The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Gakosai, takusai and enkai

Gakosai (school cultural festival) and takusai (sports day) are the two words most commonly uttered by teachers' and students' alike during the first week of school. That's because my school had their gakosai (cultural festival) on Friday and Saturday and their sports' day today. Japanese people are very "group" oriented, and the matsuri, gakosai and takusai that I've experienced all enforce that mentality. This particular characteristic of the Japanese is often shown in a bad light, but I think that it is good to have community/team spirit. Japanese people know how to work hard, but they also know how to party and play hard. :)

School Festival

The students put so much effort into the school festival - during the first week of school we had many cancelled classes and even whole days reserved for festival preparation. And I was told by my predecessor that the students begun preparations months ago. And I'm blown away by how artistic these students are - the decorations around the school is proof of that. The first day of the gakosai is purely for the students to enjoy themselves - there were chorus contests (homerooms compete with each other by presenting a class song), karaoke contests (a couple of pretty good voices, and a couple of really bad ones) and the Dance Battle. I was asked to be one of the judges for the Dance Battle, which was pretty fun :) The second day of the gakosai was held the next day (a Saturday) and it was open to the public. I asked Rob to come along, and so many of my students were excited to see my 'darling' ("Jean! Your darling?"). This particular group of girls were literally shrieking with joy as they lined up to shake Rob's hand:

Students and the PTA opened foodstalls, and there were performances by the school's brass band club, the top 5 teams of the Dance Battle, a children's lion dance (I think this is a traditional Japanese thing) and a women's taiko drumming group.

The stage area of the school gym - the Snoopy characters are made with paper..

The outdoor stage:

Taiko drumming performance:

It is a cultural festival, so it is also an opportunity to show off the school's cultural clubs. Unfortunately the English Club is classified as a cultural club so that meant I had to do something. I was given a room, so I set it up with the Experience Australia Kit that I borrowed from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. I even played 'Aussie' songs on the CD player. I commented to Rob that I was surrounded by more Aussie things in that room than I ever was in Australia. I brought some Vegemite on bread to let people try. The students didn't really like Vegemite, but the teachers were a lot more open-minded and said it tasted a lot like miso and the notoriously stinky natto.

The English Club room:

One of the drawings in the Art display room:

I went to the Tea Ceremony room for the experience - we were first served this yummy anko-type translucent warabimochi (I think these traditional sweets are called wagashi) whilst watching a student demonstrate a short ceremony, and then we were served the matcha. Quite interesting to watch, but the length, formality and rigid structure of the ceremony doesn't attract me to learn the art.

The highlight of the day for me was watching the PTA in action making mochi balls with anko filling. These mochi balls were done via the traditional method of mochitsuki in an usu. Very interesting to watch - two people have to work together so correct timing is quite critical to avoid injuries.


Making the o-mochi

Final product next to the anko:


The staff and PTA held an enkai (welcoming party) for me at a ryotei after the gakosai on Saturday. It was nice. The food was yummy (although it was a bit difficult to eat dinner after filling up on junk food at the festival), and it was interesting to mingle with my collegues outside of work. Drunk people are funny, and tend to have less inhibitions when talking with me. Apparently I got to sit in the 'important' seat in the room since the party was held for me (although I think its important ranks below the principal's and vice-principal's seats). The dinner is the formal part of the party - there was a 2nd party but I didn't attend.

My food (very nicely presented, and was so delicious):

The room:

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