Confessions of a Eurovision Fanboy: Melodifestivalen

 

credit to Eurovision.tv

Let me take a break from Japan for a little bit. Believe it or not, I DO have other interests. It’s almost May, and you know what that means — EUROVISION SEASON.

Eurovision is something that isn’t known to many Americans but I have been a hardcore fan of it ever since I saw Norway win in 2009. I love it all – the cheese, the ridiculous performances, the various languages and the great pop music that comes from it. As an added bonus, it has helped me immensely in familiarizing myself with European (and Middle Eastern) geography. Before Eurovision, I (admittedly) had no idea where Croatia was. Nor Azerbaijan. I didn’t even know Azerbaijan was a country to be honest.

While there is so much more to discuss about Eurovision, I’ll just give a quick explanation for those who aren’t familiar with it: Imagine if the X factor, American Idol and the Olympics were combined into one massive event. That’s Eurovision.

Each country decides the song that they are going to send to the world stage to perform at The Final in May.

One country that I love seeing every year is Sweden, a bastion of amazing pop music. Every year, they host something called Melodifestivalen where various acts compete to represent Sweden at The Final. I missed the first Semi-Final but I was able to watch the second Semi-Final on this great music blog

Below are my thoughts as I watched the Second Semi Final. Please keep in mind that 1) These opinions are coming from an American. I don’t really have in-depth knowledge of pop culture in Sweden. Nor do I speak Swedish (unfortunately) and 2) They were written straight from brain to keyboard – don’t expect anything deep and moving 😛

***** MELODIFESTIVALEN SECOND SEMI FINAL THOUGHTS *****

This intro performance reminded me of Weinerville a bit too much. I don’t have fond memories of that show. Cute song, though.

1) JEM – This guy reminds me a bit of Cee Lo Green and kind of sounds like WIll.I.Am but not TERRIBLE. And the main blonde girl looks like Ke$ha! Oh hey, I can do this. This song is pretty catchy.

2) The Refreshments – Nope. Nooope. Sorry, guys. I’m an American and I live in Texas – I hear this music on the daily. Also, ‘Trail of Tears’? I’m hoping that’s just an unfortunate coincidence rather than a jab at American history.

3) Manda – OH SHIT. Sudden toweing orchestra?! OKAY! I’m digging this entry. It’s a positive, uplifting song and I get some Katy Perry ‘Firework’ vibes from it for some reason. I would think this is going to make it through to the final.

4) Panetoz Efter Solsken – OH DAMN. THIS IS BADASS. The moves, the , the rapping, the Caribbean-esque rhythm. Everything about this is great! Even the awkward white guy! This is such a feel good song and I love it! If these guys don’t make it through, I swear…

5) Pink Pistols – Guuuuurls. I feel like I’ve seen the Pink Pistols from Melodifestivalens past. They’re pretty fabulous and I think that they should party with the Scissor Sisters. I like the song and the performance was good. Kudos for being in drag!

*Dang, there are a lot of good performances in the second semi finals!

6) Sanna Nielssen – I’m not super fond of ballads, but she definitely gripped me with her voice. Her range is pretty incredible and I like how she’s real-time autotuning. Those backing vocals are hella loud, though.  Cool song but it wouldn’t be a top pick for me. I bet this is going to make it to the final, though. It just has that kind of feel about it.

7) Little Great Things – I feel bad for doing this but my American mind seems to instantly want to link these artists with American ones that I know! I’m getting a definite Green Day/Panic! at the Disco vibe from this group. I like it, though. I probably wouldn’t vote for it, however.

8)  Martin Stenmark – The buildup for this is pretty intense. I hope it’s worth it. It was. Although I don’t understand what he is saying, this song sounds very uplifting and I can definitely feel his emotion in his voice. I’m gonna say this could make it to the final. This is a pretty epic song.

*******

As it turns out, I was kind of right about the people who made it through to the final! I’m surprised that Manda was dead last, though. Even more surprised that the godawful country crooners were voted FIFTH! I really am just happy that Panetoz made it through. They are fantastic and I hope they go on to represent Sweden in Copenhagen!

Enough from me. Expect more Eurovision fanboy updates as May gets closer!

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ZA SUMOLL

Before I went to Japan to teach English, I had quite a large number of people tell me the same thing.

“Ohhh,” they’d say knowingly. “Those students over there are SO GOOD.”

It was almost like a compliment. Or a congratulations – like I had won the education lottery or something.

I guess in comparison to our own school systems, Japanese students seem to be ideal. They’re quiet, attentive and obedient and they don’t talk back to you like the self-entitled brats in Western school systems.

Or so people think.

I myself believed this as well. That’s why it came as a bit of a shock when I was designated to teach at Daikyuu Junior High – one of the ‘roughest’ schools in Yatsushiro.

“Ohhh,” people in my city would say, almost apologetically, when I told them where I was scheduled to teach. “You’re at THAT school.”

It didn’t take me long to figure out why people had this opinion. Daikyuu, it seemed, was full of problem students. A group of girls once went on a rampage in the school – tearing down bulletin boards, spraying the fire extinguisher, shattering a window and denting a teacher’s car by kicking it.

 With things like these happening during my first year as an ALT, I became aware of two facts: 

1) Japanese students are definitely not as perfect as the world seems to believe.

and

2) Just because a student is ‘shitty’ does not mean they aren’t intelligent or talented or hilarious. Most of my favorite students were actually ‘shitty students’.

So how were these students dealt with? Detention, it seemed, was not a thing in Japan. In fact, discipline in general seemed very strange to me. Depending on the teacher, punishment could either be obscenely lax or uncomfortably intense.

I remember witnessing this firsthand one frigid winter day. As the temperature outside fell, so too did the attitudes of the majority of the students inside Daikyuu. Japanese schools are usually not insulated and it’s often as cold inside as it is outside.

My coworker Matsuda Sensei and I had been practicing a dialogue in class and one male student in particular was having none of it. Normally he was a very bright kid who was great at English, but this particular day just did not seem to be going well for him.

His day got even worse when he back-talked the teacher during class.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” Matsuda Sensei exploded without warning. “GET OVER HERE.”

He approached the boy in a flash, seized his arm and pulled the student violently out of his chair. He then promptly dragged him out of the classroom.

As the sliding door slammed shut, I was left staring at the rest of the class in an incredibly awkward silence. Some students threw each other cautious, amused glances and snickered.

“Er…let’s er…repeat this dialogue…” I said, awkwardly trying to continue the lesson.

Nobody was listening.

“Do you have any pets?”

I was met with silence. Thirty five sets of eyes all focused intently on the hallway.

“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Matsuura Sensei yelled – the thin walls providing little insulation from the sound. An angry, mumbled reply followed.

“Er…everyone? Let’s try to focus…” I pleaded helplessly. “Yes. I have some hamsters…”

Silence.

“DON’T BE SUCH A SHITTY KID! YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT!” This time the yelling was accompanied by a heavy thud.

“GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!”

“…Oh really? I…I love hamsters…” I continued in vain.

Shortly after my lonely monologue, the door slid open noisily and the boy re-entered the classroom and took his seat. I could see that his eyes were puffy and red and he was rubbing the top of his head gingerly. He looked miserable.

“Sorry,” Matsuda Sensei said casually as he slid the door closed. His face was dour and his eyes still shone with anger. “Now let’s repeat this dialogue.”

*****

Even though some students had troubled home lives that made them act out, the ‘bad’ students at Daikyuu were still hilarious and full of personality.

They often took advantage of my enigmatic status of ALT. After all, I was still kind of a teacher but…I didn’t really discipline anyone so…I was kind of cool?

“IAN SENSEI,” a third year student (one of my favorites) said to me once. “I HAVE ZA SUMOLL PENNUS ZIS SCHOOL!”

“I’m sorry, what?” I said with a surprised laugh. The small group of boys that had cornered me in the hallway with him giggled mischievously.

“ME, I, ME” he repeated with a macho jerk of his thumb toward his chest. “I HAVE ZA SUMOLL PENNUS ZIS SCHOOL!”

“Ohhh I see,” I replied. “Really?”

“OH, YES.” he said as his friends around him dissolved into laughter. “BERYY BERYY ZA SUMOLL.”

“Do you mean to say,” I began, “That you have the smallest penis in this school?”

He blinked, confusion registering on his pimpled adolescent face. His friends stared at me in bewildered silence.

“It’s actually ‘pee-nis’,” I continued. “In English, we don’t say ‘pennus’. Nobody would understand you if you said that.”

“Oh…oh yes,” he replied, obviously surprised that I was indulging him.

“I have…” he thought for a minute “…za small…”

“…est” I interjected helpfully. “the smallest”

“Za smallESTpeenis…in…”

This school”

“Zis…school.”

“There you go!” I said reassuringly. “Good job! Just remember….smallest, okay?”

He nodded, still baffled that I had not scolded him. “Okay. Sankyuu!”

The debate over whether or not I was being a bad ALT can be had, but I don’t regret correcting him. I figure that if a student is going to say something like that, they might as well say it properly. That way, they can get the reaction that they want rather than a confused stare.

Perhaps another reason that I helped him out was because, as a student, I was the same way. I would frustrate my Spanish teacher countless times by saying any number of random phrases. The smart ass, chatty kid who would constantly be thinking of anything else during class – that was me. I find it extremely interesting that even in a culture as different as Japan’s, I was able to find students who reminded me of myself when I was the same age.

I would often catch myself observing my classes during team-teaching lessons. I saw notes being passed, secret conversations being had, doodles being doodled, and kids staring out the window, pining for freedom.

A few times, my gaze would fall on students having discussions during class. They would catch my eye, immediately stop talking and turn back to their work. I realized that I must have looked like a stern teacher…but in reality I was just watching.

I think it’s a very surreal experience that few people get to have – observing students in front of them who acted just the way that they did in school.

I found that, in my time teaching Japanese students, they are not as different and perfect as people seem to believe. Children and adolescents, I learned, are the same everywhere. We may grow up in different places with different social structures, but we all have traits and characteristics that we share. Traits and characteristics that make us inherently human. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to come to this realization and I hope that more people can.

‘Douzo’

In 2010, I went to Kyoto and Osaka with two friends (we’ll name them ‘Bunny’ and ‘Dragon’) over Winter Break.

Kyoto was gorgeous and traditional – old shrines and temples seemed to live in harmony with the present. Shoe store, Shrine, Cheap Clothing Store, Temple, Shrine, Drugstore, Shrine, Shrine, Temple…

Whereas Kyoto had a calm, serene feel to it, the bustling streets of Osaka were very different. It was a much larger city that radiated a gritty personality from every turn. I can recall watching people brush by me on the street and gauging which of them could beat me up if they wanted to. Quite a few seemed more than able.

Our hostel was located in a not-so-stellar part of Osaka. As we wandered through the neighborhood, relying on our phones as maps, we watched the area around us become less savory. Vending machines full of cheap sake and beer stood brightly on one corner and cast shadows on the dilapidated buildings around us.

After we found our hostel, Bunny came to the realization that it was located not too far from Osaka’s shady red-light district. We never questioned why or how she knew this, but she was right.

Prostitution in Japan was outlawed in 1958, the internet told us, but as is the case with several things, loopholes do exist. Several brothels still operate in the exact same area they once did. However, they do so now under the guise of Japanese-style ‘restaurants’.

After reading unsettling ‘reviews’ online (presumedly written by straight, white, male foreigners), we discovered that the neighborhood was indeed a short walk from our hostel.

We decided that we wanted to take a stroll through this seedy district of Osaka and see it for ourselves. Even though none of us had any desire to partake in what was offered there, it sounded like an interesting chance to see ‘Real Japan’. We giggled about how crazy it was sure to be and made plans to go the following evening.

 It had rained for most of the next day but as we set out on our search that night, we were greeted by chilly, damp air without a drop in sight. Using Bunny’s phone as guidance, Dragon and I followed her through the dimly lit neighborhood of our hostel, feeling a tinge of unease the further we went. 

We wandered through poorly-lit back streets, past boarded-up stores, through an eerily quiet shopping arcade and under highway bypasses that were covered with graffiti.

Before long, we caught sight of two young men walking briskly side-by-side. They were talking and laughing to one another and seemed rather out of place in the run-down area. After all, out of the handful of people we had strolled past that evening, these two were the first we had seen that appeared to be under forty. We deduced that we were getting closer and decided to follow them from a distance.

As we turned a corner after them, the area seemed to transform in to something completely different. We watched them disappear down the road and realized we had found what we were looking for.

Round streetlights were perched high above us, their warm glow contrasting the chilly winter air. Paper lanterns swung peacefully in front of slatted wooden store fronts that lined the street one after another. The store fronts themselves were open for all to see – their soft light spilled out and reflected off the narrow, wet road. We started walking down the street, feeling as if we had stepped back in time.

Suddenly, I saw it. My heart gave a little flutter, like I had just seen Bigfoot or a ghost. This was it: proof that what we had come to see really did exist.

‘Guys,’ I muttered quietly.

They had seen it too. A hush settled over us.

Inside the entryway of the ‘restaurant’ was a young woman sitting on a large floor pillow in seiza.  She was glowing – every aesthetically-pleasing detail highlighted beneath the brilliant light. Her makeup and hair were styled to perfection. Her fashionable clothing was form-fitting and immaculate.

She was the main attraction.

Her eyes watched us intently and curiously as we slowed our gait. Long eyelashes met and parted again. The demure smile that she wore on her lips never quivered, never gave any indication as to what she was thinking. She must have been only nineteen or twenty.

“Kawaii desu neeee,” a voice croaked suddenly, making us all jump. ‘Isn’t she cute?’.

A figure shifted off to the side and I realized that the sound had come from an old woman. She was seated precariously on the side of the tatami mat, partially hidden in the shadows from the light that filled the entrance. Her hair was frozen in a crispy old-lady perm and her frumpy clothing starkly clashed with the girl on the pillow’s.

“Douzoooo,” The woman leaned forward and gestured to us – palm down. Her gnarled fingers bobbed up and down in sync with the lackadaisical flicks of her wrist. ’Come on in’.

Judging from the looks on our faces, I can imagine we did not appear to be potential clients. Dismissively, she shook her head, sat back and gave a laugh that sounded like crunching gravel.

Each ‘restaurant’ we passed seemed to be slightly different than the one before it. In one, a girl was dressed as a French Maid and looked bored out of her mind. Another sat surrounded by a mountain of plush animals – I spotted Stitch and Hello Kitty amongst them. Yet another was dressed in a disturbingly authentic-looking school uniform. One ‘restaurant’ even featured a garish neon Christmas tree next to an annoyed-looking girl.

For all of the slight variations, though, the formula seemed to be the same. Every place had a nicely decorated entryway where a pretty girl was seated and advertised by the mama-san. Some of the mama-sans would call out to us and one even addressed us in English. A handful, however, shot us wary, unfriendly glances. What are you doing here? They seemed to say. Leave this place.

 Bunny, Dragon and I did not spend much longer in the area. We walked back to our hostel mostly in silence.

“Yeah…I didn’t like that,” Dragon said after some time. “I really didn’t like that.”

We all agreed.

I recalled with embarrassment the previous night – how we were laughing to each other about how ‘craaaazy’ a trip to the red-light district would be. None of us had really known what to expect. We had based our opinions of the ‘wild and crazy’ stories of the famous red-light district in Amsterdam (which I can’t imagine is any better).

The reality, we found, was much less fun than we had anticipated. Instead of sexy, dancing pin-up babes writhing in the windows, we found a surreal, unsettling place where young girls who posed like mannequins were being hawked by old women.

I don’t think that we really knew what we were looking for. We just wanted to see something that would make for a good story. ‘Remember that time we went to Osaka’s red-light district? Crazy times, mannn’.

The story that this experience gave me, however, is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while. Sometimes, things that sound good on paper or as an abstract thought can be entirely different when seen in person. When you look in to the eyes of a girl sitting on a pillow, waiting to be rented out, it becomes less of a ‘crazy, awesome’ idea and more of a very uncomfortable reality.

Dr. Fish

 In Kami-Amakusa, Kumamoto, there is a place named Spa Thalasso. It sits among the gorgeous and rural landscape atop a large hill. A gigantic observation deck shaped like a sail stands next to the building. From the top, you can see across the sparkling Shimabara Bay and the view is breathtaking.

We pulled up to Spa Thalasso and the three of us (myself and my friends Chris and Melissa) got out to walk around and take in the view. After, we entered the spa to fulfill the task we had come for.

“There it is,” my friend Melissa pointed to a long tank at the end of the spacious lobby. We hurriedly removed our flip-flops and threw them into the cubbies that were provided at the entrance; I didn’t bother taking the slippers that were provided.

The three of us eagerly walked over to the low tank, my feet slapping happily against the shiny linoleum. Looking down into the water, I saw what had to be dozens of tiny silver fish darting through the water. “I didn’t expect there to be so many!” I exclaimed to Melissa. She nodded sagely and giggled. “Just wait.”

Of all the treatments that Spa Thelasso had to offer, Dr. Fish has to be by far the strangest. The first time I heard about it, I knew that it was something that I needed to experience.

The procedure is simple: you pay about ten dollars, place your feet into the tanks and the fish inside swim over you to clean (read: eat) off dead skin cells and whatever else they might be able to glean from your podiatric crevices. It’s very unconventional, possibly a bit unsanitary and, to me, very intriguing.

With a quick tutorial that I didn’t understand (how hard could it be?!),  the staff member sat me in the chair. I was ready to experience this odd pedicure – my first one ever. A bit hesitantly, I lowered my feet into the water. The fish scattered away immediately but then, seeming to realize that my feet were food, swarmed them. As soon as they latched on to my feet, toes and ankles though, I  immediately burst out in a fit of laughter.

Looking back on it, I can’t believe I overlooked just how incredibly ticklish I am. Ticklish to the point that it’s more ‘anxiety-inducing’ to me than ‘fun’.  So much so that I have no qualms about punching whatever unlucky fool thinks they’re being cute by trying to tickle me.

So what would possess me to do something like this? In the back of my mind, I’m sure my brain was trying to send signals about how bad of an idea Dr. Fish was. I, unfortunately, never got the memo.

I continued to erupt in laughter and before long, people in the lobby of the spa began to stare. Next to me, Chris was grinning and chuckling slightly “this is WEIRD!” he exclaimed. And it was. It was very weird.

Unfortunately, I could not stop laughing and squirming. A few times, I kicked my feet frantically, driving the fish from their dead skin buffet. At one point, I even had to take my feet out of the water because it was tickling so bad.

The feeling of them swimming all over your feet and grazing on them doesn’t hurt, but it definitely feels…strange. For me, it was almost torturous to feel the tiny fish nibbling between my toes and on my ankles.

The whole thing only lasted about five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I have to say that afterwards, I didn’t notice any noticeable difference in my feet. Maybe they were softer? I couldn’t really say.

All in all, Dr. Fish was a very…interesting experience. I’m glad I did it and I recommend it to anyone who’s not afraid to try something new and strange! However, be warned: if you’re ticklish, it’s going to be tough.

Flying Fish

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Mud and Fish abound at the Kagami Mud Festival in Kumamoto, Japan!

Whether parading ‘drunk’ horses through downtown Kumamoto City or parading gigantic wooden phallises through the street, there is no denying that Japan has some interesting festivals.

In rural Kumamoto, the small town of Kagami has its own small festival every year in April. While the official name is ‘鏡が池鮒取り神事’, it’s known colloquially to the ALTs in the area as the Kagami Mud Festival.

As with other festivals and celebrations I’ve been to in Japan, I’m sure the mud festival has an ancient meaning or significance, but I am not completely privvy to it. All I knew was that there is mud. And it is thrown.

We gathered in Kagami on a colder-than-usual April afternoon. Walking past a shrine with an enormous tree, we made our way to the area where the festivities were taking place. The road beyond the shrine opens up into a small plaza of sorts that leads to a park across the river. Across a large hill is a bridge that overlooks a medium-sized manmade pond that rests in the middle of the plaza.

Children and some adults were loitering around the perimeter of the pond, excitedly talking with their friends or playing tag. Photographers dressed in heavy-duty rain ponchos were prowling around looking for the perfect spot to set up. On the hill we could see dozens of families waiting expectantly – lining the bridge like birds on a telephone line. They were at a safe distance from the madness that would soon ensue.

After watching a formal parade where children (and a horse!) carried a mikoshi (portable shrine) to pay their respects, the fun part began.

Suddenly, we heard the sound of several people chanting. Faint at first, the sound slowly grew louder and louder until the air around us was abuzz with excitement. The source of the noise soon revealed itself – a huge crowd of men dressed in fundoshi (Japanese loincloths) were marching up the street toward us. It was clearly obvious that they were drunk; aside from the fact they were actually half-marching and half-stumbling, the stench of cheap sake and beer radiated from them in a two kilometer radius.

As we watched the group of men inch closer and closer to the area like a drunken amoeba, people began to cheer and clap. The men came to a halt – as if they were stopped behind an invisible line – and continued to chant excitedly. I saw that one incredibly drunken man was being carried by two others.

Stamping their feet wildly, the group of semi-naked, drunk men chanted wildly for another minute or so before the loud bakuchiku (the firework that starts events) was shot into the air. As the deafening boom and subsequent crack-ak-ak! of the firework echoed through theair, the chanting turned into wild screaming and the men all rushed forward into the pond.

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The spectators cheered excitedly as the men screamed and splashed through the shallow water. Immediately, they plunged their hands below the surface as if they were searching for something. Suddenly, one man took something in his hands and flung it through the air. It landed with a wet smack on the ground close to us and immediately began flopping about wildly. It was a fish.

Apparently, the pond had been stocked beforehand with several carp of varying sizes. The object of this particular celebration was for the men to catch the carp barehanded and throw them out of the pond. While I’m not a member of PETA by any means, this was still a bit hard to watch.

No sooner had the fish crash-landed in front of us then a giggling child swooped in and grabbed it expertly. She brought it (still thrashing helplessly) over to a boy and deposited it into a plastic grocery bag that he was holding. Together, I watched them run off to collect the other fishes that were now littering the perimeter.

By this point, the shivering men in the lake had begun taking clumps of mud and hurling them into the onlooking crowds. They would take aim at people (especially children) and sling it at them full force. A few launched handfuls through the air, causing the mud to spread out in a filthy arc – effectively splattering a range of people, (and cars…and houses…) who were in its path.

The children waiting around the pond squealed in delight as they were hit by the mud and even began throwing it back at the men. Other children rushed around with more plastic shopping bags to collect the growing number of fish that had been ripped from their temporary home in the pond.

Eventually, the drunken, naked Japanese men began climbing out of the water with massive handfuls of gunky mud. It was like watching a scene from Night of the Living Dead as they began chasing children and adults alike. Commotion erupted as unlucky bystanders were pelted with thick, runny mud. One poor child in particular got it slathered all over his head.

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…and I mean ALL OVER his head.

The scene was, in a word, chaos. Fish were still flying through the air. Mud was being hurled in all directions and even the bystanders who had been a safe distance away were now being hit by it. Laughter and shrieks and drunken shouts of excitement filled the air as more and more men stumbled out of the pond. My friends and I scattered and regrouped multiple times, but it seemed nowhere was safe.

Within minutes, nearly everyone who was standing remotely close to the lake had some kind of mud on them. The men were becoming more bold in their exodus from the pond and were actively chasing people. A mud-smeared, wet man stumbled over to my friend Javier, his fundoshi soaked and droopy, and grabbed a hold of his cheeks playfully.

“IYEEEEEEIIIIIII” he screamed joyously as if he were talking to a child who had just taken their first steps. “IYEIIII IYEIII IYEIIII” he sang as he smeared mud rhythmically from Javier’s cheeks to his chin and then back again.

He then caught sight of me laughing at my friend. “Eyyyyyyy” he slurred and stumble-ran toward me.

The man stopped suddenly and looked me square in the eyes – his dark, glazed-over eyes trying their best to focus on mine. It was almost as if he were peering into my soul.

‘You want to get dirtyyyy’ his inner voice seemed to speak to me. I felt like I was underneath the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter. ‘You don’t mind getting dirty…but you don’t want to get too dirtyyyy hmmm’.

Then, as soon as it started, the surreal moment ended and he snapped back to reality. His hands shot out quickly and he pressed his fingers to my cheekbones. With a cute “Ey!” he smudged mud on them so I sort of resembled a cat. Obviously pleased with his work, the man then grabbed my hand in a vigorous, muddy double-handed shake.

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With that, he skipped away to rejoin the other men who were still falling all over one another trying to catch fish.

Before too long, the bakuchiku sounded again – signaling an end to the mayhem. The men all climbed out of the water and the bags of fish were collected and taken to be blessed, grilled and then eaten (in that order).

As it wound down, a woman walked up to me and thrust a large greenish-yellow fish into my hands. “Check this out!” she said to me with an excited smile plastered on her face. “Isn’t this great?”

Have you ever held a clammy, writhing fish in your hands? Let me tell you it is not the best feeling in the world. She wanted me to keep it but I declined as politely as I could. She shrugged and chucked the fish back into her grocery bag.

The exact reason for this festival still eludes me, but I believe it has something to do with pleasing a god of some sort with fish? It is said that if you get hit with mud, you are to have a year of good health.

Whether you get muddy or not, this festival is just one of the many strange and fun events that seem to happen in rural Kyushu. For those who can read Japanese, here is a link to the event with a much better explanation than mine!

http://www.city.yatsushiro.kumamoto.jp/ar/article_view.phtml?id=18486

And for the record, I haven’t been sick yet this year!

Fellow readers, what is the craziest festival or event that you’ve been to? It doesn’t matter if it’s in a foreign country or not!