Monday, March 25, 2013

Tohoku Culture Paper 3: Yokote

    According to the Japan National Tourism Guide, Yokote is an area that is famous for the Kamakura festival held around winter time. At the Kamakura festival, tourist may see dome shaped houses made out of snow called Kamakura where they may be able to drink sake and eat food inside of the Kamakura. Recently I was given the opportunity to visit Yokote to go to the Kamakura festival as an optional field trip for my JAS 435 Exploring Tohoku Culture class. At Yokote, I was able to visit a Kindergarten where I could make a mini Kamakura with children, and I was able to go to the Kamakura festival.
 Below is a picture of a mini Kamakura from the Kindergarten. At the Kindergarten, there were multiple mini Kamakuras on the ground. There were also about four bigger Kamakura’s that people could reside in. Inside of the bigger Kamakuras, we could talk with some of the local people and drink sake or amazake with food. The local people were very friendly and they were interested to learn about the backgrounds of their foreign guests. Even though my Japanese is not that good, I was somehow able to communicate with the locals. The sake that I drank was very warm and although I do not remember the name of the mochi-like food I ate, it was also very good. The amazake was also very warm and it can be described as a milk-like drink filled with rice that does not contain alcohol. 

One of the many mini Kamakura at the Kindergarten

Socializing with the locals
  At the Kindergarten, we were also given the opportunity to build mini Kamakuras and help decorate them with the children. In order to build the Kamakura, we had to use the snow from the ground and place them into the bucket. Once the bucket was full, another student would empty the snow on the ground somewhere so that snow has the shape of the bucket. Finally a kindergarten would use a small shovel to change the pile of snow into a mini Kamakura. Here is a picture of two of my friends also in Tohoku Culture digging snow from the ground and placing it into a bucket to get turned into a mini Kamakura. Later on during the day, some of the local adults would place a wax candle inside the mini Kamakura where they would light the candle up at night and create a walkway that would light up at night.
 Besides build Kamakuras at the Kindergarten, some of us had the opportunity to make mochi by pounding mochi rice using a hammer to change the mochi rice into mochi. I had done this before for a different event, so I did not participate this time. But based on what I remember from my previous experience, it is really exciting to hold the hammer and pound the mochi while someone pours water onto the mochi in order to keep it moist after about three or four attempts of hitting the mochi rice. Once the mochi is ready, it can be dipped into things like azuki beans, sesame seeds, and peanut butter in order to be eaten.
   After staying at the Kindergarten, we had finally left that place and went to the Kamakura festival at night. The Kamakura festival is another popular festival in Japan where people build Kamakuras that cover a street and place ice statues on the street as well that may resemble popular Japanese characters such as Totoro from Hayao Mizayaki’s movie “My Neighbor Totoro” released in 1988. In addition, some of these ice statues may actually be advertisements for local businesses so they may resemble things such as life sized plastic models for a fashion store. For my trip, I was able to stay here for a couple of hours at the festival.

Totoro from "My Neighbor Totoro"

 In addition to seeing ice statues of popular Japanese characters at the festival, I was able to go to the nearby Elementary school where I could see children taking turns riding down a slide made out of snow. At the elementary school, the field in front of the school was covered with mini Kamakura’s that had a candle inside of each of them. Therefore it looked really beautiful to see all of the Kamakura’s lighted up at night.

A wall of Kamakuras lighted up at night that I passed by while walking to the Elementary school

In front of the elementary school

  At Yokote, I was able to stay inside of a Kamakura for the first time and participate at the Kamakura festival. It was nice staying inside of the Kamakura because I was able to eat mochi and drink sake with amazake while I got to speak with the local people. In addition, it was also fun building the mini Kamakuras at night. After going to the Kamakura festival, I will always remember the beauty of the Kamakuras lighted up at night and the ice statues that people had built for the Kamakura festival. For anyone that decides to visit Yokote in the future, I recommend that they go to the Kamakura festival during winter. It is a great opportunity that they will not forget.