Monday, June 29, 2009

Lake Toya

This past weekend Steph and I traveled down south to beautiful Lake Toya for our summer HAJET (Hokkaido Association of JETs) camping meeting.  Lake Toya is an amazingly clear volcanic caldera lake with four small islands in the middle, and surrounded by a still-active volcano and numerous hot springs.  The 2008 G8 Summit was held there last year as well. 

Paired with the gorgeous weather it made for an amazing weekend trip out of Sapporo.

A whole new take on Band Camp:

One of the cool things about the Lake Toya area are all of the sculptures and instillations surrounding its perimeter.  Just a few:

The open campgrounds made it feel like we had set up tent on a soft, green park-lawn, surrounded by mountains, rice paddies, farms and fields, and, of course, Lake Toya itself:

HAJET events are always a good time to catch up with old friends and fellow JETs from around Hokkaido.  In addition, we had sumo champions...

...lots of yummy food and bevs...

...good times around the campfire...

...and, of course, sparklers and fireworks:

Now I finally have that dirty, tired, sunburnt demeanor of summer that we all know and love!  With all of the hiking, swimming, onsening, and camping to be had, we're already planning our next excursion down to Toya, hopefully sometime within Hokkaido's short, short summer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yosakoi Soran Matsuri

Last weekend, the entire city of Sapporo had mad dancing fever for the annual Yosakoi Soran Festival. Yosakoi consists of hardcore, dynamic dancing, and Soran is the traditional, rhythmical Hokkaido fisherman's song to which the performers dance. The song has been varied and modified to become extremely fast-paced and energetic.

Teams of 30-150 begin practicing (some everyday!!) back in March and April. The basic rules of the Yosakoi dance is that it must include Soran music, use of the traditional clappers, and have 100 meter advance dancing for the parade. The rest is up to the creativity of the dancers, and includes everything from elaborate costumes that can be transformed up to 3 times during a performance, taiko drummers, flags, props, banners, and the like. It's an amazing display of color, energy, tradition, and stamina (the performers can perform their dance constantly for up to two hours during the parade!!):

The best part about Yosakoi is the merging of traditional music, dance moves, and costumes, with modern beats and hip-hop steps! Also, as there were more than 300 dance teams, so there was really no limit to the variety of dances performed over the four-day festival!

At night, each team gets to perform another version of their Yosakoi dance on the main stage in Odori Park. During the event, the performers are judged, and on the last night, the finalists all have their turn wowing the audience with their sweet moves! It's really incredible to watch, and to think about all of the time that goes into a Yosakoi performance!

Watching the dancers, its incredibly hard not to get pumped up enough to join a team for next year...the drawback being the sacrifice of three months of your life to the endeavor! These people, for the most part, are SERIOUS (as my blonde friend, Callie, found out when the team she tried to join said she could on the condition that she dyed her hair black! )! I have to say that all of that hard work makes for an AMAZING festival and I absolutely cannot wait for next year's Yosakoi to roll back around!