The 2014 Uchinada Beach Party: Information Galore

The end of summer approaches!  Well… it may not be the end of summer weather (sorry, folks – still another month or more of that) but the summer as defined by the Gregorian Calendar is certainly drawing to a close.

"You're welcome!" -Guy who never lived in Japan.

“You’re welcome!” -Guy who never lived in Japan.

Continue reading

Hanami 2014

The time is near!  Soon those barren, sad trees that have been collecting snow on their branches all winter will bloom, triggering one of Japan’s most recognizable springtime activities: Cherry blossom viewing.

What are your plans for this season?  Make sure you think ahead, because an unfortunate characteristic of hanami season (especially in Ishikawa) is its brevity.

When?

This year, it looks like the first bloom should come around April 5th, with the full bloom coming a few days later, around April 9th.  There are numerous hanami forecasting websites, including the one I just linked, so do a little bit of research to make the best prediction.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 4.42.00 PM

A sakura forecast for 2014.

Where?

Sure, there are trees all over this fair country.  Why, on your way to work you probably pass by numerous cherry trees.  But where are the best places to get the full hanami experience of kicking back on a blanket, drinking a delicious chu-hai, and soaking in the springtime sunshine?  (Disclaimer: due to your residence in Ishikawa, your “sunshine” experience may vary.)  I asked a few JETs, both current and former, for their best picks for blossom viewing.  Here are some suggestions, with a map below:

“My favourite is Rojo Park in Komatsu! The park is absolutely filled with cherry blossom trees and there’s plenty of space to sit, drink, and barbecue all day (and night) long. There are also delicious festival food booths close-by, of course. Lanterns are strewn throughout the tress, and as the sun sets the park is lit up with soft, pink light. Rojo Park is rather beautiful in general – with small waterfalls and scenic bridges – but in the spring, it becomes a sea of pink.”  -Danielle

“Kenrokuen obviously but also along both rivers in KZ (Asanogawa and Saigawa). Sakuragaoka high school also has that name for I reason I suppose.” -Ida

“Saigawa.” -Hantz

“The obvious would be the Saigawa between the blue bridge and I believe it’s the Sakura bridge? Basically anything east of Katamachi.  The sakura trees along Hyakumangoku road are quite nice.”  -Mauricio

“Up behind Kanazawa, there’s a few groves in the ‘400-Year Forest’ (四百年の森) that were great, especially later in the season because of the higher elevation and since they were shielded from the wind.”  -Daniel

“I know it is awkward asking people to go up there – but the Education center is stunning. There is even a little 10 minute hike you can do to the look out.  Komaruyama park and Sakura Station in the Noto/Nanao region are supposed to be beautiful too.” -Melissa

“My favorite place is, of course, along the banks of the Saigawa; but if you’re looking for a place a bit less traveled to, check out the shidare sakura (http://kimassi.net/hana/kitasakura.html) in Kahoku.”  -Joanna

For a map of these locations, just click here!

Now hopefully you’re ready to go stake out a spot and enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms in a few weeks.  Have fun, everyone!  

If you have any suggestions for other great hanami areas in Ishikawa, post them in the comments section below.

Setsubun Traditions and Festivals

Setsubun is February 3rd this year, and you’ve probably already seen ogre decorations in your school or ogre masks on sale at your local department store. Here’s a rundown of Setsubun traditions and events in Ishikawa.

First off, what is Setsubun? Setsubun is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the name 節分 just means “seasonal divide” and refers to the midpoint in between solstices and equinoxes as determined by the classical Chinese lunisolar calendar. There are actually four setsubun in a year: 立春 (risshun, spring setsubun, February 4th), 立夏 (rikka, summer setsubun, May 5th), 立秋 (risshuu, fall setsubun, August 7th) ,  and 立冬 (rittou, winter setsubun, November 7th).  In the classical Chinese lunisolar calendar, these dates–not the solstices and equinoxes themselves–are considered to be the beginning of the new season. Of these four, only the spring setsubun is a major festival in Japan, so the term stuck to that day.

Traditionally, Setsubun was a time to celebrate the end of the coldest period of winter and a time to drive away any lingering bad luck. The most famous Setsubun tradition is 豆撒き (mamemaki), throwing beans to cast out evil spirits and purify the home.  Some homes with children choose a family member to wear an ogre mask and throw beans at them, yelling 「福は内、鬼は外!」(fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto, good luck in, demons out!) and slamming the door behind them when they inevitably run away.

Shrines will have similar Setsubun festivities where visitors can purchase beans to throw at volunteers in ogre masks. Sardine heads and boughs of holly act as a further deterrent for bad spirits, and visitors can pick up any protection or luck charms they might have forgotten at New Year’s.

In recent years, supermarkets and convenience stores throughout Japan have picked up the Osaka tradition* of selling 恵方巻 (ehoumaki, whole sushi rolls) at Setsubun. Eating the whole roll in silence while facing the given year’s chosen direction is said to grant good luck.

Interested in seeing some Setsubun festivities but don’t have access to a household full of small Japanese children to throw beans at? Kanazawa’s Utasu Jinja has a Setsubun Festival every year.  The geisha and maiko of Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya district perform a fan dance at this festival and then throw blessed beans to the crowd so visitors can take them home for luck.

What:  Utasu Shrine Setsubun Festival 宇多須神社節分祭り

When:  Sunday February 3, 2013.
13:00  Sake tasting
14:00  Setsubun matsuri opening ceremony
14:30  Geisha performance (fan dance)
15:00  Bean-throwing ceremony

Where:  Utasu Shrine, Higashi Chaya, Kanazawa

Getting There:  From Kanazawa station, take the Loop Bus to the Hashibachou Kouban-mae stop (橋場町交番前),  L6.  The shrine is a 5 minute (and very scenic!) walk away.

Walking directions from the bus stop:

Experience Kanazawa has more details about the festival here.

If your town has an awesome Setsubun festival, please comment with info!

福は内、鬼は外!

Cooking with Koji: Cooking Class Thurs, January 24th

Foodies of Ishikawa, you’re in for a treat! Yuka Kokon is offering a class next week at Noppo kun restaurant about how to make and season foods with salt koji, an Ishikawa specialty. What is salt koji, you may ask? Koji is a trendy fermented seasoning (like miso) made of steamed rice and the same fermenting agent used in sake and soy sauce.

In this class, you will be taught how to make your own salt koji and also how to use salt koji in other recipes.

Class Information

When:  Thursday, January 24th, from 10 am to 12:30 pm.

Where:  Noppo kun Restaurant and Natural Foods Market in Nonoichi
石川県野々市市本町2-1-24

Cost: 2,500 yen. This includes lunch!

Contact:   koji.seminar(at)gmail.com

The organizer of this event is English-proficient and will be on-hand during the demonstration. Both the chef and the organizer are excited to share this little-known specialty with Ishikawa’s foreign residents, so even if you can’t attend, pass word along!

Salt Koji Cooking Seminar (ENG)

 

Nabana-No-Sato Winter Illumination Tours

Following on from the Kobe Luminarie, `Asunaro Tours` is offering trips to Mie Prefecture`s most beautiful winter illumination, Nabana-No-Sato.

Nabana-No-Sato

Nabana-No-Sato

Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination

Tour 1:
Cost: Y5,500
Operation Days:
– December 8,9,15,16,17,21,22,23,24
– January 1,2,3,5,6,12,13,14,19,27
– February 2,3,9,10,11,14,16,17,23,24
– March 1,2,3
Length: 1 day
Includes:
– Roundtrip bus fare and inter-area bus travel between Kanazawa/Kaga Stations and the light-up area.
– Stop offs at Jazz Dream Outlet Mall (4hours), Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination (2.5hours, includes entry fee to the Begonia Garden)
Departs: Kanazawa Station West Exit 7:30am (next,Kaga Station)
Returns: Kanazawa Station (last stop via Kaga Station) 23:30

Tour 2:
Cost: Y8480
Operation Days:
– January 19,20,22,26,27,29,31
– February 2,3,6,8,9,10,11
Length: 1 day
Includes:
– All-you-can-eat lunch at Gamagoori Orange Park (ebi-fry,beef steak,crab,pork shabushabu,kishimen noodles, chirashi-zushi sushi, etc winter`s best foods)
– Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination (3hours, includes entry fee to the Begonia Garden)
Departs: Kanazawa Station West Exit 8:30am
Returns: Kanazawa Station 23:30 : This tour departs from & arrives at Kanazawa Station only

Again, for bookings and further information, go to your local Hokutetsu Bus office or contact Hokutetsu Koukuu on 076-242-3337. Pamphlets available at Hokutetsu stations and bus offices.

Kobe Luminarie Tours

Winter in Japan = snow. Right?

Wrong. Winter in Japan = snow and illuminations!

Hokutetsu/Komatsu Bus company are offering several great-value day/weekend trips out to some of Japan`s most fantastic illumination events, and it`d be a shame to miss out 🙂 Listed below are the details for the Kobe Luminarie ones:

Kobe Luminarie

Kobe Luminarie

 Kobe Luminarie
By far one of Japan`s most famous illuminations, the Kobe Luminarie is held every year in memorial of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. It is on from December 6 – 17th, 18:00 – 21:00. Expected to be very crowded on weekends in particular, so anticipate queuing and moving around the display in lines on weekends (unfortunately).Tour 1:
Cost: Y4500
Operation Days: Every day from Dec 6th – 17th
Length: 1 day
Includes: Roundtrip bus fare from Kanazawa/Kaga stations to Mitsui Outlet shopping Park, and on to Kobe Luminarie event area.
Departs: 7am Kanazawa Station (West exit) (next,Kaga Station)
Returns: 24:00 Kanazawa Station (last stop,via Kaga Station)
The itinerary is completely free-plan, so you can do your own thing until departure time from the Luminarie 🙂

Tour 2:
Cost: Y16,980
Operation Days: Every day from Dec 7th – 17th
Length: 2 days/1 night
Includes:
– 1 night`s accommodation for 1/2persons per room at Chisan Hotel Shin-Osaka (9pm-9am, western room,breakfast included)
– Roundtrip and tour bus fares from Kanazawa/Kaga Stations, within Kobe City, Osaka City, and to and from Mie and Aichi prefectures
– Day trip to Kobe Harbourland (free plan exploring), and Kobe Luminarie (free plan)
– Day trip to Aichi & Mie prefectures, Outlet Mall Jazz Dream, and Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination (entrance fees included, free plan)
Departs: Kanazawa Station West Exit 7:30am (next,Kaga Station)
Returns: Kanazawa Station (last stop) 22:30

For further information, or to book one of these tours, you can go to your local Hokutetsu Bus office, or phone Hokutetsu Koukuu on 076-242-3337. On booking the tour, you will need to pay either 20% of the fee as a deposit, or the whole sum upfront. The pamphlet for these `Asunaro Tours` is available at Hokutetsu Kanzawa Station, and other Hokutetsu stations and bus offices, and it may help to have it on you for simplicity-sake when booking 🙂

In addition, MKBus Tours is offering a rather no-fuss roundtrip tour for Y3800 (excl Y100 donation to the Luminarie), departing December 8,9,15 & 16th from Kanazawa Station West Exit 8am, and returning there at 24:15. See the link below for the bookings procedure (telephone and furikomi):

http://www.mktour.net/contents_daytrip2.html

Senmaida Light Up

The Senmaida (1000 rice fields) Light Up is brightening up Wajima on October 13th (Saturday) this year.

Senmaida lit up at night.

Senmaida is a designated national cultural asset, and is lit up with 30,000 candles every year after the rice cutting. If you’re interested in volunteering to place all those candles, now’s your chance!

Volunteer Deadline: 18 September 2012

Every year, JETs from around Ishikawa volunteer as one of Senmaida’s akaribito–light people–to place and light candles in the rice fields. This year, 350 volunteers are needed, and each will receive a special gift (a tote bag and face towel are shown on the website) as well as something to drink, for their work. The sign up sheets for volunteering can be found here: http://semmaida.kuronowish.com/senakari/tomoshi.html

Transport to Wajima Michi-no-eki is usually organised amongst volunteering JETs (carpools), or you can make use of the Noto Furusato Ticket for trains as far as Anamizu. For more information on the bus bus from Anamizu to Wajima michi-no-eki here. You could also take a bus to Wajima.

Free shuttle buses to Senmadia will be available from the following locations to transport volunteers: Wajima Michi-no-eki, Wajima Marine Town (14:20), Nafunegyokou (14:35), Sosogi  Furusato Taikenjisshukan and Najimi-kaizen centre (14:20).

Volunteer Schedule:

14:20 – Free shuttle bus for volunteers starts operating
14:50 – All volunteers meet at Senmaida Pocket Park
15:00 – Activity explanation and separation of volunteers into groups
15:20 – Start placing candles
16:30 – short break (each volunteer is given something to drink). The remaining candles etc will be collected, and the volunteers must each take the tools for lighting the candles
16:50 – start lighting candles
17:30 – finish lighting candles, event starts
17:50 – volunteers create a circle with flashlights

Event Schedule

17:00 – UNESCO sites in the Oku-Noto
17:30 – Wajima Wadaiko-toranosuke (wadaiko drum performance)
17:50 – Opening ceremony; volunteers create circle of light
18:30 – Ishikawa-ken Intangible Cultural Asset; Gojinjodaiko taiko drumming
19:10 – Quintet CIRC
19:50 – Yanawaraba mini concert
21:00 – End of event; shuttle buses back to Wajima Michi-no-eki and other designated shuttle bus spots.

Note: For non-volunteers, the shuttle bus is ¥200, and starts operating from 16:00.

Senmaida is truly a beautiful sight, so if you can go or missed out last year, I highly recommend it! 😀

Kanazawa City Residents Marathon 2012

For all the runners out there 😉

The 19th Kanazawa City Residents Marathon (第19回金沢市民マラソン) will take place on November 11th this year.

The races available are: 3km, 5km, and 10km. There is no half or full marathon, despite the name. There are also family races available for families with children of elementary school age.

Race Registration

Entry Period: Now until October 5th 2012
Entry Fee: ¥2000 (+¥200 handling fee). Only one race can be entered per person.
Entry Process: You can enter online via jtbsports.jp (you need to sign in for free & search the race) or via post office furikomi money form. You can find the form in the first PDF at the bottom of the page here: http://www.fukui-sports.jp/event/detail.php?cd=221

The Event

Where: 金沢市営陸上競技場 (Kanazawa-shi-ei Rikujo-kyogi-jo)
Reception: 10 November, 10am – 5pm, and 11 November 6:30 – 7:20am.
Opening Ceremony: 7:20am
Race Start: 10km course @ 8am, 5km course @ 8:10am, 3km course for general public (not school students) 9:49am.
Time Limit (10km course only): Those runners who have not passed the 5km mark 40 minutes after the start (i.e. at 8:40am), and/or the 6.6km mark in 50 minutes, will be disqualified.

Other Information

– Runners who complete their race will receive a completion certificate
– Each runner will receive a DIY health check form, to be handed in at reception when receiving your number cards.
– There is no parking at the event, but there will be allocated parking areas for use, as well as a shuttle bus to the event (from these, presumably).
– There will be a massage tent set up for any muscular inflamation or other sprains
– The 10km race runners will be organized at the start line into blocks according to their self-predicted race completion times

Please see the official site for more information (Japanese only): http://www.kanazawa-city-marathon.jp/

So, who`s keen to “enjoying” running together? 😉