Thursday, August 30, 2007

long time in the making this post might be long. or it might be a collection of photos. haven't quite decided what to do at the moment as i start typing it up.
you might notice i've changed the template color and updated some links as well as the header description. i am counting months. i have eleven of them left here in this place that i now call "home," and so it's really time to re-evaluate, set and achieve goals, outline some future plans, and enjoy! Because what i really, truly want to do this year is enjoy it. Fully and without regrets about things not accomplished, not finished, not tried, not visited, not seen, not felt. Friends leaving made me consider how i want to approach this time on the island--what i want to do to prepare so that leaving is done with least amount of hassle or at least the hassle i have control over. i've set a few goals and have some itinerary of travels floating around in my head as well as things to do when people come visit, as i hope a few do. Am most looking forward to the visit of my sisters sometime this coming spring.
so this year, like this blog is being refreshed from outside in--let's see what happens. :)

the events of the last month have all left a mark. it's been a hectic time but if you asked what i did exactly, i'd have to pause and think a while.

the main event of last week has been my visit to a family dinner for the last night of Obon. Obon is an Okinawan Buddhist cultural landmark in the lunar calendar. Okinawa Obon is very different from mainland one, which took place a week earlier this year. Since i don't live on mainland and never studied that culture or participated in it, as i do with Okinawa culture, i can't do an intense comparison. let's just say they're different and mostly, i think, because the Okinawa ancestor worship base which underlines all the traditions on the island overwhelms the Buddhist rituals it incorporates. So the Okinawa obon is a three day event. On the first day, unkei, the spirits of ancestors descend back into the family home and are welcomed with special prayer ceremony at the family butsudan (altar) inside the home of the eldest son into whose house the altar is passed through generations (although there are exceptions). The family gathers to celebrate the arrival of the ancestors, has dinner and offers special foods and items to the visiting spirits. The middle day is simply named, nakabi and is a time for family to relax together. The final day is called uukui and on the evening of that day the family thanks the ancestors for visiting and bids them farewell. During the time of obon, actually throughout August, Okinawans don't go into the sea because it's believed to be full of spirits going from their own world into the world of the living for Obon visit.

My supervisor invited myself and Cliff (the new Ogimi ALT) to his wife's family home in Nago for the third night of Obon. The head of the family, my supervisor's mother-in-law, was in charge of dinner but serving us were her granddaughters. The two lovely girls brought out dishes for us to try--it was my first time to eat nakamijiru, a pig intestine soup, quite delicious actually. We were the first to arrive, excluding the eldest son whose daughters were our servers that evening. As we ate, more family members began to arrive and settle themselves around a small table and in front of a giant TV. We chatted and watched the IAAF broadcast live from Osaka. The male hammer throw competition was on, as one of Japan's medal hopefuls competed. I learned that his mother is Russian but father Japanese. He did not medal, but it was fun watching the competition.

I loved being with a family for a dinner, like that, sitting around a TV, chatting casually. Some of them hadn't seen each other in a while it seemed and lots of news were being exchanged. It's been a while for me to be in a midst of a family, and it made me miss mine but also really appreciate the time i was spending with them. A little after 9pm, the family gathered in a guest room where the family butsudan took up a primary spot in the wall. Tablets with ancestors' names as well as decorative urns representing the main ancestors being welcomed took center place. The urns had lots of incense burning inside. Lots of fruit, flowers, incense and personal items, such as cigarettes were placed all around the altar. The matriarch sat seza in front of a low table placed under the altar with three boxes of specially prepared foods placed in front of her. She also had a small round tray on which she had grains of rice and a small bottle of awamori. The grownups made a sitting circle behind and around her, Cliff and i were welcomed into it and i felt really privileged. The younger family members stood or sat on outskirts of the room or in the hallway. Everyone prayed, then the matriarch offered rice and awamori and pieces of food to each of the ancestors and after offering them with a simple upward motion of the chopsticks towards the altar she placed each item in a small, round grill situated to the left of the table. After the food was offered, the sons took down all the fruits, flowers and special items from the altar onto the table and she tossed in a bit from each pile into the burner. She even tossed in a couple of cigarettes from a pack. The sons chatted and even laughed as they cleared the altar, the other members of the family were quiet but not too somber. Everything inside the burner was sat on fire and as a last gesture, special pieces of paper called uchikabi which represent money to be used in heaven were also burned. Actually so many of them were being burned that my supervisor joked there will be inflation in heaven this year. Soon the room filled up with smoke and people were fanning themselves to keep from breathing it in. Once the burner was well lit, the sons took down the urns with incense and all three, along with the burner were carried outside to a corner near the house.

In an amusing turn of events, when i set out to follow everyone outside, i discovered that my shoes were missing, after a few moments of looking for them it was decided that someone put them on by mistake, i was given shoes to trade for mine once outside, but because of the search for them, i missed out on what happened once the urns and burner were brought outside. I'm assuming the family once again prayed and the ashes were dumped out and ancestors bid farewell. We said our goodbyes to the family at that point as well, because our kind supervisor drove us to and from Nago so that we could fully enjoy our experience and drink with the family and we had to leave right away so he'd get home to his new born child at a not so late hour. It was sad leaving the family; for a moment i felt really comfortable and at home with them--i hope i get to experience that sort of a feeling again while here.

for more information about Okinawan rituals, religion and Obon, please check out these two links from Wiki:
Ryukyan festivals and observances and Ryukyuan religion

I'll post some pics at the bottom of the post and also on my Fotki site--which I do update btw, and will even attempt to label all the new photos there tomorrow from school. Also at the bottom of the post is a very short video from the eisa routine performed by the Ogimi seinenkai during the 10,000 men eisa event in Naha. You might spot me in it. It's really short, sorry, but thanks to Kelly for shooting it and sending it to me!

The moon has been absolutely gorgeous the last few nights--full and splendid--it has been brightly overwhelming the sky. Two nights ago there was an eclipse and thanks to Cliff, I got to see the last bit of it. It was raining all that night, so I wasn't even aware of an eclipse happening, but the weather cleared just in time to watch its departure.

School. Well. School is just a plethora of activity. There's the sports day to prepare for, the track and field event in October. Students just came back from summer vacation and already took tests to prove that they did absolutely no studying during the summer break. It's been rather depressing grading the tests. Oh well. They've been busy with extracurricular stuff this summer to do much about relaxing or studying. I also have one student to prepare for the speech contest at the end of September. This will be my third and last English speech contest. Mixed feelings.

This weekend will be a very special day in the Ogimi event calendar--the unjami festival. I shall write about it when i have the photos to back it up.

And to finish off this impossibly long blog, here are a few photos from the last month.

the three fourths of the Fearsome Foursome! Miss ya, guys!

Early in the morning after tens of cocktails and hours of karaoke...Goodbye!

the goat won by the Ogimi seinenkai (youth group) during the Ogimi festival's rope tug of war .
I do no know the goat's fate. Perhaps the members enjoyed a goat soup a few days after the fest. The eisa during the fest was by far the best we've performed and my goal of participating in eisa during Ogimi festival was accomlished. It was a fantastic feeling being a part of something that took my breath away during the first few weeks on the island two years ago.

from a viewing spot near cape Hedo where Chikara took us the other day.
mostly new JETs taking in the beauty of northern Okinawa
the family butsudan after it's been cleared of fruit, flowers, and other objects. the three blue, ornate urns are for the three ancestors being honored during Obon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

i owe an update. but give me a week or two. things are happening every day and half the time i don't know what day it is and when was the last time i slept for more than 5 hours. naps is the way to go apparently.

i went to Izena and learned all about its spiders and hermit crabs thanx to Mr. Izena, Craig.

been playing eisa around Ogimi and Sunday went to Naha with the youth group to participate in the 10,000 men eisa parade down Kokusai dori (International street). It was a fantastic experience and i was happiest during it when i saw my friends waving at me from the crowd.

lots of karaoke.

goodbyes, tears, sun= my last week and a half.

am tired. i'll do a better job of posting and recaping in a few days.

sorry, Craig ;)