New Year's Decorations

It's all about pine, bamboo, and a fresh new year.

Kadomatsu are arrangements of pine and bamboo placed on either side of entryways in Japan to welcome the gods of the new year. Read more about them on Wikipedia.

The other day, I decided to walk around Ikata's Minatoura neighborhood and see how many kadomatsu I could spot outside. They were at the town hall, of course, and the community center, the learning center, the office next to the town hall, and the local Yawata shrine. In these and other places which did not have kadomatsu, there were also twisted straw wreaths in a variety of styles hung over doorways, on door handles, and even on the grills of cars. These are all called shimenawa, and you can read more about them here.

Let's take a virtual walk together!

the town hall

the community center

the learning center

the shrine

a temple

the offices next to the town hall


shimenawa over the door of a fish shop

shimenawa next to the door of a doctor's office

shimenawa on cars


Christmas Illumination

On Monday, December 6th at 6pm, children from Ikata's Minatoura neighborhood thronged around Tsuwabuki-so, a nursing home, for the annual Christmas Illumination ceremony. Some of Tsuwabuki-so's residents were wheeled out to watch the proceedings, too: after some festive words from the organizers, three switches were thrown to light up Tsuwabuki-so itself, a small park across the street, and the Yonden electric company apartments across the canal.

A group of people from the town hall and the weekly English conversation class sang "O, How a Rose E'er Blooming" in four-part harmony!


The park across the street.

Merry Christmas!

Culture Day

November 3rd is not Election Day in Japan. It's Culture Day, or bunka no hi.

Schools and community centers host large get-togethers, where people showcase their talents in traditional Japanese crafts, dance, music, and paintings of the neighborhood. Local groups run concession stands to help support their activities.

The Ikata international association also runs a booth to allow kids to learn about the rest of the world through two or three international culture activities. In 2009 and 2010, they learned about Western calligraphy and wrote their names to make personalized bookmarks, played a flag and photo-based "Where in the World?" game, and took a swing at some piñatas.

Halloween at Ikata Elementary

On Tuesday, October 26th, Halloween came to Ikata Elementary School. The 6th graders were excited to decorate the gym into three "houses" for the rest of the students to trick-or-treat at. There was a pumpkin-themed "house," a witch-themed one, and a haunted house complete with a scary soundtrack!

All students were encouraged to dress up however they liked, and while the 6th graders decorated the gym, the other students made Halloween masks.

After trick-or-treating, each grade competed in playing the toilet paper mummy game!


Ikata's Autumn Festival ~Aki Matsuri~

During the "off season," so to speak, when Ikata and Red Wing are not engaged in their exchange program, I would like to use this blog to introduce bits and pieces of Ikata's cultural events throughout the year. Updates will not be frequent, so if there is anything you would like to see, just ask in the combox!

The following explanation about the Ushi Oni was written by Mr. Yasuji Suzuki, who works very hard to improve his English by writing frequent essays on various cultural and historical topics.

Have you ever seen the Ushi Oni? Probably you have seen it at the autumn festival in Ikata last year if you attended it. It is held at the precinct of the Hachiman Shrine and the playground of Ikata elementary school every year.

I searched and investigated about the Ushi Oni's history and meaning on the Internet. I'll explain simply about the Ushi Oni's present and past. First, I'll tell you its shape.

Ushi means ox and Oni means devil. It's 5-6m long and in the shape of a cattle's body with some bamboo framework. The long neck is made of a thick log and the tail is in the shape of a sword. It is covered with palm tree bark or red cloth, and in addition it has an awful face.

Second, I'll explain its history to you.

In 1651, Kiyomasa Kato made a Kikkosha, which is the prototype of the Ushi Oni. Kiyomasa Kato was a famous general of the Warring States Period. Itis well known to almost all Japanese people that he defeated a big tiger on his own during the Old Korean War. He used the Kikkosha to defend and attack. A lot of soldiers hid inside it and were guarded from a cloud of arrows and stones from the enemy's castle. Many enemy castles were defeated by Kiyomasa in this way. Stories of his prowess like these were told in Uwajima by Takatora Todo, who was the first of the Uwajima castellans, and also an expert in raising cattle.

I'll explain about the Kikkosha to you. We can write "亀甲車" instead of Kikkosha. 亀 means turtle. 甲 is 甲羅 which means hard shell, and 車 means car. It was made of a hard wooden box covered with ox skin like a body, and the head was made of a rare ox's head with blood dripping from it.

We can see the Ushi Oni not only in Uwajima but also many regions of southern Ehime, which is called the Nanyo Region.

Hidemune Date took up the Uwajima tradition after Takatora Todo moved from here to another place. Someone says that the Ushi Oni of Uwajima came into being 200 years ago and the body has been covered with a red cloth since the beginning of the Showa Period. A common Nanyo region custom at present is for many children to follow after the Ushi Oni while blowing the "Kaifuki," a triton-like flute. Kaifuki is made from a bamboo tube in which holes are drilled.

The End.


feedback session 報告会

Just last Wednesday night, the eight Ikata students and most of the host families got back together again for a final feedback session. (What, two months after the end of the program, you ask? Due to conflicting schedules, this was the earliest convenience for most people.) Chairman Hirose said a few words about this year's program, and then we heard speeches, some accompanied by photo slideshows and music, from each of the Ikata students, Mr. Asano, and myself. Finally, the host families gave their opinions and comments on the program, and to wrap things up, the former mayor of Misaki (before it merged with Ikata several years ago) gave everyone a rousing send-off speech.

The Ikata students are getting ready to finish their time in junior high and move up to high school at the end of March. They will be busier and busier as the weeks go by, so it was nice to see them together again one last time. We all hope that their experiences with the Red Wing students in Ikata and in Red Wing themselves will prove to be the basis of lifelong friendships, as well as a stepping stone to lifelong learning and great future accomplishments.


U of M ミネソタ大学

We had a great morning at the U of M on our last day in the US. First we walked from the Radisson down to Coffman Union and had a shopping spree at the university bookstore there. Then we crossed the Mississippi River on the Washington Avenue bridge, first through the covered walkway so that the kids could see all the adverts painted by campus clubs. Although it was only midmorning, the heat in the walkway was incredible: my camera lens fogged up immediately and wouldn't let me take any clear pictures. Everyone was anxious to be outside again, so we power-walked to the opposite side. They noted the "shoe tree" on the West Bank, and then we turned around again and walked back across the Mississippi, and back to the Radisson. There we had a short breather, and in no time at all, it seemed, we were putting our suitcases on the bus to go to the airport.



The Ordway オードウェーでミュージカル鑑賞

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the performance, but we had a great time enjoying it from our balcony seats. The musical we saw was The Gospel at Colonus, a Greek tragedy told with American gospel music. We heard some amazing voices. The kids also seemed to enjoy the overall atmosphere of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, although they did think the air conditioning was a little strong.  After the show, we left the theater to discover rain pounding the pavement outside, and as we rode back to the hotel, some streets seemed well on their way to flooding.



Mickey's Diner

We had a great experience at Mickey's Diner. Perhaps it had something to do with being a Tuesday evening, but it wasn't crowded and we received great service. The kids all loved the hamburgers and the atmosphere-- and someone else appreciated the fact that oatmeal was on the menu!



Fort Snelling とりでの見学

When we went to Fort Snelling, some of the kids were a little sketchy on what a "fort" actually means. Luckily, this historic site is devoted to explaining that in a hands-on way, so you can walk into the various buildings and see for yourself what they contain. Even better, there are actors and actresses playing the parts of soldiers and soldiers' wives, so you can see anything from an old-fashioned doctor explaining his medicines, to soldiers firing a cannon salute outside. By the time we left Fort Snelling, we had all learned something new.



zipping through the Sculpture Garden 彫刻園をちらっと見た

It took us a bit longer than projected to walk from the Black Forest Inn to the Sculpture Garden, so the kids were anxious to get on the air-conditioned bus! Our driver, Ken, was nice enough to take us to a DQ first!