Despite my life in Japan becoming more incredible and fulfilling than I ever anticipated, I've really struggled to find something about my 'Japan experience' to write about that really differed from the plethora of articles out there about this country.
It's not for a lack of inspiration. But when Japan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, what more can there be more to say about it?
However I think I've finally found something worth writing about for me: Participating in my areas local Autumn festivals.
Autumn Festivals in Japan
Japan is slightly festival mad. Autumn festivals are (among many other things) a celebration of the often oppressive Summer heat ending and the foliage changing to the beautiful red and orange hues. All around Japan, festivals have their local flavours and mine, in countryside Hyogo Prefecture, have been my favourite festivals so far.
Weekends are big festival days, and my local area held their 'pre-festival' event on the Saturday, with the big shows occurring on the Sunday. Being the new English teacher in town comes with perks, like being invited to pull the mikoshi (the divine palanquin - or deity-carrying vehicle) around the local area, broadcasting the drums throughout the town, paying respects to all the shops in town with the deity and ending up eating bentos with all of the locals, including your students.
My town is the smallest in the area, so once I moved a town or two over, the festivals started growing in size and in sound. The next town had its Autumn festival in a shrine hidden in the depths of a small mountain. The men from each area carried the mikoshi down never-ending steps from the top of the hill, only to then have to carry it upwards again to head back to their local area.
The largest town in my area had all 12 or so of it's locales all meet up at the one shrine. This festival was a hectic blur of shouting, drums and colour. With all men kitted up in fundoshi (the Japanese loincloth), all 12 mikoshi then paraded out into the streets. The difference with the larger festivals is that their festivities can go on into the night.
The main thing about these local festivals was how involved the locals felt. There were bearers walking in-between from the mikoshi to their families. picnic set-ups and kids parading around everywhere.
Living the 'local' experience is a part of the JET Programme that is really invaluable. But this weekend was something that I would have never been able to do as just a regular traveller in Japan. The shock of my student's faces when they saw their English teacher rock up at their small Autumn festival set the weekend up to be a truly special one.