Monday, January 30, 2006

Village Snowball Fight ・ 村の雪合戦

Yesterday Inakadate had another unique event, the village snowball fight. This event, organized by the village's neighborhood associations, was really neat. I had never seen an organized snowball fight so this was kind ofinteresting to watch.

The event started at 9am and lasted until about noon. It was a beautiful day and everyone enjoyed themselves. There were probably about 300 people there cheering on the nine teams of children participating.

When I was a child, we made our own snowballs while avoiding the balls of our opponents, but in this battle, the balls were premade (with a form that could make about 50 at one time). This allowed (or forced) teams to concentrate more on strategy.

There was a field painted in the snow in which there were seven large protection shelters behind which competitors could hide. Each team had nine players each who had to wear a helmet. Matches were three minutes and during that time the team was limited to 70 pre-made snowballs.

If someone was hit by a snowball (as determined by one of the six judges) s/he had to sit out the rest of the match. Teams could win by stealing the other team's flag or by having more players remaining at the end of the match. Each match was the best 2 out of 3 sets. The day started with a round robin competition to determine placements in the final competition. This was then followed up by an elimination tournament to determine the final championship.

It was quite interesting to watch the strategies of the winning teams. Some people were designated as throwers while others worked to supply them with snowballs. Finally most successful teams would at some time make a unified rush to the other team's flag. It was interesting to see when that would be and who would make that rush.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Watch for Falling Snow ・ 落雪注意

Several weeks ago I started seeing new signs appear throughout the village. They said "Watch Out for Falling Snow." Now we are not talking about the light fluffy stuff that comes out of the sky in flakes. That's not too dangerous and you couldn't avoid it if you wanted. These warning signs, rather, always appear under the eave of a building and are warning people of large quantities of snow sliding off a roof all at once.

At first they seemed a little excessive, but after you have seen 10 inches of snow fall off a gymnasium roof, you can understand the need. It's not a complete avalanche, but it is seriously dangerous. I have heard that at least 3 or 4 people have died in Japan this year, crushed under falling snow. That's gotta be the worst way to die. Also I have seen a car roof crushed in to the point you couldn't get in, even if you could get the door open.

I think maybe the composer of Sakamoto Kyu's famous song was living in Aomori and worrying about falling snow when he wrote the words 'I Look up to the Sky as I Walk'. In any case, I'll be sure keep an eye to the sky and not walk under eaves.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Quilt Building ・ パッチワークされた建物

My mother is a quilter. She spends many days working with her church friends making quilts to give away. Together they work hard and put together beautiful blankets out of pieces of scrap fabric.

Driving around Inakadate I am often reminded of her. This happens most often when I see one of the village's 'quilt buildings.' Just like she and her group, some residents of Inakadate have taken otherwise useless material and made something out of it. In most cases, Inakadate's quilt buildings are simple farm sheds, designed to keep out some of the weather from farming tools and the like. Most of these building are pole barn-like structures with whatever is at hand nailed to the outside for walls.

Like the signs I wrote about on November 18th, these buildings too have a value next to nothing, but they serve a purpose and are really cool.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tochinoumi, Inakadate's Celebrity ・ 栃の海、田舎館の名人

Recently someone asked me if there are any famous people from Inakadate. Looking around, it seems that the most famous person from Inakadate is a sumo wrestler named Tochinoumi. He is quite a celebrated individual person in this village.

Tochinoumi was a sumo wrestler in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was very successful, won two tournaments and rose to the highest rank of yokozuna. Actually, Aomori is particularly famous for good sumo. Even today, there are more wrestlers from Aomori in the highest levels of sumo than from any other prefecture in Japan. There are many sumo rings to be found in Aomori and schools with sumo clubs are not uncommon.

People in Inakadate are very proud of Tochinoumi's accomplishments. In the Community Center there is a huge painting of him. There is also one in the village hall. You can also find a stone memorial commemorating his accomplishments near the village gymnasium or come to town and attend the Tochinoumi Cup, a children's sumo tournament held each year in August.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Hattanda Naked Festival ・ 八反田の裸参り

I live in the neighborhood of Hattanda. It is a small gathering of about 50 households nearby the village hall. When I first arrived in Inakadate, the people of Hattanda were busy with the Neputa Festival. They unhesitatingly welcomed me to join them.

One of the first things I heard about then on those hot summer evenings of August was that the Hattanda neighborhood does a “Naked Shrine Visit” early on the morning of January 1st. Everyone seemed very proud of it. Of course I asked then, isn’t it cold? to which they replied, “yes it is, but it is fun too.”
その暑い8月の晩、ねぶたに参加している間に、最初に聞いた一つは、八反田部落が1月1日の 朝に裸参りをすることでした。皆が大変誇りに思っていたようです。もちろん、その時「寒くないですか」と聞きましたが、それに対して皆が「そうですが、楽 しいですよ!」と答えてくれました。

In the past five months, I nearly completely forgot about the festival but toward the end of last year one of the members came and asked me if I wanted to participate. Of course I said yes!

On the morning of January 1st, I woke up early and went to the neighborhood community center. There we had a drink or two and then walked through the neighborhood rousing people with a drum and giving them a year’s worth of good luck with a bite of the lion.

After that we returned to the community center and got ready. Basically this meant taking off most of our clothes and having a drink or too to warm us from within. Once we started the walk to the shrine about 100 meters away was pretty quick. Perhaps because of the cold weather, but we wasted no time carrying the new nawa (a fat rope) which would decorate the torii (gate) for the next year.
その後、会館に戻って、準備しました。準備というのは服の殆どを脱い で、体を内側から暖めるためにもう1杯を飲むことでした。立ってから、100メートルぐらい離れている神社までの散歩がすぐに終わりました。寒かったから でしょうが、僕たちはこれからの一年間に神社の鳥居にかける新しい縄をさっさと運んでいきました。

When we got to the shrine we carried the nawa right into the shrine building and learned that the priest hadn’t arrived yet. Waiting there kneeling on the floor of the shrine was the coldest part of the morning, but it didn’t last too long. When he arrived we had a short dedication ceremony and then went outside again.
神社に着いたら、そのまま縄を神殿の中まで運びました。そこに 座ったら、神主さんがまだ来ていないということを聞きました。そこに神社の床に正座して待つことが、朝の一番寒かったですが、そんなに長く待つ必要がな かったです。神主さんが着たら、短い奉納式をして、出て行きました。

Outside there was a large fire which we quickly surrounded. We took a bunch of photos, raised the nawa temporarily to its place on the torii and started back to the community center. There we ‘rewarmed ourselves from the inside’ and the whole day was done.

It was a great experience!! Thanks to all the people of Hattanda who asked me to participate in their traditional New Years event.

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