unallersimple: (japan poster)

Just got back from taking part in the drum festival. Absolutely knackered but had an awesome time. Thought I'd share my favorite photo from the day.

^Lizzie learns the hard way that Angelo doesn't know the difference between people and drums.
unallersimple: (stars)
This is taken from our rehearsal last Tuesday. As it's only the second night of practice, things are still looking a little bare. There are no costumes or fancy floats in sight yet. Just a bunch of people drumming in a car park after work. We haven't started on the second drum rhythm either, so we're only playing one tune.

^Okay so I just looked at the video and the sound on this is terrible! Please know that it sounds 100 times better in real life! The flutes sound strange too because the tune is a traditional Japanese one, which sounds really out of tune to us at first. There's a guy in a black t-shirt with glasses, he's the strongest drummer I've met. The sound he whacks out is incredible! So loud!
I love this video though because you can see experienced drummers, little kids who need to stand on a bench to reach, newbies who are drumming with the wrong technique, old men sitting, drinking and watching, old men teaching younger men and a woman patting out the rhythm on her daughter's head.

At first I was really annoyed with myself for signing away lots of free time, but once I started drumming I was glad. Now it's not new, and I seem to have a better technique this year. I can drum for up to 20 minutes without collapsing from severe arm pain and muscle ache. Once you get into it and know the rhythm off by heart, it can feel similar to meditation. You just drum away and zone out and suddenly come round some time later realizing that you weren't thinking about anything, your mind was just drum. It's a nice feeling, and one that I didn't really have last year due to the constant arm pain. It's also been fun to teach some of the first timers the beat and technique. They generally look very shocked when a foreigner knows what to do better than they do hahaha. It's also good to watch the people who've been drumming for decades since they were wee beans. Their style and technique is amazing, so I've been trying to pick up some better practices from them this week too.

My first night of rehearsal was memorable. After a short practice of about half an hour, I was invited into a small community building room upstairs. I was shocked to find at least 50 people (mostly men) seated at a table while some women were serving the food and alcohol. I was beckoned by the drumming group chief to sit at the top of the table as the guest. Then he welcomed everyone and opened the celebrations for starting this year's drumming. After he had spoken, I had to stand up and introduce myself. I talked about how awesome the festival was last year, how kind and welcoming everyone had been and how excited I was to take part again.
For the next 20 minutes or so I was surrounded by no fewer than 20 old men who teased me and got me guess how old they are. (I'm telling you at 75, they look 10 years younger and can move faster than me!). This ended when the chief, who was thankfully wise enough to spot I was 50 years younger than everyone nearby, ordered a young man to come over. He noted our ages were only 6 years apart and announced he'd found me a husband! (If only it were really that simple!) He then ordered us both to the other end of the table where young people sit. Those kinds of people crack me up, I had a good giggle on the way home. At the young end of the table I talked with some of the women who were waiting on the men, and my future husband who looked thoroughly embarrassed by the whole thing.

I still can't get over how kind everyone was. I ate so much delicious food for free, and everyone tried talking with me at some point. The elderly folk try to improve my drumming technique, and when they see I have no clue what they are saying, they kindly gesture the correct way to move your arms to hit the drum.

I'm excited for the big day, though I don't know what my costume looks like yet (I'm in a different drumming group to last year). I hope it doesn't rain!

unallersimple: (japan poster)
The Matsue Doh Drum Festival, or Dohgyoretsu in Japanese, started as a tradition after an event that happened hundreds of years ago. I heard that during the time of feudal lords and samurai rulers a marriage between two ruling families was arranged to bring the two regions together. A party and display of drum playing was made to welcome the rulers who had traveled from Kyoto to Matsue. Every year since then the drums have been brought out and paraded around the city center. It's a popular event for people to watch and brings everyone together. A little bit like the Kendal Torchlight Procession if you will, except during the day, only with drums and people only wear traditional costumes...and there are no motorized vehicles... ahem.

Anyway there are maybe a dozen or so drumming groups around Matsue, each representing one of the city's neighbourhoods and each with their own float and costume design. The festival happens every October.

Our group started the day at 10.30 where we met for an early lunch together. Here we all are eating bento, the Japanese name for a packed lunchbox.

A fun game during meal times is trying to guess what you're eating...

After lunch we started playing the drums and pulling our cart down the road to join the other drumming groups by the castle in the center of Matsue. There, all the groups were lined up along the road waiting for the opening ceremony. During this free time I walked around to see the other groups, costumes and fellow ALT friends. I quickly realized that this proved to be an unwise thing to do. By being one of a few foreigners in the area in costume I had somehow attained a celebrity like status. Alone I was photographed as often as any other person in costume. If I did anything other than stand or walk, I would be photographed about three times as much. This does prove to be a bit of a shock when you sit down to rest and find three people taking your picture. When I went to find my friends talking to them could attract up to 8 people. What should one do when this happens? Refuse? Throw their camera back at them? Dance? I found that taking a picture of them with my own camera soon had them running and didn't make me seem too rude either. The amusing and slightly annoying thing was when they started giving directions. Natural look please! Please talk! Since when could a group of complete strangers tell me what to do for their own photographs!? Very few asked my permission beforehand.
A few minutes later I reminded myself that most of these people would have rarely seen a foreign person wearing a traditional Japanese costume and it's just surprise, curiosity and a good photo opportunity that caused so many people to photograph me. I spent the rest of the day feeling like a actress on the red carpet though. Elderly people were shocked to see me, children were amazed and wanted to touch me or give me a high five... it was strange and funny and weird all at the same time.

^ Three people take my photo while I do the amazing, never seen before action of...sitting!

^My group all lined up and ready to go.

The weather was so hot we ended up stripping our top layer and tying it around our waists so we were just playing in our undershirts. The rest of our costume was made of white shorts, white socks (specially designed to be worn with traditional shoes) and said traditional shoes that were like a wooden version of flip flops with a slight wedge. The soft drinks were soon consumed in the heat so we left with a choice of sake or beer to drink throughout the afternoon!

Around 4-5 hours later we finally finished the parade around the city and pulled our float back to its shed to stay there until next year. We then had 40 minutes to shower and change for our group party that evening, an event for everyone to eat plenty and drink even more. When I set off for home I thanked everyone for their kindness and was met with cheers and rounds of "sankyou" (most Japanese people can't say "th" so say sankyou instead) while they tried their hand shakes with me (a novelty as they bow instead here).

It was an exhausting but wonderful two weeks of culture exchange. Exactly the kind of thing I came I came to Japan for. It was such an honour to join in with this festival.

unallersimple: (japan poster)
On the 19th October all my hard work finally paid off when I had an amazing experience in a traditional Japanese festival. After two weeks of rehearsing nearly every night we spent one Sunday walking around the city in costume banging huge Doh drums. Tiring but fun!

There was so much about this experience to enjoy. During the rehearsals I had a chance to meet more locals and practice speaking Japanese with them. It was nice to meet some more adults too as I tend to only see teenagers because of my teaching job. Break times in the rehearsals were fun when the elderly men in the group had too much sake to drink; they had a tendency to wander onto the road into oncoming traffic... Sometimes the group leader got a little silly and would sneak up on the flute players and speak in their ear with his megaphone on.

At first it was difficult to learn the two drumming tunes I needed to know. The people there didn't speak any English (and the ones that did didn't let on until afterwards as usual!) and my Japanese sadly didn't extend to drum related vocabulary. A lot of the time my drumming stance wasn't right so someone would come up and jabber away in Japanese while illustrating the correct way. I just tried to copy everyone else.
Eventually I got the hang of things and realised that by listening to the flutes (the only other instrument used as well as the drums) I could keep a better rhythm and know when to change between the two drumming tunes.

As the big day drew nearer my costume was prepared. Thankfully the clothes fit fine but my feet were a bit of a problem. They were too big for the women's shoes! I never felt self conscious about my feet or believed them to be oddly sized until a bunch of Japanese people all gathered round to watch me try on some men's footwear.

On the big day I cycled to our group's starting place to see dozens of people in costume getting their make up applied, having photos taken and practicing for the last time. The drums had been decorated and taken out of their holding place to the roadside.

I think some people thought I would be walking with my own drum similar to a marching band or something but the drums were much to big to be able to do that with. My group had three drums, all about 2-3 feet in diameter. They were embedded in a huge wooden float on wheels pulled along by local children and any adults who were walking with us but not drumming. The drummers walked alongside the float sideways and played the drums at the same time. (Quite tricky to do, especially when the float suddenly stopped or speeded up!)

Here's the float waiting to go. (Note how practical drums can be, here it seems to be perfect seating for small children!)

unallersimple: (hectopus)
There is so much I want to write about and so little time...it's so frustrating!

At the moment I'm spending every evening at drumming practice so I can perform in a drumming festival next weekend. These drums are huge! It's kinda like hitting a round table about 2 feet in diameter with rolling pins, that's how large the sticks are. My arms are going to be very strong by the time I've finished!

Days are flying by in a blur of work-eat-drum-sleep-work-eat-drum etc. But still, it's good to be able to talk with some more people in the community and do something new and fun.

On Tuesday I had my adult conversation class. This week I was teaching them how to talk about hobbies. It was a very random lesson as people had brought in examples of their hobbies and interests to talk about. This meant that the lesson featured a demo of scuba diving equipment, a beautifully painted wooden tray, some soap from Thailand and a rendition of "Yesterday" by the Beatles by a 62 year old playing the ukulele! One lady was unable to find a babysitter so brought her one year old along. Another enjoys baking and gave me a bag of cake to take home! I love my job.

I really love my job.



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