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2009 October 11

Every school in Japan holds a school festival. Clubs hold demonstrations and performances or set up booths and sell food or host games. The local community turns out in force to support the kids and their activities.

The festival at the University of Shimane was a little bit bigger deal than that. Clubs sold all kinds of international food; entertainment groups from around Shimane came to perform; contests and flea markets were held; and the whole city came out for their weekend entertainment. Our local CIRs even helped run international activities. Despite being a small school with only one department, 県立大 has a lot of diverse activities and students.


On Saturday, I arrived just in time to catch part of the children’s kagura performance. Many of my students participate in children’s kagura groups, so I’m guessing I knew at least one of the performers, even if I couldn’t recognize them.


The food stands were amazing. Just some of the things being sold: snow cones (“kakigouri”), hot dogs, cotton candy (“watagashi”), tofu donuts, takoyaki, yakisoba, okonomiyaki on a stick, fried chicken, and, of course, Ramune soda. All the booths had the traditional Japanese aggressive salesman attitude in full swing, but I tried to reward the ones that attempted to use English with me by buying their product. 🙂


Some club or other held a drag competition. There were a few women in manly outfits, but mostly very brave men in very fashionable(/stereotypical) women’s clothes. It was pretty funny. When the winner (the guy at the end in the purple shirt) was asked to comment, he said, “I’m embarrassed, but I’m happy.”


The clowning group I saw perform at the festival I volunteered at gave several performances over the weekend. They did a lot with devil sticks, juggling, and Chinese yo-yos, although there seemed to be a competing club doing Chinese yo-yoing.


Chinese yo-yo is pretty incredible. The yo-yo is a large wooden hyperbola that balances on a string held between two sticks. Performers build up speed by whipping the string back and forth and then perform tricks that involve keeping the yo-yo on the string in crazy positions or throwing the yo-yo and catching it on the string.


Sunday afternoon’s highlight was a taiko group, which might have been from Izumo. There was a Westerner in it, too, and it was impressive to watch him play the largest drum by literally swinging a bat at it. The female members of the group were also impressive; I loved the way they marked the beat before a note with small, sharp kiai.


The final event of the festival was a quiz game for the audience. In Japan a circle, or “maru”, means yes, and an X, or “batsu”, means no. This kind of game is thus generally called a “maru-batsu quiz”. We play this in my classes when learning the structure “I like~”; I hold up a picture card, and my kids have to move to the maru or batsu side of the classroom to guess whether or not I like that thing before asking me.

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