Leisure activities

Cultural Activities

Fireworks (hanabi, 花火)

Fireworks are a long-standing tradition in Japan that is very popular with locals. Especially, during the summer Japanese fireworks festivals practically happen every weekend, the so-called Hanabi festivals. In essence, all the major Japanese fireworks shows take place from July through September. Fireworks are an annual extravaganza and their displays are renowned for being spectacular, breathtaking, and innovative. The Hanabi shows usually last two hours and viewers normally enjoy the range of traditional Japanese dishes and snacks which are on offer. On my side, I went to a major event in the Kansai area, the Yodogawa Fireworks Festival in Osaka (淀川花火大会). In order to secure a viewing place, we had to come to the designated area well in advance (4-5 hours), since the place fills up very quickly. After we secured our spot, there was nothing else left but to enjoy the magical artwork with some snacks and drinks. Click here for videos. 

Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火) 

The Gozan Okuribi marks the end of their stay and guides the dead back to heaven with its burning fires.  It is the culmination of the Obon festival on August 16, in which five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city. It signifies the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, who are said to visit this world during Obon, are believed to be returning to the spirit world—thus the name Okuribi (送り火, roughly "send-off fire").  Due to limited space and time, I was only able to attend two locations of the 5 characters: 法 and 大.

Gion Matsuri (祇園祭り)

Gion Matsuri is a famous festival held in Kyoto, Japan every year in July, during the high summer. The festival dates back to the 9th century and is dedicated to the Yasaka Shrine. The festival is known for its elaborate floats, called yamaboko, which are decorated with traditional Japanese art and are paraded through the streets of Kyoto. The festival also includes traditional music and dance performances, as well as food and drink vendors. The highlight of the festival is the Yamaboko Junko procession, where the floats are pulled through the streets by teams of men in traditional dress. The festival attracts millions of visitors from around the world and is considered one of Japan's most important cultural events. I may look happy and full of energy in these photos, but actually, I was dying inside because of the scorching heat and humidity (38°C/100.4°F). Surely, it is not for the faint-hearted. 

Mifune Matsuri (三船祭り)

Hosted by Kurumazaki Jinja, a small shrine near Arashiyama famous for worshipping gods of artistic talent, Mifune Matsuri is a traditional festival held in Kyoto, Japan. The festival is celebrated annually on the third Sunday of May starting at 12:30 and is one of the biggest festivals in the city.  During the festival, boats decorated with colorful banners and lanterns are paraded down the river. The boats are manned by rowers dressed in traditional clothing from the Heian period accompanied by lively music and dance performances on the boats. The festival was first held in 1922 to commemorate the beginning of the Showa Era. One of the highlights is the boat race which should symbolize the strength and unity of the local community. Although Mifune literally means “three boats”, it is said to be an allusion to the “three arts” practiced during the festival: Japanese poetry (和歌、waka), Chinese poetry (漢詩、kanshi), and musical performance and dance (奏楽、sogaku). Overall, Mifune Matsuri is a vibrant and exciting festival that celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Kyoto and Japan.

Tokae Lantern Festival (燈花会祭り)

On a hot sunny Saturday during summer, I went on a daytrip to Nara not knowing what to expect on that day. First visiting the usual tourist spots e.g. the Todaiji temple, the greeting deer, Kasuga Jinja etc. I stumbled on a beautifully lit up area nearby. Lanterns of all different shapes and arrangements were set up everywhere. Many couples got onto rowing boats which also have lanterns. Very romantic right ( めっちゃロマンチックでしょう。meccha romanchiku deshou). It was only later at home that I found out it was the Tokae Lantern Festival. "Toka" means light flower in Japanese and refers to the shape the wax of a burned out candle forms. The more flowerlike the shape the luckier it is for the person who lit the lantern. "E" means meeting or gathering, thus Tokae is a meeting of light flowers. For a donation of ¥500 anyone can light a their own lantern and place it on the festival grounds in Nara Park. Happening from August 5th to August 14th tt takes place all over Nara City with the majority of the events being centered around the Ukigumoenchi to the south of Todaiji temple.

Social activities

Japanese hot-pot cooking event

This is a Japanese hot-pot (鍋、nabe) cooking event with my friends from the Japanese-English language exchange meet-up in Kyoto - we meet every Saturday evening. Generally, you can add all kinds of ingredients into a nabe e.g. lots of veggies, meat, mushrooms, tofu etc., like a sukiyaki. However, you should not overdo it. In the clip below, you can hear one of my friends appear to be confused over the result of our concoction which rather resembled a random mishmash than a proper nabe.

Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki cooking event - also my farewell party :')

A fun and memorable cooking event with my Japanese-English language exchange group before my departure.

Knife-forging workshop (刀剣捏造ワークショップ)

I found this knife-forging event on meetup.com at that time. It turned out well. The product was decent, and the experience invaluable. "A day in a life of a blacksmith" so to say. I hope that one day I can do this again, but then forge a "katana" (刀) for a samurai (侍) :D. Watch the video below.

My "katana"

Water Sports in Obama

Who doesn't like go to "Umi" (海、sea) during a blazing hot summer in Japan? This time I was invited by friends of one of the language exchange meetups who were also members of "Amway" (Yes, an MLM, but at that time I was pretty ignorant of the fact that it was a dubious organization). Anyway, this gathering was a fun socializing event in Obama (小浜), Fukui Prefecture, with potluck food and BBQ, a fashion show, music, trampolines, and, of course, water sports e.g. kayaking,  and jet skiing. In the end, all suspicions aside, I enjoyed the day with everyone who was there and it was one of the many beautiful memories of my life in Japan.