Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Favorite Japanese Experience: Yosakoi 2012

I'm just starting out with a warning... this is a very, very long blog with tons of pictures. I just wanted you to be prepared!

Well, it has to be... we have been preparing for Yosakoi since the end of June.  Now I don't just mean thinking about getting ready for Yosakoi. I mean practice for two hours twice a week in a non- air conditioned gym when it was extremely hot outside.  We practiced every Tuesday and Friday night.  Then once we received our costumes, we started dancing in our multi-layer, multi-prop costume.  After every practice we would come home and sew, add snaps or velcro, take out a hem... you get the point. We quickly learned after the first practice, that was a big deal and it was very serious! Needless to say, we have been preparing for this event for awhile and so this blog will be long! :)

Yosakoi is huge dance contest/festival in Sasebo.  Yosakoi takes place all around Japan, but Sasebo hosts the largest Yosakoi festival on Kyushu (our island).  Yosakoi is the battle of dance.  This year 170 teams competed over the three-day long weekend event.  There were posters and advertisements for it everywhere...

Banners in our shopping arcade
The team that I danced for is "Eidai House." We are sponsored by a construction company.  Eidai House is one of the few teams that allows Americans to dance with them.  We felt so very privileged! Dancing in the Yosakoi festival has definitely been the highlight of our time in Japan and an experience that I will never forget! In my previous blog I showed you pictures of our crazy (but fun) costume.  Not all the teams have elaborate costume changes, but our team is well-known for our many costumes, props, and for adding a sense of comedy to our dance.

Yosakoi started on Friday night, with one dance in the main park area.  That dance was to get all of our nerves out.  Then starting bright and early Saturday morning we danced for the judges.  Our team has placed in the top twenty for 12 years in a row, it was important that we did well!  Then on Saturday and Sunday we walked all around Sasebo (sometimes we had to get on the city bus) and danced at various locations and we also danced our 5-minute routine in a parade (we did the dance 4 times in the parade).  We danced at the train station, Japanese Navy Base, and parks. By the end of the weekend, we danced our routine 14 times!  We wore our costume everywhere we went for the entire weekend! And yes, Sunday afternoon we found out that we did indeed place in the top twenty!! Besides dancing, another fun part was when the Japanese locals would come up to us during the festival. They thought it was fun that we were taking part in Yosakoi, they were excited to see Americans perform. 

Here's some pictures that I took throughout the weekend to show you what it was like:

My wonderful friend, Christine... it was her idea to participate in Yosakoi this year and I'm so glad she told me about it!

Eidai House... our group picture

The Americans that danced... they referred to our group as, "Team America." We loved it!

Team America with our dance instructor, Saeko.

The judges booth

Our team traveling from sight to sight.

A team meeting after dancing in the parade. I love the fun girl in the back!

Getting my red eyeshadow (actually it was lipstick) put on.

Our instructor was an amazing lady named, Saeko (pronouced, psycho).  She choreographed our entire dance, created the costumes, and produced the music (it's her voice you will hear in the video, too). She is so talented, and so very patient to work with the Americans.  She only speaks a small amount of English, so I think it's pretty incredible that she was able to not only teach us the dance, but explain to us about our costume, and all the other details we needed to know.  By the end of the weekend, we realized that she is a pretty big deal in the world of dance. Everyone knew her and she was even on one of the posters advertising for Yosakoi.
Saeko's huge poster. We were amazed that this was our teacher!

She is an incredible dancer!

Okay, onto the dance.  Now, since we danced at so many venues, these pictures are from all throughout the weekend.  I tried to put them in order so you could see what our costume looked like and its many layers.  During the dance we would change and also sometimes pull out props that were attached to us (a flag, flower, clappers, or large wings).  At the end of the blog I posted the video of our entire dance.

Our team coming onto the stage

Getting ready to start the dance

At the beginning we wore a large green cape had velcro and a secret pocket...

The green cape opened to reveal a face.

Then we pulled a collapsable flower out of our pocket...
Then we ripped off our cape that was attached to us by a system of pullies (crazy) to reveal a cartoon face. This is the face of a famous Japanese character.  The crowd loved this part of the dance. Team America didn't understand this part, so we just called it the "Tomato Dance" because we felt like large tomatoes.

Then about six guys carried three large flags over us and on the sides, and when they moved...

We came out in our gold costumes.  This was my favorite part of the dance!

These clappers were another prop. They were fun to dance with!

Then we pulled the gold part down to reveal beautiful colored fabric. Each person had a different material.
The most challenging, but pretty spectacular, part of the dance happened at the end when we pulled these huge wings
out of our pockets!

I hope all of that made sense!  Maybe it will help to watch the video...

Here's a few pictures along the parade route.

I still can't believe I was able to do this!  It was such an amazing opportunity and one that I will never forget! Our team mates were so very kind and helpful to "Team America." They were so fun and encouraging! When Christine first asked me if I wanted to do this, I thought, "sure, why not, Chris will be gone on his fall tour and it will give me something to do." Did it ever!  It kept me so busy!  The part that I didn't consider though, was how much I would miss him during the festival.  I so wished he would have been there to watch our performance. He was great though, and would constantly tell me in emails that he was proud of me (he's such a supportive and encouraging husband).  However, at the end of one of our dances, my sweet  Japanese student, Yasuko, came to find me. She came to watch me dance!  She even followed our team along the parade route. I had tears in my eyes during the whole parade because it made me feel to special that she was there to watch me.  She took some incredible pictures. She said it was her "duty" to take pictures since Chris could not come.  Isn't she the best?  

You made it to the end! I warned you that this would be a long blog! I hope you had some snacks to munch on along the way. If you didn't, maybe you should go get some before you watch the video. It is  4 1/2 minutes long.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Preparing for Yosakoi

You probably don't remember, but last October I did a blog post about a dance festival I went to called, "Yosakoi." It was amazing! The costumes, the dancing... everything.

Well, needless to say, I was thrilled when my friend, Christine, told me she was going to join a Yosakoi team this year and asked me if I wanted to join, too.  I quickly said "yes," even though I have absolutely no dance experience (middle school dance line doesn't count) and no rhythm.  I just thought it would be something fun to do before I left and I knew Chris would be gone, so it would give me something to do. The Yosakoi team that we are on has about 10 Americans on it, so they refer to our group as "Team America."

I quickly found out after the first practice that this was a big deal and this team is in it to win it!  They are not messing around!  We started practicing at the end of June.  At first we just practiced every Tuesday and Friday night... now we practice three times a week and sometimes on the weekend.  I told you they are serious! Even though it is extremely stressful, it is still super fun and quite a great experience.  Try not being a dancer, and learning to do the routine while the instructor and everyone around you is speaking Japanese. Sometimes I just stand there and laugh because I have no idea what is going on!

We are responsible for learning three dances and for our costume.  Even though the majority of the costume was sewn for us, we have to add the snaps, velcro, hems and attach the props.  We have literally spent hours on this costume. I had to laugh at my first costume fitting when one of the ladies who was measuring me said, "Ohhh, you are long (referring to my height)." Recently, I found out that I joined the team that loves to have costume changes... the more the better, apparently!

Saturday afternoon costume fitting and sewing

Late night sewing... its about midnight in this picture so we were a little delirious.

Let me explain the costume to you... we wear all of it the entire time, and at certain points in the dance we rip a layer off or pull out one of our many props that are either in pockets or attached to us.  This is how we start the dance... This is a three layered cape that looks like it is attached by a pulley system underneath us and the layers have velcro in the front.

The layers open to reveal a face.  When we took this picture, the face wasn't added yet, but since then has two big eyes and a red mouth added to the peach fabric. (Our team is also known as being pretty silly). The black part is supposed to be the hair.

Next comes the portion of the dance that Team America calls the "Tomato Dance." It is actually supposed to be a Japanese cartoon character.  The Japanese on our team love this part of our dance, they think it is so silly.

After the tomato dance,  we loosen the top part of the neck and pull the red part down to reveal our next costume...
Then the gold pulls down to reveal my favorite part of the costume.  I love my fabric! Each person has a different kind of fabric, so this part is super colorful.

We aren't done yet... remember the pockets and props I told you about? Well, towards the end of this dance (which is the last dance), our wings make the big reveal!  They are attached to us on a belt and they stay in the pockets of the red thing the entire time.

And that's it! Exciting, huh?!?!  Our competition is October 19, 20 and 21st.  It will be a crazy weekend, but fun, too, I'm sure!  I'll be sure to do a blog about it... my Japanese student, Yasuko, told me it is her "duty" to come a take pictures for me since Chris isn't here.  She's so sweet! I really am looking forward to it, but I'm hoping that I don't mess up too much and cause our team not to place.  That wouldn't be good at all!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weekend Trip to Miyajima and Hiroshima

 I was getting a little worried that I wouldn't be able to see Miyajima before we left Japan, so when I saw that this tour was coming up, I immediately called my friend, Christine, and we signed up for it.  Miyajima is the third most scenic view Japan has to offer and after seeing it I can understand why. Its name means "shrine island." The huge tori is an incredible sight because it appears to be floating in the water.

We had to take a ferry to the island and when we got there we were not only greeted by a huge floating tori and a beautiful shrine area, but also deer that wandered everywhere. I'm not a huge fan of getting close to wildlife (I know they can turn on you in an instant and not to mention the fact they are germy) but I did get close enough to snap some pictures.

This one apparently wanted to go inside to get some food...
I can't tell you how happy I was to finally see this sight (that would explain all the pictures)!  I have seen toris before, but none that are floating and none quite this big!  We were there when the tide was in, but when it is out, you can walk right up to it.

My wonderful friend, Christine, who came with me so I wouldn't have to be alone (since Chris is out). She's the best!

Okay, last picture of me with the tori... sorry!!
The town of Miyajima was so great... around the tori there was a huge shrine to walk around, a five-story pagoda, tons of cute shops and of course delicious things to eat!  I think before we left the island Christine and I sampled the curry, ice cream, and maple leaf cookies!
The shrine on the island of Miyajima

Inside the shrine... I love the vibrant colors!
The five-story pagoda, Gojunoto. 

The shrine with the pagoda in the background
Also while we were walking around the shrine, there was a couple there getting married.  We were told not to take pictures, but I just couldn't help myself. The bride looked so beautiful in her kimono!

And one final picture of the tori and pagoda as we were leaving the island on the ferry...

Our tour for the weekend also consisted of us touring Hiroshima.  We toured the museum and walked around the peace park.  
A replica of the dome inside the Hiroshima museum
The Genbaku Dome. Also, known as the "A-Bomb Dome" which is the symbol for Hiroshima.

On grounds of the peace park. Inside this arch holds the A-Bomb Victim Registry. Past the arch is the flame that continues to burn until there are no more nuclear weapons and past the flame is the dome.

Children's Peace Monument

Rooms filled with paper cranes at the peace monument... cranes are the symbol for peace

A view of the town of Hiroshima from our hotel

Of course, my blog entry would not be complete without posting some pictures of food! Hiroshima is famous for their "Okonomiyaki." The word "okonomi" means, "what you want," and "yaki" means, "cooked." It is a savory layered pancake made of noodles, pork, a fried egg and sauce.  They are so delicious!

And after we finished (this is a first), we were given toothpicks AND a mirror to see if anything is in your teeth! I think all restaurants should do this... how very clever!

As we were leaving, I noticed this sign...

It's almost oyster season in Japan and so this sign is advertising, get this, oyster ice cream!! I think I'll pass on that one!

I'm so very glad I finally got to see Miyajima... it was well worth the wait!  Thank you, Christine, for being such an amazing friend and coming with me (even though we had school and dance practice the next day)!  Oh, and this last picture is for Chris. I know how much he loves taking pictures of the maps of places we have visited!