Every year in August up in Japan’s northern Akita prefecture there is the traditional Aktia Kanto Festival, a harvest festival that uses long bamboo poles with painted lanterns in amazing balancing acts! The poles and lanterns (that are lit at night) weigh about 50kg each, but of course there are even heavier, I have heard of some that weigh about 80kg! These are held in one arm, or balanced on any part of your body that you can think of, and carried in parades. As part of their tourism drive, a team of festival performers travel to Tokyo a few times a year, so although I have never been to Akita I have seen performances of this festival a few times. I took these photos at last year’s Furusato Matsuri at Tokyo Dome, a huge baseball stadium between Korakuen and Suidobashi stations. If you have free time in Tokyo today I recommend visiting the event where you can sample food and drinks and festivals from all over Japan in one handy spot! The daytime tickets are probably nearly sold out now, but the night time tickets are even cheaper, so even on a budget it shouldn’t be too expensive. I’ll post more photos of this amazing festival later on, but please excuse the poor photos, I was using a 50-500mm “Bigma” Sigma, the original widow maker and back breaker tele zoom lens. Absolutely not suitable for indoor photography!
In January I visited the furusato matsuri at Tokyo Dome and saw, among many other things, these Okinawan drummers perform! I have been twice to Okinawa but never seen anything cultural so this was a treat. Scores of drummers and dancers showing us their traditional high stepping dance complete with a very un-japanese drum rhythm, slow and methodical, with high pitched singing voices and the almost drone like string instruments they use. Almost hypnotic. Any man looks better with a drum but I guess these handsome men wouldn’t look bad even without their drums.
I’m posting quite a few photos to give you a sense of how the movement looks like, not sure if it works! The performance took place on a massive stage and I was nowhere near the dancers, luckily though I had my Bigma with me (a Sigma 50-500mm 3.5-6.3 super tele), also known as “Dr. Backercracker” and the “Widow Maker”. A huge lens I bought second hand that I almost never have the energy to carry around with me. My back is thankful to me for not using it too often. It was dark and with a dark lens like this I had to crank the ISO up to almost unacceptable levels to bring the shutter speeds up and above 1/500 (for handheld photography). Enjoy!
Here’s a few more snapshots from the Furusato Matsuri earlier this month. I’m terribly sorry for the lousy photos, I blame the rush and the poor lighting! And the photographer, of course. Aomori prefecture in the north of Japan was represented as usual by their famous apples, which are huge and usually very red. In Europe apples are not considered such a pricey fruit but in Japan they can be pretty hefty. They also brought with them their mascot, whose name I forgot to ask. There were also rather well designed tea bottles and a macho man promoting salt, of all things. この男の塩はハンパねぇ! reads the poster, almost untranslatable but I’ll give it a shot: This guy’s salt is the real thing! I’m sure my many readers can come up with much better translations! There’s also the ever present eating sticks made out of wood recycled from broken baseball bats. You can get the sticks that came from a bat broken by the team of your choice and would be a great souvenir for the die hard baseball fan! And last, very minor but too cute to miss is the amigurumi pudding! As cute as the real thing is delicious.
In Asia especially, the soft shelled turtle is considered a luxury food and they are being raised and farmed quite extensively in both China and Japan. Coming from Europe I had never heard or seen these before but I have since tried eating suppon a few times. Most larger ponds and lakes around Japan have healthy populations of these soft shelled turtles and I see wild suppon almost daily, even in central Tokyo. At the Furusato Matsuri there was one booth marketing suppon food products and naturally I just had to try the canned soup! The bottle of marinated suppon eggs was much out of my budget though, as well as the dried ones. Japan is the country on Earth with the biggest variety of food products. I remember reading a few years ago that Japan has over 11000 different species of plants and animals to choose from compared to a mere couple of thousand or even less than a thousand in most western countries. Culinary, I can think of no country more exciting than Japan! Not all Japanese eat suppon though, it is both rare and expensive but in terms of proteins and nutrition per kilo, far more ecological and healthy than beef or pork. It is also much easier to farm commercially so I expect the consumption of suppon will rise in the future.
I’d love to get a good photo of a wild Tokyo soft shelled turtle, but these turtles are fully aquatic and never leave the water so unless I get a water proof camera I will never be able to get a good photo of one, I’m afraid.