It’s the last weekend of August but summer isn’t over yet! And more importantly, there is still a handful of festivals left on Tokyo’s summer events calendar, like the Harajuku Omotesando Genki Festival Super Yosakoi. This lively two-day festival takes place on August 25-26 (2018) and showcases a Japanese dance called the yosakoi. Continue reading “The Super Fun Harajuku Yosakoi”
Summers in Tokyo are notoriously hot and humid with heat waves lasting weeks at a time. While all you want to do during the day is stay inside to escape the heat, the nights, on the other hand, entice us out with promises of some of the year’s most exciting events. Continue reading “A Brilliant Midsummer’s Night in Adachi”
Sapporo, the city of the north… Despite it’s harsh winter weather and average annual snowfall of about 6 metres, it’s surprisingly Japan’s 5th largest city. It’s not constantly dark and gloomy, though. Just think, endless chances to have snowball fights, make snow angels, go skiing, eat fresh seafood, slurp down miso ramen – there’s a lot to love! Continue reading “Snow Magic in Sapporo”
When you think of the Japanese way of life, words that typically come to mind are orderly, calm or disciplined.
Then there are matsuri, or Japanese festivals…
Right in the very centre of one of the world’s most populous metropolitan areas, is a legendary neighbourhood known as hon no machi, or ‘book town’. Here, book lovers hunt for antiques in streets that have a history spanning as long as Tokyo has been Japan’s capital city.
This week, the entire suburb of Jimbocho has been turned into a massive, outdoor bookstore for the annual Kanda Second-Hand Book Fair, now in its 56th year. I went along on the weekend and was overwhelmed with the amount of books that were spilling out onto the streets. Rows and rows, mound upon mound, bookstores packed with books from the floor to the ceiling. The festival organisers claim there are about 1 million books on sale for this festival! And they’re not all just Japanese books – I picked up a bunch of English novels for myself, and also saw books written in Italian, Spanish and a few other languages.
As I wandered through the atmospherically-lit bookstores that evening, I couldn’t help but think about who else had tread the very same streets. This festival has been running for close to 60 years, but how did this hon no machi come to be?
In the Edo Period (1603-1868), the city was centred around Edo Castle. As with all Japanese castles, it was surrounded by a moat, or 3 in the case of Edo, and on the other side lived the highest-ranking samurai. Because of their status, these samurai had not only large houses, but huge properties. They lived a life of luxury, at least compared to the common people who lived further away from the castle.
In 1868, the military government of Japan was finally overthrown, and the Imperial family took control of the country once again. The family moved from Kyoto to Edo, thus shifting the capital city to what is now Tokyo. The country underwent a major change as it entered its ‘age of enlightenment’. The city became the centre of modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation. It was an exciting time!
When the Imperial family took over the castle and turned it into the Imperial Palace, the samurai were forced to leave the city. Because of their size, their vacant properties became public schools and hospitals. Some of the schools quickly grew into prestigious universities, like Meiji University which still exists today. Of course, there had always been many people in Japan who were eager to learn, but they now had a common place to study. At the time, only men were allowed to go to school, so the streets were filled with guys studying science, medicine, law, and so on. The concentration of knowledge-hungry students in the area demanded the supply of textbooks and other literature; consequently, a book town was born.
Present day Jimbocho sits on the northern border of the former Edo Castle. Through the years, this book town has seen its fair share of disasters, from fires to bombings to earthquakes, but it has managed to stay alive for almost 150 years! It is a remarkable pocket of history in the modern world.
As you may or may not know, I work at a combined junior high/senior high school here in Tokyo. Even though I’ve been in Japan for a few years now, it’s still fascinating for me to learn about school life here! It seems so different to what I was used to in Australia. The subjects offered are more or less the same, though the classes here are more lecture style and the students live a life of ‘study study study’. But it’s what goes on outside of class that is really where you see the kids enjoying themselves!
As soon as the end-of-homeroom bell sounds at 3:30pm, the atmosphere completely changes; the school becomes a hive of activity. Everyone is out the door quicker than you can say “see you tomorrow!”, and headed straight for their school club activities – baseball, volleyball, kendo, table tennis, cheerleading, horse riding, biology, calligraphy, flower arranging… basically anything you can think of, there’s a club for.
Aside from the regular clubs, every year there are several ‘highlight’ events. No doubt for most students, the school festival, where all year levels are involved, is the most memorable event. Some other year book-worthy occasions are the year-level school trips, the choir contest, the ski trip…
and, the sports festival!
I don’t know about other countries, but in Australia, sports day is kind of a big deal. I remember at my high school, we had events like the 100m sprint, relay race, long jump, javelin, discus… basically a mini olympics. Track and field was my forte so I loved getting into it.
School sports day in Japan is more about fun and games than serious competition. It’s a day they can let loose and forget about the books, that homework they haven’t finished, or that test they need to study for! There are some very interesting and humorous events like these below…
Classes compete to capture the other team’s hats. Each team has 4 hats, one of which is the ‘leader’. The first team to grab the opposing team leader’s hat is the winner. It’s all about tactics!
As a class, the students have to keep a giant ball afloat all the way around the circuit. Anytime the ball is dropped, they have to restart from that spot. Each class is timed and the fastest class is the winner.
The school clubs have their own special relay race. It’s judged not only on who’s the quickest, but the performance they give as they run each lap! The brass band played a tune while they walked, the soccer club kicked a ball as they ran, the kendo club stopped to have a demonstration every 10 metres, the computer club carried a laptop as their batton, the biology club took real animals around the track! The crowd of onlookers – students, teachers, parents – were cheering and laughing!
Our school is an agricultural one and the official symbol is a radish. So, we have a radish relay race! There’s only one rule: the entire radish has to cross the finish line, no matter how many parts it ends up in!
We were lucky to have great weather, although it was a little hot. Summer has arrived and soon the rainy season will start, so many schools have their outdoor events around this time. There’s one more month til the end of term 1, then it’s summer break. The next major event on the school calendar will be the school festival in September. Looking forward to it!