Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Setsubun and Snowboarding

Another long absence, and it’s finally time to write again. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if my readership is near zero, but hey, do y’all really want to hear about the mundanities of my everyday life? Didn’t think so. Actually, yesterday I stopped by a large bookstore in Hamamatsu and sat to read an article in the Japanese edition of Newsweek regarding the dissolution of culture and traditions in Japan. Quite an interesting read. Basically, as I have been feeling since my arrival, this country is quickly losing its identity to westernization. Since they were so desirous of assimilating after the war, they got exactly what they wanted, and globalization has absorbed Japan. At one point in the article the author said something to the effect of: If Japan were picked up and dropped in the middle of Europe they would fit right in without a hitch. I don’t want to go through the whole article, but if you are interested at all please seek it out because I felt the author’s perspective was on the money.

Now, on to some more personal details. Roughly a week ago was the Japanese festival of Setsubun, which represents the changing of the seasons. It’s nothing big, but it is interesting, and I got to participate with a couple of girls I know. It was February 3rd, as it is every year, and they came over to my house for a movie night, yet unbeknownst to me in was also the night of this festival. Kumiko pulled this little set out of her bag that had two simple things in it: a bag of dried beans and a devil mask. The entire purpose of the festival is to drive the demons away, so what you do is throw some beans outside your house and then throw some on the inside as well, saying: “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” which means: “Demons outside, happiness inside!” My friend Emiko held the mask up to her face and we threw beans at her, laughing and saying the line. Afterwards we picked up the beans and the tradition states that you have to eat the number of your age, therefore I had to eat 26 beans, and let me tell you, the next day it felt like the demons were inside… my stomach! Happiness was definitely without. An interesting if somewhat inconsequential festival.

The following evening I was picked up at my apartment by Kumiko and taken over to her house at around 10 p.m. where we sat with Emiko and waited for Kumiko’s sister and her sister’s boyfriend. At around 1 a.m. they arrived and we set out for Gifu prefecture to go snowboarding. There was another car full of their friends that we followed all the way up on our four hour drive into the heart of the mountains. We got to the resort at around 5:30 a.m. and everyone promptly went to sleep so they could be rested for the day ahead. Unfortunately it didn’t really happen for me, so I laid still and tired for three hours while the rest of them slept. At around 8 a.m. they woke up and we got ourselves dressed and ready for a day of skiing and snowboarding. I was the only one who had to rent equipment, so we got that sorted as soon as possible. What big feet I have! The boots I rented were so big that the toes overhung the edge of the board and made it very difficult to turn until I learned how to compensate.

I won’t go step by step here, but by the end of the day I was really getting the hang of it. I had been snowboarding only twice before this time, and that was about five years ago. For what was basically my first time I was very happy with the progress I had made, and by late afternoon when the group wanted to start heading home I really wanted to stay because I was finally able to get down the mountain without falling on my face every couple of turns. Needless to say, it was a ton of fun, and has given me a little bit of a snowboarding bug. Although I have to be saving most of my money for the big trip I plan at the end of my time in Japan, I hope I can set a little aside for another trip or two up to the mountains before the season is over.

What I did want to mention was just how beautiful the land was up in Gifu. When we got to the top of the lift every time I was awestruck with the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Everything was white and dark green, all the pine trees covered with a thick layer of snow. And it was such a nice day, the sun would come and go behind the clouds, illuminating the other clouds that lay encircled about the mountains in the distance. Unfortunately, since I knew I would be falling a lot that day I didn’t want to bring my camera up the hill with me. I did get some shots of the group and the area from the parking lot, but in no way do these pictures do the landscape any justice. One thing I have learned without a doubt from my time in Japan is that I need to live somewhere near mountains. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, except how they are obviously awe inspiring, but it’s more than that. There is something epic and grand about mountains that just strikes and inspires me whenever I see them.

So that’s the update for now. Not much else to report. Plans are going ahead full steam for Christian and I and our journey across southeast Asia. If you would like some more detail on our proposed route Christian has posted up some maps that we devised on his blog. The link is above, on the right side of the page. If anybody reading this has any advice or recommendations in terms of our journey, all information would be greatly appreciated. On another note I will be posting some more photos soon, so keep your eyes out for those. Hope you are happy and well and loving life wherever you are.


Blogger Christian said...

Yay! Spam comments on your blog!

4:07 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...


12:03 AM  

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