Saturday, August 29, 2009

Earth Celebration

Earth Celebration

Ok, hold on to your kimono’s, this might be my most excited update yet! Sado holds one of Japan’s biggest and most popular festivals every summer called Earth Celebration. The festivals centers around a 3 day concert featuring the internationally famous taiko drumming group Kodo. Taiko drumming was born on Sado, and Kodo is the band to see if you want to hear good taiko. Let me tell you…well, not let’s talk about the festival first, then Kodo.

The festival is your typical Sado festival turned up to 11 (Spinal Tap reference, anyone…?). More food stalls of greater variety, more music from all over Japan and the world, more people, and lots of hippies. Yeah, hippies love them some Earth Celebration. Japanese hippies are serious too. The whole get up head to toe and some of them actually pull it off quite well. I saw a few good fringe performances held around the concert grounds; a fire dancer, a trio with a pianist from Atlanta, and a very skilled guitar player. Mostly I just walked around to the different stalls, met people, and hung out until the concert later that night.

Let me first explain how you get to the concert. First, you buy a ticket in the weeks before the show. Next, on the day of your concert you go to the bottom of the “mountain” that the concert is held on top of and get your “color”. This allows them to seat people in waves. This concert is a big deal so we got there at 6:30am and the lines opened at 9:00am. There were about 150 people lined up by 9:00. Then, 2 hours before the show, you show up at the place you got your “color” and go up the mountain when your color is called. Finally, you set up your tarp, chill out, and wait for the show.

I love live music, I love the outdoors, and I love seeing people having a good time. This concert gave me all of that and more! Kodo played first and MAN! No words do them justice. We were really close and actually feeling, literally, every beat of these taiko drums was amazing. Listening to it on Itunes or YouTube just does not inspire the feeling I got from their live show. The entire group gives it there all and it shows!

They had drums of all sizes, from hand held to some at least 4 feet across that require a baseball bat size ‘drum-club’ to play. They dance around, play games, play off each other, everything! It’s a real show. Blof was the visiting band this year. A pretty big deal in Holland, this Dutch band really impressed me. I am used to not understanding song lyrics from Japanese music so maybe that makes me more tolerant. Seeing Kodo and Blof play together was a real treat. Both bands were having such a good time, and their collaboration was really well done in my opinion. I’m no music expert, but you are reading my blog and are therefore entitled to my opinion.

I have no idea what this song is about, but I do know that it was AMAZING to watch live. I love to see people with nearly nothing in common on the surface come together and make something beautiful. Give it a listen. Oh, my concert had about 10 more drums than the set up in the video. Well, and an open air stadium at the top of a mountain. Jealousy is the natural response.
Here is the Kodo/Blof collaboration song - Click HERE

This is the “About Kodo” page in English - Kodo in English

Enjoy. Sorry for the long article.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Ryotsu Festival and Oni-daiko

After an amazing BBQ on the beach, where we all ate more red meat than we will probably even seen this year, my friends and I headed down the road to a town in the north of Sado called Ryotsu for their summer festival. The main attraction at this festival, as is common on Sado, is Oni-Daiko.

Sado is famous for this drum driven dance where men dressed as Oni, mythical figures most common translated as goblins or demons, dance to the beat of huge taiko drums, a large barrel shaped drum that was invented on Sado. The purpose of this dance, and the festival, is to drive away evil spirits and to bring fortune on the town. Generally, Oni are not thought to bring fortune, but in Sado they are considered divine. Each prefecture in Sado used to be separate from the others, but Sado recently incorporated into one prefecture and the old provinces are now towns. Each old prefecture, now town, had its own Oni so now there are many Oni at each festival. Each Oni has its own special mask and its own special Oni-daiko dance. It is an amazing performance, almost like a ballet or a scene from an opera. The Oni flip their hair up with their drum sticks, strike fierce poses at the crowd, chase dragons, and in general manage to look pretty serious. If you are even in Japan in the summer, I highly recommend coming to Sado for a festival. You won’t regret it.

The video actually comes from the Sawata Matsuri and is a little dark because the festival was at night. The picture is from the Ryotsu Matsuri. I hope they both turn out alright.

I got this info from 2 of my friends that have lived on Sado for the majority of their lives. One actually taught at Xavier University for 5 years, and the other is boss triathlete (puts me to shame). The information is what they believe to be true, so if the text books say something different, well... I'm going to believe the natives

Water Sumo

Yes, I, Phillip Martin, the self proclaimed “Skinny White Boy” has competed in sumo. And not just any sumo, Water Sumo (Japanese – Ume sumo). The town next to mine, Akadomari, held a festival where water sumo was the main attraction. My team of 5 was made up of 5 Asst. Language Teachers all from the US. We were pitted against the Post Office Team. Now, I’m not calling BS here, but no letter pusher I’ve ever seen was that jacked! Our team pretty much got rocked, and the other team went on to get second! Oh with the exception of ME! Yes, this Skinny White Boy won a sumo match! My opponent was about my size and gave me a good struggle for about 15 seconds, but once I had his leg, I spun him and tossed him into the sea! YEAH! I’d like to say thanks to WWE! All of the wasted hours I spent glued to the TV to watch Wrestlemania in Jr High suddenly seem worth it. I also entered the open match and got rocked by the guy who was the first to win 3 in a row. Some of the other ALT’s I went with won a match in the open round. It was great fun. Enjoy the pictures!

The First Entry from Japan!

Ok, so far I have finished with 3 days of Orientation in Tokyo and have reached my final destination, the town of Hamochihongo on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture.
The orientation was pretty much just meetings and seminars about the JET program, but we were pretty much free to sleep or walk around Tokyo after 3:00 each day. I did a little bit of both. There were actually a few people at the orientation that I knew from Waseda. Small world.
I left Tokyo by bullet train and ended up in Niigata City where my supervisor, Mr. Otsuka, a very kind and helpful man, showed me and the other Sado ALT(Asst. Language Teacher), Charles, to the jetfoil so we could get to Sado. After a 1 hour ride, I arrived at Ryotsu Port and met the other JET teachers on Sado, all of whom have been very welcoming. I was then carried off to meet the superintendant, my Board of Education director, and I was finally taken to my apartment/house. (Pictures are coming soon in a MTV Cribs: Sado Style Blog Update).
Sado has just about as much green on it as Tokyo has steel and glass. There are rice fields all over the place! The sea is as blue as it can be, the forests are a rich green, and they are packed full of trees. Being as there is so much nature here, there is little else. Don’t get me wrong, Sado has pretty much everything we need, but it’s no metropolis. My own town, Hamochihongo, is very small, but it has all of the things I need to live within walking distance. It has a “This is ‘town’ “ (Enter Joe Dirt accent here) type of feel to it. All of the Southerners reading this know what I’m talk’n about.
So far I have really just been meeting with teachers, filling out forms, and preparing to live here for the next year. There are going to be several festivals, about 5 or so, on the island within the next month so lots of pictures and good stories are sure to come. I’ll try to keep these entries shorter so they are easier to read. Thanks for being interested guys ; )