Otabi Matsuri 2012

What’s better than festival floats? Elementary school kids decked out in full kabuki gear performing short plays on festival floats, of course! This weekend is Komatsu’s famous Otabi Matsuri, a celebration of Komatsu’s local history and culture. If you’re curious about kabuki but are intimidated by formal performances, this is a great chance to see short performances in a casual atmosphere (with festival food).

From My Japan Travel Guide

Hikiyama floats from the eight central towns will be on display throughout downtown Komatsu all day. The floats in Nishi-machi and Muraki-machi will host hour-long Kabuki shows twice during the afternoon. At around 4:30, all eight floats will be carried to a central location and lit up for two evening performances.  On Saturday, the first evening performance begins at 6:00. To get there, just take a right coming out of the station–the main gathering of floats will be at the intersection of the 305 and the station road.

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Seihakusai Matsuri and Kutanyaki Matsuri

In addition to the Uchinada Kite Festival, Ishikawa has two other great festivals going on in the second long weekend of Golden Week. The Seihakusai Matsuri in Nanao is one of city’s major claims to fame and bosts three prime examples of dekayama (huge mountain) festival floats. The Kutaniyaki Festival in Nomi is a three-day long Kutanyaki bazaar with pieces from numerous kilns.  Both festivals will go from Thursday May 3rd to Saturday May 5th, so with some clever day-trip planning, you don’t have to miss a thing!

Some Kutaniyaki ware. (thanks odanobuhide!)

Seihakusai Matsuri Floats! (from nanao-cci.or.jp)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hokuriku Odekake Pass

Staying in the area over Golden Week? If you want to use your three and four-day weekends to explore the area without spending a lot on train fare, JR West has you covered. You may have seen the Hokuriku O-dekake Pass (北陸お出かけパス)advertized before:

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Basically, this is a day-long all-you-can-ride pass for anywhere within the area listed on the map. The zone goes as far north as Tanihama (谷浜)in Niigata Prefecture, and as far south as Nagahama, Fukui on the Hokuriku Line and Aonogou, Fukui on the Obama Line. (Yes, you can visit the city of Obama.) The zone also includes the Noto Line as far as Wakura Onsen. If you haven’t visited Echizen, the Noto, or Toyama Prefecture yet, this is a cheap way to get there and back in a day. Fare from Kanazawa to Aonogou on local trains is 3,570 yen one way, so if you want to go far north or south, this pass can pay for itself at least three times over.

So, how does it work? The pass costs 2,000 yen. It can ONLY be used for local trains (no Limited Express trains like the Thunderbird, Shirasagi, or Hokuetsu). It can also ONLY be used on Saturdays, Sundays, or national holidays. You can get on and off as many times as you would like. The biggest catch perhaps is that it must be purchased AT LEAST three days in advance. You can purchase it as early as one month before the day you want to use it, but they are quite strict about the three days. Passes are definitely available at the larger JR stations like Kanazawa and Komatsu, and must be ordered at the counter. Smaller stations may or may not have them. The offer ends September 30th of this year, but it will probably be back.

Intrigued, but not sure which direction to go? The southern part of Fukui might be familiar to most Ishikawa JETs, but only from out the window of an Osaka or Nagoya-bound train. The Echizen area of Fukui  (normally 1,600+ each way from Kanazawa) is full of temples, shrines, and ruins to explore. 

For those of you living in Southern Ishikawa, this is a cheap way to explore the lower Noto, as tickets from Komatsu to Wakura Onsen usually run about 1,890 yen each way. Similarly, folks in the Noto can get to places like Natadera and Yunokuni no Mori in Kaga.

Your Hokuriku staycation can still be awesome and within budget–just make sure to get your Hokuriku O-dekake Pass at least three days in advance!

 

 

SAD Times?

Japan, you have heard over and over, has four seasons. Though winter technically doesn’t begin until December 22nd (the solstice), both the weather and the department stores have moved into full winter mode. As you read this, you’re probably under your kotatsu eating something covered in Melty Kiss, with Heat Tec leggings and undershirts at the ready for your cold, windy, wet, dark tomorrow.

In addition to gangs of common colds, winter also brings with it another illness: Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly anchronymized SAD. SAD isn’t the same as chronic or depression, though it can compound it, and it can start at any time in someone’s life. Those of you coming from the Southern Hemisphere are especially prone to SAD this season because you get two winters back to back–winter in your home country before coming here, and now winter in Ishikawa.

Most doctors believe that SAD is a response to a lack of natural light, often compounded by a change in nutrients as people change from a diet filled with summer and fall veggies and fruits to one…less filled with veggies and fruits. Symptoms include lethargy, disinterest in daily activities, oversleeping, overeating, anxiety, mood changes.

The good news is that even in Ishikawa, where the sun barely peaks through the clouds in the morning and it’s pitch black when you leave your school/BOE sometime around 4:30, there are lots of things you can do to winterize your mental health.

1. Try for 30 minutes in natural light–sunlight if you can get it–every day. This is a clinically proven way of beating the winter blues, and you will feel a little better almost immediately. If you have your lunches free and the weather permits, spend half an hour outside. If you don’t have lunch free, chances are, your school or BoE allows for one or two smoke breaks. Ask if you can use them to spend some quality time with the sun.

2. Wake up with the sun. Wait, don’t skip this one! Sunrise is at about 6:55 am here–morning sunlight probably starts just a little earlier than you wake up. Set one alarm for sunrise and one for your normal wakeup time, and just open the curtains when you hear the first one. Starting the day with some natural light makes a big difference.

3. Eat for your brain. Yes, chocolate is awesome. So is beer. So are tempura and croquettes. However, your brain needs some other things to get through the winter. During winter months, it’s best to up your consumption of folic acids, amino acids, omega 3s, protein, and vitamins C and D. Spinach (ほうれんそう), fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, mikans, milk, eggs, and whole grains like brown rice (玄米, genmai) and quinoa (キヌア) are great ways to come by these ingredients naturally. Stashing the mikans on your kotatsu along with (or instead of) the other snacks will also prevent guilt.

4. Don’t isolate yourself. Meet up with your friends often, especially your friends within the community. It’s easy to complain with other ALTs, CIRs, or foreigners about your troubles here, but much harder (or at least much more impolite) to complain to that nice lady at the bakery who likes to practice English with you, or the family that sometimes invites you out to dinner. Stay connected. After all, people all over the world have been driving the cold of winter away with the company of family and friends for millenia.

In two weeks, it will stop getting darker and start getting lighter every day. Meanwhile, your friends, Area Leaders, Prefectural Advisors, and JET hotline staff are there to help.

Stay warm and happy!

Lauren is an ALT in Komatsu and has a little too much experience with the winter blues from her days in Oregon and Minnesota.

Shipping Anything this Holiday Season?

Update: The Japan Post will be lifting this parcel ban on December 1, 2010.

AS OF TOMORROW, THE JAPAN POST WILL NO LONGER SEND PARCELS MORE THAN 453 GRAMS (1LB) TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

You read that correctly. Citing an incident in which a toner bomb was nearly shipped to the US via Yemen and tightening American shipping policies, the Japan Post is the first of several East Asian countries to announce it will not ship parcels to the US that weigh more than 453 grams. As of now, this ban is indefinite–no word on whether it will last through the holidays.

If you have friends or family living in the US, your options are to either send very lightweight gifts through the Japan Post or to go through private shipping companies such as Yamato Transport, DHL, or FedEx Japan. Due to this incoming wave of restrictions, Yamato and DHL require you to submit either the recipient’s SSN or IRS ID. FedEx Japan has no such requirement, provided your gift is valued at less than 10,000 yen. These private companies will cost at least twice the amount that Japan Post does, and branches are hard to find.

To prove that I am not making this up:

Japan Post’s Announcement (Japanese)

Japan Post to Stop Parcels to the US

US Department of Homeland Security Briefing RE: increased security measures

A List of Alternatives from Yokoso News

Lauren lives in Komatsu and will be sending her family bitty Totoro towels for Christmas.

Yes You CAN Bus

(It’s a horrible title, but it had to be done. Sorry.)

The Kaga area of Ishikawa is famous for its pottery, sake, hot springs, and quirky attractions. If you have a day off in the middle of the week, a sudden daikyuu, or are looking for something new on the weekends, the following places in Kaga are conveniently connected through the CAN Bus:
-Natadera
-Yamanaka Onsen
-Kaga Fruit Land
-Yunokuni Mori Onsen
-Tsukino Usagi no Sato, a bunny park(月のうさぎの里)
-Dainichizakari Sake Cellar
-Katayamazu Onsen
- The World Glass Museum
- Korogi Bridge (that super-famous bridge with the nice fall colors)

The CAN Bus has two main loops, both starting at the Kaga Onsen station. The 海まわり (coastal loop) 山まわり (mountain loop) go in opposite directions. The fare is 1000円 for a day pass for an adult, which seems steep compared to bus fare in Kanazawa, but keep in mind that these attractions are fairly far flung. Also, you can buy a 1200円 two day pass for getting to an onsen/ryokan and back.

The Canbus Route

The Day Pass can be purchased at the JR Kaga Onsen station. One simply shows the day pass as one exits the bus at the destination. The Mountain Route runs half hourly in the mornings from 9 to 11, then hourly over the lunch hour, and hourly until 17:30 with a cluster of buses departing every 10 minutes during the 14:00 hour. This route will take you to Natadera, Yunokuni, Yamanaka Onsen, and Korogi. The Coastal Route will get you to Fruit Land, the bunnies, the sake distillery, and Katayamazu Onsen. It runs once an hour and varying intervals, just to be contrary.

The CAN Bus English Guide can be found at:

http://www.kaga-can-bus.com/

Schedules can be found at:

http://www.kaga-can-bus.com/co210107new%5B1%5D.pdf

Posted by Lauren, who doesn’t have a car.

Sweet Remittances

It’s been all over the news that the yen is at high point. At 83 to 85 yen to the US dollar, you might have gotten a better rate for sending money home in the 1980s, but not by much. If you’re fresh out of college, this rate is just in time for the first payment of student loans; if not, well, it’s still a great rate and your savings will no longer tempt you from your bank book balance.

Many people working abroad recommend GoLLoyds for their money transfer needs. However, GoLloyds charges 2000 yen to send the money, and then will charge your overseas account to recieve it. Your bank might even hand you more processing charges after that, possibly doubling the 2000 yen you thought was enough. As convenient as GoLLoyds is, there is another option with less fees.

Post office money orders (郵便為替 ゆうびんかわせ) are a slightly slower way of getting your money abroad, but are less complicated and less fee-laden than instant transfers. For the same 2000 yen, the post office will take up to 30 man yen cash and exchange it for you, turning it into money order (like a traveller’s check) in whatever currency you like. (Unless you want to sent money to Ireland. Then it doesn’t work at all.) That check is then sent via post to a designated recipient at home. You can send the check by EMS (express mail) and insure the amount enclosed.

All you need to bring with you is your Alien Registration Card, the cash you want to send plus 2000 yen, and your hanko. The forms are in both Japanese and English, but the two instructions that might not be intuitive are as follows:

Fill out the form with your address in romaji. Ishikawa Prefecture, etc. Fill in your name EXACTLY as it appears on your gaijin card–last, first, middle name.

The Bank section of the post office gives you checks, and then you write your address and the address of the recipient before you take them to the post office proper to have them mailed. You can choose regular, registered or express mail, the latter of which will set you back 1000 yen.

While perhaps not as convenient as GoLloyds or PayPal, it is a secure service that allows you to avoid fees on the other end. It’s also handy for repaying to a specific recipient for loans or gifts.

Haunted House Needs Scary Foreigners

By now, I’m sure some of you have been asked to organize or volunteer at at least one Halloween event or run a Halloween class. However, if you’re feeling festive and don’t have a place to scare Japanese children on the 30th, Komatsu’s International Association would love to have you!

KIA is throwing a big Halloween Party for the kids of Komatsu and its environs. We need some ALTs in costume to help out with the games, and–if we can get some more people–possibly a haunted house.

We know you have awesome costumes, great haunted house ideas, and probably some sweet Halloween props. Please put them to use–it’s only once a year!

The Halloween Party itself runs from 1 to 6 on Saturday the 30th, leaving you plenty of time to get to Kanazawa for the AJET get-together. (Komatsu is 30 minutes and not many yen away from Kanazawa Station.)

Set up will be very important for the tentative Haunted House, and we plan on doing that on the 29th in the early evening. Your creative ideas and awesome props would be appreciated–it might be the closest thing to a real Halloween these kids will experience, and we want to make it great.

If you’re interested, write me a keitai mail at laurena at softbank.

Lauren will buy you a drink if you volunteer and show. For reals.

Sneaky Lard and Tips for Specialized Diets

Keeping Kosher, Halal, or strictly vegetarian can be ridiculously difficult abroad, especially in a country where  your dietary restriction is not widely held.  Usually dietary restrictions are accompanied by personal thresholds, ranging from a zero tolerance policy to (for example) “just as long as I don’t actually eat a hunk of meat.” This post is geared mostly for those who are on the stricter parts of the spectrum, either for allergies or religious reasons.

1. Finding Allergens

While the back of packaging will always have a list of ingredients (in Kanji), most Japanese prepared foods do not label wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, or citrus fruits with special indicators or pictures. Helpful allergen charts like on the CheeseRich line of snack packs are also in Kanji, though easier to search through than the basic ingredient (原材料名)list on the back.

Here are some Kanji to look out for:

落花生(らっかせい) or 南京豆 (なんきんまめ) : Peanut
胡桃 くるみ : Walnut
海老 (えび) : Shrimp
帆立 (ほたて) : Scallop
貝 (かい): Shellfish
麩質 (ふしつ): Gluten
小麦 (こむぎ); Wheat
柑橘類 (かんきつるい): Citrus Fruits

If your allergies are severe, you can look for this sentence:
本品製工造場では、(allergens)を含む製品を生産しています。
It has the same connotation as “this product is made in a factory that uses (allergen).”

2. Finding Pork Products (豚肉)

No major or well-represented religion in Japan has an express restriction on pork. (Strict Buddhists are often just straight up vegetarian or vegan.) As such, food products that were Kosher, Halal, or even vegetarian in countries with populations that keep Kosher and Halal are, fairly often, cooked with pork products. Unless you are always in the habit of looking, this could lead to an unpleasant surprise. Most curry rice cubes and several bakeries use pork extract and lard, respectively. With curry, if you have a zero-tolerance policy, you might need to skip the cubes and buy powder mixes, which are only spices and allow you to use your own oil and extracts.

Lard is rarely written in katakana, and has its own kanji, 脂, that shares a reading with vegetable oil, あぶら (油). Asking “is there lard in this?” (あぶらがはいていますか) could very easily be interpreted as “is there any type of oil in this?”, a tragic misunderstanding that would rule out a lot of delicious things in your life. Instead, if at a bakery, you can ask if the oil is 植物油 (しょくぶつゆ). Also you can ask if there are pork products 豚から製品 or ぶたからせいひん in your object of choice.

Best of luck!

Lauren is an ALT in Komatsu who has yet to find a pork-free curry cube.

Komatsu City Don Don Matsuri (10/10)

This Sunday,  Komatsu City will hold its 35th annual Don Don Matsuri. This festival isn’t affiliated with any shrine or spiritual practice; rather, it’s yearly chance for  garage bands, theater troupes, and traditional dance ensembles to take over the area around the Komatsu JR station for a day. The festival also includes a market,  lots of festival food, and–of course–a drink tent. 

While not as famous among ALTs as some of Ishikawa’s more traditional matsuri, the Don Don Matsuri offers something unique: a chance to sample the many genres of music, dance, and theater found in Japan for free all in a single afternoon (with a drink tent and takoyaki cart nearby).  Also, because the festival is made up of many community organizations, it can give you a feel for what is out there in terms of art and music organizations and an opportunity to contact a Flamenco group, belly dancing class,  or shamisen instructor.

Local band/troupe performances begin at 10 am on Sunday and last until 5.  From 5 to 7:20, there will be a series of civic parades, followed by performances from the most popular or better-known groups until 8 or 9. 

The festival is easy to access by train or bus:  from Kanazawa, take the Hokuriku line bound for Fukui (or Komatsu) to Komatsu station. Trains run every 30 minutes until 10:30 at night. From Kaga, take the Hokuriku line toward Kanazawa.

Don Don Matsuri Event Page (Japanese).

Posted by Lauren, who is looking forward to underground rock bands and tiny children attempting taiko.