Dec 4, 2007

In Which I Resolve to Keep on Studying, Despite Having Grammar Destroy My Brain, and Subsequently Gaze Upon Impressive Wooden Contraptions

At Nihon University's Funabashi campus, I realized that I've still got a long way to go.

At the store, station, or in small conversations I can usually make myself understood in Japanese in a broad, general way. Lots of hand gestures and grammatical approximations and such. In other words, I'm okay at communicating.

But this weekend, faced with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, third level, asking me about the specifics and such of Japanese grammar, I had quite a bit of trouble. I could read everything on the test- oddly, I found the Kanji section to be the easiest. But when it came to choosing between subtly different sentences and properly using adverbs, I found myself at a loss.

I know I failed the test, and I stressed out about this for some time before hand, but oddly, now, it doesn't really bother me. If anything, I'm more motivated now to study and learn more, shoring up my grammar and such.

After having my brain liquified by the test, though, Kori and I headed out to Saitama Prefecture to the small town of Chichibu. We were meeting up with a few coworkers to attend Chichibu's annual winter festival, considered one of the best in Japan. And, it was indeed something.

We showed up in the evening, and already a bevy of stalls selling grease-laden festival food had been set up near the station. Fireworks exploded overhead at intermittent intervals, and as we exited the train platform we could hear the sounds of taiko.

But, the main draws of the festival were the floats.

Well, I don't know if I can really call them "floats," actually. When I think of a parade float in English, I think of some gaudily colored chassis that's been put on a truck. These floats were nothing like that. They were more like mobile shrines, some larger than small buildings, each pulled by a team of people in festive uniforms. The things creaked as they moved, the wood of the wheels squeaking and creaking against the frame, forming a creaking accompaniment to the sight of these huge, brightly colored vehicles.

All of this thrilled me. Not only the sight of the things, but the whole of it. The teams of people in costume pulling the things about, the fireworks, and the hugeness of the crowds. More than once we were approached by (to all appearances, drunk) Japanese people who decided that we'd be fun to speak English with. Normally, this sort of thing annoys me, but on that particular evening I was more amused than anything else.

We crashed at a coworker's place, and the next day saw it all again in the daylight. This time, the food stalls were out in force, I found myself freely indulging in eating greasy festival stuff. After sampling the street food, I now find the common stereotype that Japanese food is so healthy to be sort of laughable. Everything in sight (and smell) was something "yaki." That is, fried on a hot skillet. There was takoyaki (fried octopus), okonomiyaki (fried veggies and meat), yakitori (fried chicken), meat on sticks, sausages, sweets, and all manner of other decadence. Sure, miso soup and natto might be the ultimate in health foods, but Japan seems as adept as any place in terms of piling on the grease.

Even more people were out during the day, and the floats made an encore appearance. Convenient for me, as I'm not exactly adept at taking nighttime pictures. It was a blast, and after some time, Kori and I got back on the train for Tokyo, going through a landscape that, with its trees and hills, looked uncannily like the northwest.

Not a bad weekend in the slightest. It's not all the time that I get to have my brain melted by an academic pursuit, and then my senses overloaded with stimuli all in a 24 hour period. Life is good.
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Eric said...

Loved the pictures, but wanted to see some more of you & Kori, as well as the food!

CresceNet said...

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