Uozu Tatemon Festival 2015

Last weekend was my second time joining the Uozu Tatemon Festival, the biggest event in Uozu of the year and something I had been looking forward since the first time. There were two nights on the Friday and Saturday. I went on Friday just to watch and while there was a smaller crowd than Saturday, there was still a lot of excitement and energy.

There are 8 floats, all weighing around 5 tonnes that get pushed and pulled along the water. Big groups of people are organized in teams and wear matching happis. Usually the strongest people get put in the centre of the float to push it (there aren’t any wheels!) and everyone else pulls from ropes at the front. After going down the street the Tatemon get pulled into an open area one by one where they are spun in a circle. A few lucky guys get to run with the ropes extended from the top; leaping in the area as they spin the float around. Once this is done the team members visit the shrine.
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The best part of the festival is seeing everyone from the city come together. The floats are all owned and stored by families and the team members are usually relatives of friends. Lots of families and groups of people to come out and watch together, eating food and taking pictures.

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Feats of Strength: Maibara’s Kabuki Festival

It just so happens that the Japan’s “Sports day” holiday falls on the same weekend as Thanksgiving (in Canada, that is). So, at the time when I would normally be eating my way into a food coma, I was headed to Maibara to spend the long weekend. The reason for my visit was Maibara’s annual Kabuki festival.

I arrived and immediately headed over to see the stage being pulled across a bridge. The float has people positioned at the front pulling by rope, and people pushing at at the back. And although there are wheels, they’re pretty old and made of wood, so some lucky guys were given the task of levering them into movement. They were pulled for over an hour over the bridge and through the streets to the performance location. It was pretty funny to see people driving by slowing down to stare and take pictures.



After the first performance we followed the float to the next location. We were in more of the city streets, so we could see the men on the top pushing telephone lines out of the way of the float. By then, I was impressed that anyone could still stand, let alone pull the float again. But after the last performance at around nine, the float was pulled all the way back to the Yutani Shrine, which is basically all uphill. This was the most fun, because everyone who was watching the performance along with the families of the performers helped pull. It was exhausting, but I couldn’t help but think (just like I did at Uozu’s Tatemon Festival), that we were only doing about 5% of the actual work.




The next morning, we went back to the shrine to see the morning performances and to see the floats be pulled again to their new locations. This is a good action shot of the guys on the float- they yelled out instructions and kept rhythm with their arms and by stomping. The second, larger float below had a bit of more trouble turning onto the sloping path, there were a lot of eyes covered for fear it would tip over. In the end it all ran smoothly and everyone seemed pretty chill about it, which makes sense since most of them do this every year.  _DSC0340



Japan in Twelve Photos: A year in review

Twelve months have gone by faster than I thought could be possible (time flies, and all that). Looking back at all the pictures I’ve accumulated brings me back to so many great memories and experiences I know could only be possible in Japan.  I’ve pulled some of my favourites in a sort of visual memory of the past year.

August: Obon, Kamiichi

I left from Toronto arrived in Tokyo // sweat alot // drank 2L bottles of water sitting on my tatami floor. Obon happened and the office was empty. I went to a  festival in Kamiichi Town, went to a beach party and (sortof) climbed Tateyama.


September: Osu Kannon, Nagoya

I started to figure everything out a bit more. I started teaching and meeting students. I took my first trip, going to Nagoya. I have this very distinct memory of being half awake and watching the Japanese Alps from the bus window as we drove through. I spent a lot time after school helping students prepare for a speech competition.


October: Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

While my family was eating Thanksgiving dinner I was in Kyoto for the first time, eating burnt Ramen and visiting a cat cafe. I went to a Halloween party and to the speech competition. I learned that Kit-Kats are given for good luck.

November: Kurobe Gorge 

The seasons changed later than I expected. I went up to the Kurobe Gorge in a rainy, cold, and fantastic train ride up the mountain. One of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Japan.


December: Maki-Chan in Japan

In December my sister visited Japan. We went to as many places as we could from an English camp in Toyama to Nagoya, Tokyo, all over Kansai (Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), and finally Maibara. It was strange to suddenly have a piece of home in Japan. I went about 4 weeks without classes and missed it a lot.


January: Hakuba, Nagano

I shivered at work and shivered in my apartment.  I went to Nagano to go snowboarding and loved every minute of the breathtaking mountains.


February: Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa

It was cold. The third years finished classes. I went to Kanazawa21 and and saw an amazingly cool exhibition and ate lots of ramen to keep warm.



March: Dohtonbori Osaka

The school year ended, and it was really sad. My first fully-fledged trip to Osaka was incredibly fun, I ate a lot, walked a lot, and saw a lot. Omiyage was weirdly difficult to find. I saw sumo. I lost a contact lens. It was great.


April: Sakura at Matsukawa River

Cherry Blossoms lived up to their hype and more. Outside my school, around the river, in Osaka, and in backyards, these trees were so soft and pretty I felt like I was in a dreamland.


May: YG Concert in Tokyo 

Golden week was four days of pure awesomeness, the most “Tokyo” experience I’ve had, by going to a concert, the robot restaurant, and getting swept up in the energy of the city.


June: Uozu Port 

It became summer, like fully summer with high humidity and blue skies. I spent a lot of time getting sunburned and riding my bike around. I don’t mind the cold winter, but summer is the best for exploring  the city and feeling re-energized.
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July: Tatemon Festival 

TECHNICALLY this photo is from August but I’m using for July for the sake of relevance. I participated in the Tatemon festival, which was an absolute blast. High energy, lots of people, and a really wonderful culmination to the long season of festivals and fireworks of the summer and to the year in Japan.

Uozu’s Tatemon Festival!

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I really had no idea what to expect from the Tatemon festival. I knew that

1) It’s Uozu’s biggest festival

2) I should definitely wear running shoes

3) Everyone chuckled when I told them I was participating and pointed to their arms saying “Pain!”

We arrived around 6:30 and met with the other volunteers to put on our loaned Happis and gloves and to be briefed on how everything would go down. At 7:30 we headed out to our Tatemon and watched the fireworks over the water. Then, we got into position on the rope. There were about 20 men pushing the Tatemon on the beams and maybe 30 people pulling the rope.

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The Tatemon themselves weigh FIVE tonnes and have no wheels. They’re essentially sleighs being pulled and pushed on concrete. The leader would blow the whistle, we’d get into position and all yell as we moved forward, eventually getting enough momentum before we’d run for about 20 seconds and then stop. Repeating as we moved down the road.  It became pretty clear that even though all of us pulling were exhausted (lying on the ground between pulls), those pushing were doing 90% of the work. Sweat was literally dripping from everyone.

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Once you arrive in front of the shrine, all the pullers leave and the pushers turn the Tatemon three times. Some of the guys get to run around the Tatemon holding the the ropes attached to its top. They run till they pick up speed and then leap into the air, flying for a few seconds George of the Jungle style.

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Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with g3 presetWe finished pulling about 11:00 pm feeling very accomplished. It was such a fun experience and truly a group effort. Each time we stopped for a break everyone would look and nod in exhaustion “I know that feel…”.  I took all these pictures before we pulled, so they don’t at all capture the energy and business of the festival, all the yelling and Taiko drumming.

If you want to see everything in action, check out the video below from 2012 (5:12 for the Tatemon spinning)!!!