took my phone (actually has a pretty nice camera function) but it was dark so I took video instead. Unfortunately… it’s in .3g2 format and I can’t figure out how to get it out.

Then they made it to the river er, large creek. On the bridge, they threw it off into the water and then quickly followed. Pounding and picking up and throwing against the high walls ensued. These guys must have been in some crazy rage to do all of this. I imagine there were lots of swore parts in the days to follow. I was lucky, however, and remained unharmed, mostly dry, and even found a piece of wood that had broken off of the shrine.

To the fire! They picked it up and continued the throwing and praying ritual until they reached a little waterfall/creek area. There was already a huge pine poll, like the night before, blazing next to the water. The shrine gets thrown in first, then the men and then the violence continues but this time with fire. By the time they hauled it out, we were bushed. So we said our thanks and made our long trek back to the car to sleep off our ridiculous night. We awoke to 5 eagles screaming at each other on a wire over top of the car and a cute little Japanese woman picking up leftover trash from the festival yelling back at the eagles. Nicole and I just looked at each other and laughed.

Oh! and then a random Cruella d’Ville car in Shika-machi. Weird.


With love – M


A visit from home


Joel comes to Japan and I do my best to overload him.

The first week of May seemed to sneak up on me. Before I knew it, I had my weekend Osaka trip with Nathalie and Joel was flying in on Monday. To top it off, it was Golden Week here in Japan. I wasn’t invited to the tournaments that my Jr High was competing in during the week and weekend ( I think because they weren’t at the school) but it worked out for the best. Already, we had a lot on our plate.

This was Joel’s first visit to Japan so I tried to prepare him mentally for things to be rather different here. He can get anxious about change. But I think he did remarkably well. He even tried to learn some very basic Japanese. His city accent from Wilmington made it difficult for him. Those ‘R’s can be killers on both sides, I guess. I should’ve taken a picture of him talking to the information desk at the airport before he knew I was there. I think many of you would appreciate the look on that woman’s face. I was just too excited to see him.

Immediately, he was immersed. While riding home from Komatsu, he commented on the excessive array of lights. He sounded drugged. Somehow he stayed awake long enough to eat and make it in the door of my apartment. We both crashed. Early the following day I began my indoctrination. Below is a quick day by day summary.

Monday: Flight in and first conbini experience.

Tuesday: Visit Nanao city center to search for backup sneakers (he only brought one pair of walking shoes and they were very worn) in a size 30. We found a 29 that did the job! Impressive, I know. First taiko game experience in the arcade of Patria mall. Some fresh pastries for breakfast and then to Nicole’s to meet up for adventures. Melissa had just arrived, too, so we all headed for the Wakura footbath on the bay and then to boil some eggs. Tried a some delicious little cakes at the famous confectionary shop on the bay then to Mahalo for a Hawaiian styled lunch. Then to the Nanao Castle Ruins and the lookout at the top of the mountains (stupid fog). Stopped over at the obstacle park, this is not its actual name. Then home for short naps and back out again for kaitenzushi. Funny story: service was sloooow at the AL Plaza joint but Nicole got the call that her friend Will had just arrived at the station so she took off to get him while the three of us who were left went to the more trusted joint at Nappy Mall. Nicole and Will joined us and we were all much happier there. Some spontaneous bowling occurred after and then Joel and I went home to crash while the other’s had a few drinks.

The tasty stuff at Mahalo.

Joel and Nicole hoofin' it up the hill.

Watch out for the lava! and hamster wheels of doom!

Wednesday: Attempted going to Notojima Aquarium but too much traffic. Went to beaches there instead. Had some Coco’s Curry for lunch. Not anything like Indian curry back home but tastey in it’s own way. I miss naan bread. Then back to Nanao city center for adventures in finding the Seihakusai (huge traditional style floats). Human powered and almost too big for the streets. Some folks had poles to push the float away from their homes so nothing was damaged.

This is one of the decayama at the Seihakusai festival.

Thursday: Last day of the Seihakusai festival!

Mmmm festival junk food...

Friday: I had to work (boo!) so Joel fended for himself. Walked to the conbini and bought his own food. What a champ. Had Gogo’s Curry and bought some ridiculous Engrish shirts at AL Plaza.

He loves this shirt.

Saturday: We got up early and tried again for the aquarium with much greater success. It was the first time Joel had even seen a dolphin show. Also, first donburi experience and I think he really liked it. I love those little eateries next to the aquarium. Then we headed over to get lost between Shika and Togi town while finding a sweet cave and the world’s longest bench. Yay for aimless adventures!

Joel kept hitting his head on the tank and was not pleased with me.

It just keeps going and going and...

Sunday: Rising early, we left for Komatsu, stopping along the way at Kahoku Aeon mall and some cute little rock beaches in Komatsu. We even found a shinto temple and accidently walked around during a service. There were other people there just meandering like us but I still felt out of place and didn’t take any photos of it.

He's got a bad face on but really, we were enjoying ourselves. I swear.

It amazes me he survived all of that in one piece. And not a touch cranky the whole time! What a champ. For more photos, go here.

With love – M

The Open Road


Driving in Japan and my first week’s adventures.

Being from the States, there are obvious driving differences that I knew were going to make themselves aware. Like, say, driving on the opposite side of the road in the opposite side of the car. I’ll admit, I was rather anxious about my first drive but once I sat down and got going, it wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I had blown it up to be in my head. What’s difficult are the little things you notice later.

Driving slow on… every morning actually. A lot of Sunday drivers in the inaka.

Not that anyone was supposed to, but no one told me about the interesting driving etiquette that happens here. Sure, the streets are narrow but the cars are typically smaller than what I’m used to back home. And sure, the lights are sideways but the colors are the same. It’s the people that are so different. When the light turns yellow, and there’s still someone trying to make that turn, they let them go turn on red without a fuss. There are very few turn signal lights around, at least out here in the inaka (countryside). When driving on a particularly narrow street with two way traffic, cars take turns pulling onto the side in whatever way they can (like driveways to homes or dirt) to let cars pass.

Air view from a garden to the city of Nanao on the east side.

The inaka - a sunset over rice fields.

It’s like many things in Japan where it’s become this well oiled machine. As long as everyone conforms to the system, that is. I’ve come across a jerk here and there but I think it’s more just people not paying attention, distracted by screaming children in the back or voices in their heads. Then there are the ji-chan trucks (Grampa trucks) who don’t have a whole lot of power or are carrying heavy loads usually and tend to slow up a lot of traffic. Passing cars in the inaka is pretty easy as long as you’re careful, however. Oh! And everyone backs in to parking spaces. I always know where I park. I’m the only one pulled in. And I probably won’t bother to try backing in just for that reason. I had my own brush with a telephone pole as well… nothing serious, I probably wasn’t doing more than 15kmph and a truck came down a hill and around the corner a bit fast. Ah well, at least there was no visible damage to the car. It just smacked the side view mirror. Needless to say, I take those types of corners a bit more cautiously now.

My first week was a LOT of driving. Thankfully, I carpooled with some fellow ALT’s so it wasn’t so bad. Typically the day would begin by picking a random destination and seeing what we ran into along the way. Like the aquarium for example. My friend Nicole and I headed in that direction and along the way found our very popular local hot spring area, Wakura Onsen, then a Hawaiian styled cafe that later on we found to be very tasty, called Mahalo, then another onsen once we got on Notojima, Hokuriku I think, then a Glass Art Museum, the Notojima Aquarium itself, and then afterwards we hunted down a beach on the east side of the island. It was a glorious excursion. This was just one day, by the way. Each day had similar outings. I remember one day we just started driving down 159 until we ran into something interesting. Turns out there’s a whole other mall area down there in Nakanoto. Keep going to Kahoku-shi and you get our nearest Aeon mall. That baby is massive.

A shot of the dolphin show at the Notojima Aquarium.

I hearted this octopus. He danced for us.

The heart of Nanao is well packed with little places but also has a nice vertical mall next to the station called Patria. It houses a Mister Donut (think Dunkin’ Donuts but smaller donuts), a small patisserie, omiyage shop, grocery store, department store, hyaku-en store (think Dollar Store), a stationary/random fluffy things store, and… other things I don’t remember. Usually, when in need of something, I either head there or to Nappy Mall on route 159. I know, awesome name. We giggle frequently about it. But it houses a yama-ya (foreign food store/booze), a Dontaku (grocery chain), book store, a nice sushi joint that I love (likes to pretend it’s a kaitenzushi but it’s not), a hyaku-en store, okonomiyaki restaurant, and curry restaurant. Then there’s a bridge that leads to route 2 and a whole ‘nother collection of eateries and shops… like Book-off and Coco’s Curry. Both very dangerous places.

But alas, like my boyfriend recently noted while visiting, much of what there is to do out here is spend money. Not a whole lot of activities outside of that on the surface but I think we just need to look harder for them. I’m debating about investing in (or printing out myself) a large map of the Noto Peninsula and mapping out all the cool places. I guess it would be easier to do this digitally but I enjoy having things physically present. There are lots of little parks and hidden gems all over Nanao and the Noto area. I don’t want to miss anything while I’m here >.<!! Already we found the castle ruins and the pavilion area at the top of the mountains on the edge of Nanao. Spectacular views. And the ever popular obstacle course/death trap park at the base of said mountains… can’t remember the name of it but it’s pretty big. You can rent a multiple person bicycle type thing and ride around this big track.

Let’s see… next time I think I’ll start discussing some of the school interactions like the teachers room and so on. Need to do one on food as well but see my friend Nathalie’s blog for a more in depth look at food in Japan.

With love – M

Placement: Shika, Hakui District, Ishikawa


It would be smart to post where exactly I’m going… just maybe. I’m rather excited, though initially I was slightly put off because I’ll be so far from a close friend who’s currently over there already.

So this is me, or will be in about 8 weeks. My friend, Nathalie, is in Anan, Tokushima Perfecture. If you look at the directions, it’s roughly 8 to 9 hours of travel time between us either by train or car or whatever. It’s a long haul. Longer than either of us were looking forward to but hey, we’re looking on the brightside.

The areas about right between us are Shiga and Kyoto. What better places to meet and share a weekend? They’re big but not crazy big. This affords us cheaper food and lodging so we can spend more time enjoying the towns and less time fretting over costs. I can’t say from personal experience just yet but every single resource screams it at you “Japan is EXPENSIVE. Be prepared”. I think if I’m smart and turn down my princess meter a gauge or two, I’ll do just fine.

A little bit about Shika: It’s the boonies. There are no less than 15,000 people living there, limited stores and activities. BUT I have put my meager Japanese skills to the test and have been clicking away on Google Earth to find the goodies close by. Things like the Silk Beach in Hakui, 30 minutes south, or the confection museum in Shika (drool!), a type of hotspring/resort area  on a cliff in Shika, really interesting looking temples and natural made rock formations on the sea side, and (the best part) my very own locally grown farmer’s market with some 300 farmers there.

Of course, many natives have already told me that  the best way to see the true Japan is to get out of the cities, stay in the countryside. And I thankfully have Hakui and Nanao within an hour’s drive. Also, two hours drive gets me to Kanazawa or Toyama. I say drive because I’ll have to have a car for my town but once I get to Nanao or Hakui, I can pretty much take public transport anywhere in the country.

Then there’s the most awesome fact for me. The awesome of awesomes. I will be living near the sea. A large body of water which connects to other large bodies of water. I realize Japan’s an island, but I could’ve landed in center Nagano or Maebashi. I’m sure it’s great there but I’ll take waves over mountains any day. I am a ocean kind of girl. My name even means “gaurdian of many waters” or “ocean goddess”. Oh and when I say living near the water, I mean I have been actively searching and in contact with realtors about certain apartments that are as close to the ocean as possible. Oddly enough, these are also really close to the main schools in Shika.

So it’s not all bad, right? Somehow, I’ll survive… that was total sarcasm.

Anyone out there in the Ishikawa area reading this, you should let me know. The more friends I have before I get there, the better.

One last thing before I close – I received my email from my branch office, evidently in Osaka this morning. They have advised that I fly into Osaka airport and travel from there to the hotel for us, which also right next to the office for training. That’s all well and good except flying into Osaka costs a good 400-500 dollars more AND stops in Tokyo on the way, usually for a minimum of 3 hour layover. I am seriously debating flying straight to Tokyo and hoping on a shinkansen into Osaka for 200 dollars less and many hours less. I think after 16 hrs, I’ll be sick of flying for a while. However, all this is speculative based on a roundtrip ticket because the one way tickets… are almost exactly the same for Tokyo and Osaka. The roundtrip tickets are always cheaper but I have no idea what the holiday schedule is for my August break yet. Some schools let out the week before August, some the week after July. I just don’t know. Too much to think about.

I hope this was somewhat informative. If you have any questions, ask away. I may edit them into the post, even.

With love -M