Karatsu Autumn Festival

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One of my best and most traditional experiences in Japan! Chi, a Japanese friend invited us to a traditional festival in Karatsu Japan on Kyushu Island. Of course we said yes and my sister and I were picked up on a raining morning with another American friend and Chi to hit the road. We were zipping along in seconds and I feel like in Japan the towns are so close but because the speed limit is always so slow and the roads are so narrow and the roads zig and zag it is always hard to get to where you are going quickly.

Karatsu is a town close to Saga and holds the biggest Autumn festival of Kyushu island every year. Karatsu is composed of 14 cho’s (neighborhoods) which each have a giant float made of plastic and lacquer. Each year someone in the cho is chosen to ride on top of the float and a big group of the young men and women and children pull the floats through the city with long ropes while they beat drums and play music. It was amazing!

Floats of Karatsu

Floats of Karatsu

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Before the parade started we went to a traditional Japanese house for dinner. During the festival which lasts the whole week, there is much food prepared to celebrate. A large fish is cooked under hot coals for 3 days time and there are just platters of everything. We came inside the house, removed our shoes, and were ushered to sit down at a low table laden with food. We were then given small bowls and dishes to try the food to our hearts content. One of the men even let us try on his silk robe that was embroidered with war fighters! He had already drank a bit too much sake. haha.

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When we left that house the guy in the silk robe followed us out and insisted that we come across the street to his home. We tried our hardest to politely decline but he wasn’t having it so off we went, up to his house, to the surprise of his family. They were very nice and passed around a soup for us to try with mushrooms, greens, and rice cakes. We didn’t stay long since our group had about 9 people and we had yet another place to get to.

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We headed back into the town and got a cab ride to a restaurant that one of the Japanese people knew the owner and it turns out we were ushered into the closed restaurant to be served personally by the chef. The chef’s wife also asked me to help interview her son in English for a class project. Of course I accepted.

By the time we tried all of the delicious foods he had prepared for us, I was completely stuffed. At this time the rain had started to pick up outside pitter-pattering down the roof tops. They allowed us to borrow umbrellas and then we were off walking towards the center of town for the parade.

The streets were a sight to be hold! Every cho was dressed in their silk robes representing their neighborhood and we lined up in the streets with everyone else as one of the floats rounded the corner. It was magnificent. Apparently they hold the parade for hours but because of the rain they were bringing the floats to the center of the town and getting them inside out of the weather so they wouldn’t get ruined. What a great festival and parade!

I ended the day at a stand buying a banana dipped in chocolate on a stick. We were kindly given a ride back to our car and hit the road for home. Chi had stayed behind with her friends so it was just the American crew on the way back. We got lost about 8 different times which is the usual over here. haha.

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This is one of my most favorite Japanese experiences so far!

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Ekumae Lantern Festival, Japan

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It was Friday morning and time for my driver’s test in Japan (driving on the other side of the road for me is a very bad idea!) when another officer asked me if I wanted to go to Ekumae that evening to a Lantern Festival. I had nothing else going on so of course I said yet. I finished my drivers test (which I passed!) when shopping for a few items then headed back to get ready to go. I brought a back pack of snacks along for the ride and we were headed to the train station in the early afternoon to catch the train to Ekumae. J has more cultural experiences then me, so I decided to let him buy the train tickets and a good thing that was.

As you can see everything is in Japanese and you need to pick which town you are going to from the list. It is very confusing sometimes.

He bought us our tickets and for an hour and a half we steamed along the Japanese countryside past rice paddy fields, thatched-roof houses, and gorgeous mountains. It was a very relaxing ride and one I enjoyed thoroughly. J had bought 6 different pastries at the train station which we each tried pieces of. I can’t get enough of the pastries here. Since Japanese houses don’t have ovens, they buy all of their breads and pastries from the market and they truly have some of the best pastries I have every eaten.

Our train was small and only had 3 cars, there weren’t many people on board and we were 24 stops away. We worried a little bit how we would find the festival once we got to the town but as we slid into the station, there was no more worrying necessary. We could see the HUGE lantern tower from the train windows and knew exactly which direction to go when we debarked.

As we were walking off, we passed a group of school boys who said hi to us in English then they told me how hott I was. I just laughed and waved. O school boys. As we mosey’d up the street we immediately saw little stands selling different things. I bought a tea pot with two cups and I tried Takoyaki for the first time! Takoyaki is little dough balls made with octopus in the center and Japanese mayonnaise ¬†on top.

Takoyaki– (very heavy in the stomach.)

I also tried octopus on a stick. It was very tough and chewy but pretty good.

We indulged in everything that caught our fancy this night. Candied grapes, snow cones, sashimi, all of it. We continued the short trek to the town and did some more searching around, then people started lining the streets just in time for the parade. Two small children saw J and me and ran away from us pointing and shouting. I guess they had never seen white Americans before. I smiled, and finally felt what it was like to be a complete foreigner in a different land. It didn’t bother me much.

A few short minutes later the parade began. It reminded me of the small town parades from back home but the best part was they would march down the street pushing a small stage with music and a guy talking in a microphone. At the end of the street they would wheel the stage around and head back changing the music and the guy in the microphone. They did this about four times until the parade came to an end. I loved it.

Parade Dancers

After the parade ended we climbed the hill to the Buda Temple and then walked over and up farther to the lantern festival pyramid. It was the biggest lantern pyramid I have ever seen!

GINORMOUS!

The festivities carried on into the night and I watched some karaoke, which led into a traditional Japanese dance off. It was awesome. Some of the dancers were really great the traditional dances were mesmerizing. After the dance competition it had grown very dark outside and a fire works display was about to happen. There were only a few more trains scheduled to pass through and J and I didn’t have anywhere to stay so we decided to skip that part of the show because by this times 1,000 of people had arrived at the town for the lanterns and fire works. We ran to the train station and were there just in time because I train was stopping. We jumped on and headed home. I fell asleep almost immediately I was so exhausted.

It was a great night! I made a new friend, I saw the tallest lantern pyramid in Japan, I watched a traditional Japanese dance competition, and I tried 4 new foods I have never had. Amazing!

P.S. I would just like to point out that societies are not very different. Girls on one side, boys on the other, as always. haha.