Summer Festivals in Toyama-Ken

When I think of summer in Japan I think of two things: heat and festivals. I’m a much bigger fan of the latter but at least I’ve now adjusted a little to the humidity. And frankly, now that it’s started getting cold again I feel myself missing the heat. And I already feel nostalgic for festivals even though I have another season in store for me next year. Festivals vary in their purpose and meaning but there are a few essentials found at almost all of them: beer, food stands, and games. If it’s special it’ll have some sort of fireworks, dancing, or floats being pushed and pulled around. Families come and hang out, fanning themselves with the plastic advertisement fans handed out by companies and kids run around with shaved ice. There’s a sense of occasion but everyone is pretty casual at the same time. I went to a lot of festivals this year but that only comprises a small fraction of the dozens that take place in Toyama.


On August 1st every year, people come to a river in Toyama to watch a big fireworks show. We had to wait in line for shuttle from the station to the river, and the whole area was super crowded, especially in the surrounding streets. After the fireworks we did Purikura and I ran into tons of students.


Tanabata festivals are held all over, but this was my first time being to the one in Takaoka. There wasn’t anything too unique about it, but it was pretty big and I ate some good food.



Honestly I’m still confused about what exactly this festival is, and there seemed to be only about one hundred people there. Some people carry a float around the streets of Uozu and are followed by these costumed demons and a crowd. These demons chase kids around to scare them but it’s considered lucky if you shake their hand. I shook one of their hands and he reached over and stroked my head after. I hope that’s good luck.



My last blog post was about this. This is my favourite festival that I’ve ever been to and so much fun. We got to wear happi and help pull the floats. This year was extra special because we organized for more ALTs from different cities to come and join. In total we had about 20 foreigners pulling together and at the end of the night got interviewed by the local news station. It was really nice to have everyone come to our city and I felt such municipal pride being able to host everyone in such good spirits.



This took place the Sunday after Tatemon and it was a nice way to relax. There was a big parade of dancers down the centre street in Uozu. There were different groups of dancers – some actual organized dance teams but most were local businesses or organizations that joined together. It went on for at least two hours and I saw a few people I knew dancing! I also got to see my school’s brass band play.



This was the first festival I ever went to in Japan! We watched the dance performance and then went to watch the fireworks and fires down by the river.



Kaze no bon is Toyama’s biggest festival and a huge tourist attraction. The images of its dancers are everywhere and have become a symbol of Toyama.

Tonami Tulip Fair 2015

Golden week is coming up, and lucky for us this year the string of holidays gives us a five day weekend.  It also gave us a holiday wednesday which we used to go to the Tonami Tulip Fair. Events like this in Japan always impress me; there’s so much planning and detail that go into everything. The park is huge, with different sections like the huge fields of flowers, the river, and a little couple-y photo-op area. It also happened to be really hot yesterday, reminding me to mentally prepare for the upcoming heat of summer.

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I tried tulip ice cream and “deep sea salt” or something ice cream from Uozu. They were both pretty good, the tulip flavour tasted a little like grass but it was sweet and light. They also had a white shrimp flavour. We contemplated buying it just to see what it was like but in the end actually enjoying ice cream won out.

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We also got to see a bit of the dancing. The dancers are divided into groups from different areas of the city and each wear a specific ukata. Like last year we joined in the dancing. Or should I say, tried to dance… we weren’t very good.


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)!!!

Land of the blazing sun: Summer in Japan

How have I not made more puns like this?

My brain must have melted in the heat of summer.

It’s hot here. A heat I’ve never experienced before. The temperature itself isn’t so bad, averaging about 35, but the HUMIDITY wraps you in in its arms and hugs you until you feel like you’ll never breathe fresh air again. I’m being dramatic, but I’ve never seen so many sweated-through shirts than here. And yet, I still see men in full suits. Women with pants and long sleeves.

I went to a baseball game and and spent three hours in the open sun and subsequently spent the following week with a burn and potentially a minor case of heat stroke. Now I have a farmer’s tan that I’m weirdly proud of.


Troopers, these Brass Band members and Baseball players. I don’t know how no one fainted.

The staff room at work is not so bad. The air conditioning is usually on and there’s always several fans going. It’s a good thing classes have now ended, because the full wall of windows and close proximity of forty students turn the classrooms into incubators. Students arms stick to their worksheets and they roll up the legs of their uniforms. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for them to concentrate all day.

But still, all of these heat and humidity brings out so much life around us. The rice fields are so green and lush looking!



I went to an English camp and spent two days with some of the most enthusiastic students I’ve ever met! They were so eager to participate and I had a lot of fun. My little workshop was about Art, so we talked about different types periods of Art History. Students could pick their favourite painting from a set of images and write a story or their opinion.


Interestingly enough, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (the one in the middle) was the most popular one chosen!

The summer means it’s almost time for the new teachers to arrive! It’s been a few weeks of goodbye events and dinners. It’s sad to say goodbye, particularly because many of the friends I’ve made here are from many different countries making the chances of reunions a little less likely. We’ve spent some time in arcades, taking classic Purikura  photos.IMG_8226


My new little friend.

One of the best parts of summer is all the festivals! It seems like every weekend there are one or more festivals around the prefecture. They’re always fun, tons of food, entertainment, and families! Last weekend I went to the festival in Namerikawa that had a great fireworks show at the end!


Festival ice!


Fire dancers!

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Some creative firework shapes: upside down heart!