I had one of the most amazing weekends of my life this past weekend. Braving a typhoon, I took my summer holiday on Friday and caught the ferry across the Sea of Japan (part way of course- around 2.5hours) to Sado Island for the Earth Celebration.
Due to the typhoon this morning, which I swore was going to tear my new apartment to the ground from the winds, the sea water was choppy; people were falling over, those who dared to eat ramen in the cafe were losing half their meal to the floor.
I did not challenge myself to this endeavor; I chose to stick with the safer option of a little slice of corn pizza instead. The raging sea created a boat of green faced people sitting down holding on for dear life to the side of the boat. Then there was me, adventuring around, watching people attempt to sleep, hoping I don't lose my step to a sudden wave, and fall on my arse.
The Earth Celebration is a festival of World Music... basically a small Japanese summer music festival of music, crafts, camping, and good people; so it was right up my alley. I arrived at Ogi Port on Friday and stored my pack at this random friendly old man's home.
I traveled along with some new friends, a group of the eclectic people from the far corners of the world... New Zealand, Redding England, Glasgow, Scotland. Many ALTs from the surrounding area came, and it being my third week in Japan I found myself excited to meet others near me, finally some peeps who could speak some English.
The festival goers were a collection of people came from all over the world, many were from Japan, some had traveled international for the weekend.
Lucky for me, the port is only about 25 min by car away from my house. I really do live in a lovely place set at a foot of a beautiful mountain. It is perfect to be 20 minutes from the mountains and 25 from the sea.
Hula Fringe at shrine
After storing my pack, I walked through the flea-market, which is pretty similar to one you would find at most "not-too-commercial" music festivals. Japan was different than the States, because you have this atmosphere without the drugs. It was quite funny to be hanging out and dancing and drinking and listening to music all day, and never see one joint or someone firing up a bowl. In the market, I got a bite to eat. I enjoyed what would soon become the staple food for the festival, due to its high quality fill-me-up status at a low cost, "The MONPAN".
Basically it is a Mongolian bread pancake thing, similar to naan, filled with either tuna or meat, and lettuce and stuff. Like an interesting Asian take on a gordita I guess, but better. Time was cutting short, so we headed to the ticket space to change our tickets in for colored passes. The colored passes place you in entrance order, so the sooner you get a color, the closer you can get to the stage. The Friday evening show had a change in venue doe to the weather. The typhoon had blown the stage down, so the first show was moved to the local high school gym.
Hula Fringe at Shrine
The first show.... as usual in Japan, we queued well before the show. While waiting in line we drank our Sapporo, cut up and laughed, getting to know one another. It was a blast.
The Kodo drummers were amazing! Watching them play the drums is like watching a group of athletes. At times the drummers were playing drums that were about 12 feet in diameter. The sound was just as amazing. The drummers dance and play at the same time, sometimes doing martial art moves while playing the drums. The two most memorable moments were when wore costumes that had long planks (about three planks) that went up their backs and stuck up above their heads. They carried taiko drums, playing them while dancing, and simultaneously they would all bow, causing the planks to slap the stage with rhythm. Very cool. Also my other favorite moment was the woman vs. man part. The was woman dressed as a geisha who danced in a very traditional style, almost shuffling with little steps and beat the drum that stood between her and a man. They played well off each other. The way she danced she swirled her arms about her with a fan and her drumsticks, beating the drum on her way up around her body and on her way down.
The crowd watched in awe.
Fanfare Ciocarlia rockin the stage
After the show a friend and I lucked out and met a random couple from Tokyo that gave us a ride to Soboma Beach, the beach we were going to be camping for the weekend. (they even stopped so we could pick up our things up at the old guys house) They gave us a lift and then the two of us went down on the beach to wait for the others in our group. To be honest, we weren't sure we would ever find them. I saw a small camp fire and approached. It was this kid named Jun sitting there with a conga. He played and my friend came and joined us. The three of us sat there on Soboma Beach / coast of the Sea of Japan playing music and chilling under a plethora of stars.
Soon four other Japanese kids came up, three had some more drums, and they all joined in. Within the hour we had a good little drum circle going, with about 8 drums and 12 people. It was really awesome. Jun and Niki asked my friend and I to play. Even coming from a family of drummers, I always find that when given a drum I just can't figure out how to play it. (My friend also was just as amateur as me). They taught us a simple rhythm to work with, and it was good stuff. Within the second hour the whole beach was there, at our fire hanging out. The three of us had gotten the party started. So there I was, sitting on the beach of the Sea of Japan, jamming to some conga beats and even a large taiko drum, which showed up too. We all drank some sake. I had brought along a bottle of bourbon which several of us enjoyed, some chu-hi which is like an ever clear type drink flavored and made from sho-chu, a rice-wine like liquor. They are quite refreshing.
coming through the crowd
We also quenched our thirst with a mixture of beers: Kirin, Sapporo, and Ebisu. Ebisu is definitely my favorite beer. I prefer a darker, fuller beer flavor, so if you are in Japan, Ebisu is a good choice. I found myself pitching the tent for my inept tent mates, and then continued to party some more. Late in the cold, dark night I finally went to sleep.
seeing us off
So waking up to the hot sun blazing down on your tent on the beach may not be everyone's favorite way of starting the day, but I love it. It gets you up and out early. I woke up and hung out on the beach all day. The waves were awesome due to the typhoon the day before. After floating in and swimming in the Sea of Japan all morning some of us head down to the square for shopping in the market, and changing our tickets at the shrine.
The shrine serves as a fringe venue; it had an interesting world lesson going on- Hula. I sat there at this intricately carved Japanese Shrine, watching some folks from Hawaii hula. It was stellar. After several hours down at the venue, we went back for one last cooling dip in the sea. Japan has many hot days, and this was one of them. It was around 38 C. The ocean felt quite refreshing. After the dip, we headed to the shrine to queue up for the evening’s show- the Romanian Gypsy Brass band- talk about a jam!
Second day show- Fanfare Ciocarlia, the Romanian Gypsy Brass Band. The main venue for the shows at Earth Celebration is held atop this hill behind the shrine. You walk through the shrine and hike up this steep incline- I'm talking steep, no stairs, classic Japan-style incline...think Kill Bill- to the top. Paper lanterns line the path lighting your way. It is simply breathtaking. At the top of the hill we all claimed our land and snapped our drinks open. After a "kompai!" with the surrounding folks who fell in love with us the show started. A Romanian gypsy brass band- I'm really not quite sure how to describe it- It's sort of like a cross between fiddler on the roof, Ukrainian folk, cartoon music, peewees big adventure, circus music; basically music that makes you move. Everyone in the place was breaking it down- this is not typical at a family concert like this in Japan- people normally don't dance until the encore, and even then it is more standardized such as clapping your hands. The stage was alive, complete with a belly dancer. I was amused to say the least. The Japanese hippies were loving it! (and Japanese hippies are a sight to see) You could have thrown them into a crowd at any show in the US, and they would fit right in.
After the show we headed back down to Ogi (the city) and there was a matsuri (festival) going on in the streets to celebrate. The matsuri was complete with traditional yukatas, drums, dancing, sake, mikoshi (portable shrines). It was a treat. We caught the bus back to the beach for another evening by the fire. The next day I chose to spend a bit more time down at the festival grounds; sitting around enjoying the shade, and enjoying the random fringe acts that were going on. We had seen a lot of it throughout the weekend, but we hadn't really spent time to sit and enjoy it (or dance and enjoy it) Each day there had been a parade of taiko drummers dancing and playing the weekend theme music. We caught a piece of that, everyone running around with their cameras in the air. We also sat in the center of the market and watched the fire dancers and the Japanese folk singers, the john Denver and bob Dylan wannabes, crazy stuff. My friends and I enjoyed a bottle of wine and then headed to the show.
The last evening is a fusion show. It opened with three women dressed as geishas balancing lanterns on their heads tip-toeing out to the sound of chimes, then it broke into kudos drummers. It was nice to get to see them outside. I enjoyed it much better than in the confines of a gym. After a quick set break, the Romanian band came out and jammed, then there was another set break. After the second set break, all of a sudden through the crowd, came the Romanian band and some kodo drummers. They paraded through the crowd creating a line of excited dancing people behind them. In the end the entire gypsy band and the entire Kodo troupe hit the stage. The stage was full; everyone on the stage was dancing and working off each other in an amazing funky worldly jam. It was quite a spectacle. Ii really can't give this experience justice, but I tried. I highly recommend the earth celebration to anyone who wants to enjoy a culturally good time. It is a guaranteed one.
One last thing... so on Monday morning, we packed up the tent and boarded the ferry to go back to naoetsu port. The Kodo drummers came and saw us off. So here we are waving to the shore, and there are drummers and flag-twirlers, and enormous fan-hording folk, and dancers are all seeing us off. The Gypsy brass band was right next to my friend and I on the ferry, and they were all so giddy waving at their new friends, the kodo. It was amazing. We soon found ourselves amidst another drum circle as we returned to Honshu, complete with the Romanian belly dancer breaking it down. good times. good times.