Wednesday, 3 August 2011

End of work and Nebuta

These past few weeks have been busy at work with lots of presentations and English classes. There's also been loads of farewell parties (送別会), and I've been busy with preparing to leave Japan and fly back to the UK. I also went to Japan Blues Festival, which was in Aomori a couple of weeks ago, and bumped into WWE wrestler, MVP at a bar - he had been doing a show in Aomori that day.

Work ended two days ago, and I moved out of my apartment yesterday, so now I'm staying at another JET's house until I leave Aomori on the 7th, then I'll stay over one night in Tokyo before catching my plane from Narita on morning of the 8th. But I'm gonna be ending my last week here with a bang, so it's convenient that we've just entered Nebuta Festival week.

It's purely a coincidence that Nebuta Festival is taking place when the new JETs arrive and the old JETs leave. It's a great introduction to the city for the new guys and a great sending off for those who've been here a long time. The whole city waits for this week every year, and it's the one time when everyone is out partying, dancing and drinking till late at night. When you add all the other visitors who come from all over the world, you get a lively, vibrant carnival atmosphere – the complete opposite of Aomori during the rest of the year. And it's not just Aomori City. There are Nebuta – or Neputa – festivals all around the prefecture, and I want to get to a couple of these before I leave as well.

On Sunday night there was a warm-up event here in Aomori City, and all the 20 or so floats that will take part in this year's parade were lined up on the streets. Then in between each float was a band and dancers, and normally the parade would move around the city like this, but on Sunday it was stationary so that people could enjoy looking at all the floats close up. Each set of a float, a band and dancers is sponsored and put together by a local company or office. The city hall takes part, and last night I played taiko in the city hall band.

Being a drummer and a fan of Taiko no Tatsujin, I'd wanted to try playing the taiko since dancing in the festival last year. I went to a few practices with the city hall band and learnt the basic taiko rhythm. It's a fairly simple rhythm, and the only complex thing is the many different strengths of hit, but I picked it all up pretty quickly. We talked about me playing in the festival, but it turned out I was too busy to attend all of the practices. However, when I met the mayor last Friday for my leaving ceremony we talked about Nebuta and taiko and he invited me to play with him at the warm-up festival.

(L to R) With the 部長, mayor, a friend and vice-mayor

So last night I went down with my supervisor and 部長 (buchō, department boss) and got dressed into the 半纏 (hanten, Japanese-style gown/coat). I then joined in with the city hall band and the mayor came along for a bit as well. It was a lot of fun. The tunes and rhythms that the bands play are very simple and repetitive, but that's the Japanese style, and it's quite powerful and really gets the crowds going when you hear it over and over again. I think everyone enjoyed seeing a gaijin play the taiko, and I got given the バチ (bachi, taiko drum sticks) and 半纏 (coat). Sweet.

So no more taiko playing, but lots of drinking and dancing in the festival until I leave. We went out to see the first night last night, and the city is now bustling with tourists. Much of my job at the city hall has involved the Nebuta festival in one way or another, so this year I know a lot more about its origins and how important it is to the people of Aomori – I think it's gonna be an even better one than last year.

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