Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break Catching Up - 節分 (Setsubun)

Next up - pictures from a traditional Japanese festival, called 節分 (せつぶん, setsubun).  This festival traditionally celebrates the beginning of spring, which began on February 3rd on the old Japanese calendar system.  Because the beginning of spring is an important time for Japanese people, the school organized a field trip to a local Shinto shrine to go take part in the festivities.  Here are some pictures!

Classmates and teacher walking up the stairs
Traditional garb - everywhere

The shrine itself, with all the people waiting for the ceremony to begin

Entrance to the shrine
The ceremony itself begins with a procession of famous people from the community walking through the courtyard up to the shrine.  This might include company presidents, current or ex-city councillors or sumo wrestlers.  Yes, sumo wrestlers.

Then, after some ringing of gongs and the like, the famous people come out from the temple and chase a "demon" of bad luck outside the temple.  They do this by throwing soy beans at him, and yelling 鬼は外。福は内。 (oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi) - Demon get out, luck come in!

Waiting on famous people
Scaring away the "demon"
I think it's been subdued at this point, or something...
Then all the famous people come out and throw bags of soy beans at the crowd.  People jump to catch these bags of soy beans, at which point you're supposed to eat the same number as your age.  This will bring you good luck, apparently.

Throwing the soy beans

Naturally, everyone wants to catch said soy bean bags.  Inside each bag is a small piece of paper, and if your piece of paper has a number on it, you win a prize!

Now, because I am taller than your average Japanese person, I managed to catch something like 7 or 8 bags.  None of them contained a prize - I was pretty disappointed.  Plus, dry soy beans are not that tasty...

And that was your introduction to the Japanese festival of Setsubun!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Break Catching Up - Tama Zoo!

Continuing in my penance series on what happened during the last three months, here are some pictures of my trip to Tama Zoo!

Some context - my friend Matt told me that he'd been invited to an event by a Japanese girl.  She also told him she'd bring a friend, so he should too.  Wanting to be a good wingman, I was made too volunteered to go with Matt.  After I agreed, I found out that we were heading to a zoo in the outskirts of Tokyo.  Zoos have never been my favourite thing (tell me if this isn't true, Mom), but I figured it'd be worth checking out a Japanese zoo while I am here.

We met up in Shinjuku station - turns out it was Matt, myself, two Japanese friends of Matt, as well as three other foreigners: a British girl, a French guy and a Portuguese girl.  Definitely one of the more international events I have taken part in since getting here...

In any case, I don't think I have any other witty things to say, so here are some pictures.

Zoo entrance
Going to Africa!
For those of you with Japanese experience, you will probably facepalm at the next two pictures. English explanations will follow.

Dangerous!  Don't you dare climb this!
So, why is this sign funny?  Notice the light blue characters at the end? In Japanese, "elephant" is 像 (ゾウ, zou), but the same sound (ぞう, zou) is used in masculine speech to add emphasis.  So yeah, it's a pun.

Dangerous!  Please don't climb here.
And this one?  The word for rhinoceros is 犀 (サイ, sai), and one of the words for "please" is ください (kudasai)... Yup.  Another pun.

Now, I should frame the rest of this post by explaining that it was bitterly cold (by Tokyo standards) when we visited the zoo.  We first went to go see the lions...

For some reason this is the building where the lions were kept

For 1000Y, you can be driven around to see the lions  "up close" - seemed expensive

Soaking up the sun, it seems

The watering hole
The lions, by and large, seemed to be freezing their respective posteriors off.  I felt kinda bad for them, really.

More animal pictures follow:

This poor guy looked really lonely...

Flamingos which were much more white than they were pink

This cheetah
Arctic monkeys?

Only guy who didn't seem to be freezing
This poor fellow had clipped wings and couldn't fly at all

Lazy joey
This guy was walking around like a boss

Of course the Koalas were one of the main attraction

The koalas were indoors, but... their living space was pretty lame
Poor frozen tiger

This... Jaguar? kept pacing back and forth at us - I think he was hungry
Red panda!  This guy was so adorable - I want one!

 So that was the trip to Tama Zoo!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Break Catching Up - Snow in Tokyo!

Welp, it's Spring (Winter?) break.  Final exam was just about a week ago.  About time I put some posts up.  I'm going to catch up on the backlog of posts that I *should* have written over the past three months.  Let's go!

Probably my happiest event ever over the past three semesters was looking outside my window at the dorm and finding snow on the ground.

My phone sucks at night pictures...

Not much by Canadian standards, but...

I managed to convince some friends to come prancing in the snow with me.  Definitely a great night!

I can only imagine the chaos on the roads...
The local temple was also covered in snow XD
Then we went back to the dorm, and this happened:

Yes, those are forks for arms.