Saturday, August 07, 2004

Nebuta Week.

This last week, apart from being a week of utter boredom at work, has seen the annual summer festivals of Aomori prefecture. The Nebuta festival in Aomori city, which a load of us went to last night, and the Hirosaki Neputa festival, which I actually participated in this year, are the two biggest. But there are loads more parades that take off during the week in most cities and big towns throughout the prefecture. This is a shot that I took of one of the floats on the streets of Aomori last night.

The floats are made by strapping thin craft paper round wires and then painting them, or something like that. There are some really cool designs and some remarkable artwork as well, which you'd pretty much expect since the folks who make these things have being doing it year after year for the whole of their lives. Behind these floats at the Aomori city parade, there is usually a crowd of dancers jumping up and down, singing 'ra-se ra-se ra-se ra..', and then behind them, a float with drums on the top with people giving them a thrashing.

In this shot the drum itself is behind the people. It's the huge cylindrical thing. The drums are actually the most impressive thing about the festival, some of them with skins up to four metres wide. And of course the flute players, who play that same mezmorising tune over and over again. Anyway, here's a pic from the Hirosaki festival, which is spelt slightly differently: 'Neputa'.

Because the streets of Hirosaki are a little bit narrower, the floats are a bit smaller than the ones in Aomori city, but I personally prefer the Hirosaki parade because it seems to be more of an intimate experience. Aomori city streets are sometimes a smidgen too wide, and the parade can tend to seem sparse and disorganised. Also, the drums at Hirosaki are bigger and beefier.

Apart from the festivals going on in the background all week, most of my time has been spent sat in a dull and sweaty seminar room doing a job that really didn't interest me. I was asked to present a couple of refresher courses to some local professional teachers. I know, I can't understand why they got people without the qualifications to come in and teach to people who do have the qualifications, but that's exactly how it turned out to be. The high school English education of Aomori prefecture must have no collective self-respect, as it quite openly sent a batch of English teachers, most of whom had very weak skills in the subject to be taught teaching skills by a batch of foreigners with less teaching experience than most of them and with no qualifications. I kept thinking "I am not a qualified teacher, so why am I lecturing to you about the reading skills you should be encouraging your students to adopt". The other ALT did have more experience than me, but as for myself, I usually stand in front of a blackboard and correct grammar mistakes with the help of my very competent teachers. The whole two weeks (only the latter of which I attended) should have been used to try to improve the teachers' competence in spoken English. This was evidently much needed by about 80 percent of those who came along.

Before I finish, how about my missus in her summer kimono?