Monday, 3 December 2012

The Season of Arts, Culture and School Festivals

Before I came to Japan, my perspective of autumn, an unknown season in my home country, only brings to mind the activity of momiji-gari or maple leaves viewing. While momiji-gari is pretty much one of the main attractions of autumn across Japan (like sakura viewing in spring), this activity does not take place till the later part of the season.

In fact, many weeks before it was even time to get close to nature for momiji-gari, Kyoto was bustling with activities of a different significance. And I found myself being kept really busy because of them.

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文化の秋. The Autumn of Culture. I first came to learn about this phrase from my Japanese sensei. One autumn day, he started the class asking us if we knew the words associated with the season. Culture turned out to be one of the words. Yes, autumn is synonymous with culture in Japan and the season is the time in which arts and culture are being celebrated.

From September till early November, there was the annual Kyoto Art Festival. The publicity banners for this event in the downtown streets were so small that they were easy to miss. It was only from the event guide I picked up at the Kyoto City International Foundation (KCIF) that I learnt about the festival. While there were arts and cultural performances which required an admission fee, there were also those which were open to the public for free, such as the illumination shows at the Kyoto National Museum, and the traditional music performances at Heian Shrine in late October.


Illumination show at Kyoto National Museum from 26 - 28 Oct.
Light-up and traditional music performance at Heian Shrine on 26 Oct.
One of Kyoto's three major festivals known as the Festival of the Ages or Jidai Matsuri was also held in October. It happened on a Monday, a school day. As I planned not to miss it no matter what, I actually skipped lunch and rushed to the Heian Shrine to catch the parade right after class. 

Jidai Matsuri on 22 Oct.
As we went into November, it was another month of activities. 3 Nov was a national holiday in Japan known as "Culture Day". Japan celebrates arts and tradition on this day. About a month before the holiday, my neighbour shared with me the news that the KCIF was recruiting volunteers to help out at its annual Open Day event which coincided with Culture Day. We signed up and spent that saturday volunteering, a meaningful day spent interacting with the locals.  My role was to photograph the performances and as I have grown to enjoy photography, it was pretty rewarding. 

At the Open Day 2012 organised by Kyoto City International Foundation on 3 Nov.
At the event, there were international cuisines being sold, Nihongo cafes (where international residents in Kyoto could learn Japanese from locals), flea markets, performances put up by both the locals and international residents, and informative booths etc.  I was really impressed by the efforts of KCIF in promoting international exchange and integration of international residents in Kyoto. As international as Singapore is, I have the feeling that we are still behind in this area.

On the Sunday following Culture Day, I cycled to the Kyoto Imperial Palace which was open to the public for free from 31 Oct to 4 Nov. I was surprised to find free parking area. There was a huge crowd but it was a nice stroll on the palace grounds nonetheless.  The leaves of some of the trees were just turning brown and the scenery was great.  The highlight of that visit was being able to watch Kemari, a ball game played by the court nobles of ancient Kyoto during the Heian Period. I heard about this game from one of our Japanese classes which covered a little on the history of Kyoto.  It was a nice surprise to be able to see it played on palace grounds, like in the ancient days.


Kyoto Imperial Palace opens to the public for free on some days in autumn.

A week after all the arts and cultural events, it was the much anticipated school festival.  November is usually the month in which universities across Japan organise their annual school festivals.  Some of these festivals could be star-studded events with celebrities invited for performances and concerts.  At my school, the highlight of the event was the talkshow by a pair of comedians and a model.

The school festival lasted two days with stage performances by the various clubs and circles in school, flea markets with students selling items ranging from clothes to shoes to handicrafts, as well as food stalls ran by students. In order to attract "customers" to the stalls, many students were in various costumes ranging from Pokemon to Power Rangers. Just seeking out these characters and taking photographs of and with them was good fun.

At the school festival which lasted 2 days - 10 and 11 Nov.
Autumn seemed to pass really fast with all the activities. Of all the seasons so far, I am probably happiest in autumn. But the season also brings with it a sense of melancholy. Perhaps it is because the leaves are falling, and at the back of my mind, I know that this adventure is coming to an end.

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