By now you are probably starting to notice that cultural and community involvement is important here in Japan, especially in the more rural areas. This does present me with a number of fantastic opportunities to try new things and be involved in the community.
To start of this event, there were plays put on by the different grades for the parents. I had to go in on an early Saturday morning to see this, but it was something I was happy to do. Not because I feel a sense of duty or obligation, but because I’m taking on that parental interest in what my students are up to and I genuinely interested in the final culmination of their efforts. I had been helping them with pronunciation and translation since they wanted to do the dialog in English, which I though was pretty ambitious for 5th and 6th graders who would only be memorizing the sounds of syllables.
I arrive to this thing, which was only 15ish minutes long. Towards the end, I had to get up from the audience, and then head over to the side door of the stage. There was no way to do this nonchalantly, everyone I’m sure was watching me do this. Then I had to pop out on the stage for the final scene. This was a little strange for me since I had no purpose being there other than marching in place and drawing the stares of everyone in the audience. In the end, the students worked a thank you into the closing, which was nice, but they were really going out of their way to show me off. This is the nature of the work and I just need to wield my smile and disregard the notion of embarrassment. The play itself was about some traditional Chinese and Japanese story. It was alright, and a lot was lost in translation, though it was still really great.
Here is a video with an excerpt of it.
Following the play, it was time to make Mochi. This is a traditional Japanese food made by smashing rice into oblivion with a large wooden mallet. I had eaten it before, though I had no idea how it was actually made. They boiled rice till it was soft, and then they brought it to these large granite basins. Essentially an abrupt mortal and pestle, it was pretty cool. I was able to try it myself and can vouch for it being a workout. I was impressed at some of the older members of the community really going at it. Sometimes beets were added to provide a purple color.
Here is a picture of me smashing the rice. Notice the man whose job it is to adjust the rice placement between blows and also maintain a certain level of moisture.
One turned into a paste, it brought inside to be worked into small pieces. Some were plain, others had sweet bean paste put inside, and other still had a coating of mushroom powder. It was pretty cool to watch this traditional activity play and also contribute to the process as well. The people were are really nice and eager to have me attempting everything. While the men were pounding, the women were either forming the mochi or prepping the meal in the kitchen. Remember, this is Japan, so it’s ok. One other effort was baking sweet potatoes over an open fire. All of the school grow their own sweet potatoes in this area, so this time of year they are either incorporated into the school lunches or these sorts of festivals. Nonetheless, they are absolutely delicious, especially when still warm.
Here is a a video of a song the students sang before making the mochi. Not sure of the significance, but it was nice.
Here are a couple of my students rolling the mochi in mushroom power, which is quite delicious.
After this happened, it was time to clean up and get ready for the final portion of the day. Sumo tournament in the gym. This was of course a great time, since it was just watching these students compete in a way that we would only do in jest back stateside. It was good, but was of course dominated by those more physically developed. There were a couple different leagues for age groups and sex, though in all but one the largest person walked away the victor.
Before each match they would do the traditional motions before starting. The picture below shows a blip of this.
In general the kids loved having me there. Not bound by the restrictions of classroom expectations, they were able to just mess around with me and we all had a great time. There was almost always someone hanging off of me. By the end of the festival I was ready to get home and relax a bit on my well deserved Saturday.