Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Inage Lights Festival - Yotoboshi

Inage - a town with memories of the sea.

Long before the shallow coastal area in Inage was reclaimed to look like how it is today, it used to be a resort for beach activities and shellfish gathering; it was a town that relied on agriculture and fishing as its main source of income. The memories from the sea still remain up to this day and they are still visible around the town today. During the new moon, a fishing game in the sea using lanterns as the source of lights was introduced and it was known as "Yotoboshi fishing" (夜灯漁). It was the sights of the illuminating lights from the beach that used to be a seasonal tradition back then, that a unique festival was born five years ago.

"Inage Akari Matsuri - Yotoboshi" (稲毛あかり祭 - 夜灯), or "Inage Lights Festival - Night Lights" is held annually using the fishing game as a background motive, to reproduce the scene of the lanterns from the sea along the streets in the town, and to further nurture the relationship of the people living in this community.

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稲毛あかり祭 - 夜灯

Just like any other festivals in Japan, it is held for two nights - Zenyasai (前夜祭) or "festival eve", and Honmatsuri (本祭り) or the "main festival" over the weekends along the main street of Sengen-dori (浅間通り) and Inage Park (稲毛公園), as well as around Inage Sengen Shrine (稲毛浅間神社). From where I live currently, all those areas are accessible within five minutes on foot. Obviously, I wouldn't wanna miss out and join the fun with the local people at this festival.

This is my second main festival I have attended in this area since I moved to Inage early this year. The first one was the Inage Sengen Shrine Festival in July.

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This is the Sengen-dori (浅間通り), where hundreds of lanterns made of papers are arranged along the street.

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It is a nostalgic old shopping street that is beautifully decorated with lanterns.

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There were huge lanterns as tall as 1.8 meters and they were hand-made by the shopkeepers.

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The railway track is just a few steps down this street.

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There are various motifs on the lanterns, each of them unique from the rest.

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Christmas is around the corner.

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The imaginary character of the yotoboshi (lantern) a.k.a the mascot of the festival - "Yotoboshi-ane-san" (夜灯姉さん).

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A huge lantern of Yotoboshi-ane-san by the tea shop.

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Having a date with you loved ones at a festival like this is not a bad idea.

Sengen-dori goes pass the Keisei Inage station and it is also one of the location where the lanterns are placed. These lanterns are individually made by the kids from the local kindergartens. These lanterns, placed along the station platform, would welcome and bid farewell to people who come to Inage.

Besides that, there are also old photographs hung on the wall at the train station, to reminisce the town in the olden days.

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This is the Keisei Inage station, where I take the train to school everyday.

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The kids are free to draw whatever they want, and it was a pleasure to see many kinds of interesting drawings on each of the lanterns.

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There were workshops held at their schools since early September to get the kids to draw these lanterns.

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A young family taking a photo in front of the station signboard.

The "Akari Hiroba" (あかり広場) or the "Lights Square" is the location where the main events of the festival is held. It is just a few steps from the main street of Sengen-dori. Here is where a stage is set up for various kinds of performances - band, traditional dance, karaoke, choir groups, etc. Along the small street that leads to the main stage, there were lanterns hanging along the lamp posts, bearing the names of the sponsors for this festival. Although all these hanging lanterns were hand-made as there was no budget for it, it still created a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere in an autumn night.

Any festivals in Japan will never be complete without the food stalls. At Akari Hiroba, there are several stalls selling local food. The food are nothing special, just the normal ones like takoyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, taiyaki, karaage, and ramen.

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The narrow street that leads to the main stage.

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The temporary wooden panel to display the list of sponsors of the festival.

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Looking at this small lamps somehow reminds me of Wesak Day.

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Everyone can write down their wishes on the paper cups and place it on the shelves. Here, the wishes were for good health and to pass exams with flying colours.

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It reads "Love Inage" (LOVE 稲毛).

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This festival even attracted a sheep all the way from New Zealand haha!

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Local food and snacks like dango and onigiri.

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Takoyaki and taiyaki.

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Japanese satay, yakitori and beer.

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The number of people who came to the festival was much more than I thought earlier.

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Besides food, there were stalls for kids to play some games too. Anyone has any idea what's the name of the two characters on top of Pikachu?

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Prizes were simple stuff like toys and snacks.

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I don't think this is Paul the Octopus haha!

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The paper lanterns from the top.

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This guy was not bad and the crowd certainly loved it a lot. They named their band "Inage Old Man Band and Dancers" (稲毛オヤジバンド & ダンサース) haha!

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A Spanish dance group - Bonitaz (ボニータス) who gave a flamenco performance. 

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Though they are not that young anymore, their performances was top notch.

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The group leader giving a few words to the crowd after completing their dances.

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This Chinese restaurant took the opportunity to set up a stall outside their restaurant as well.

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Rows of lanterns made of bamboo leading to the Nihonmatsu-benzaiten (二本松弁財天), a small shrine for the God of Wealth.

Another main spot of this festival was the Inage Sengen Shrine, which is just about ten-minute walk from the main stage. In conjunction of Inage Akari Matsuri, there was a special kagura performance called "Jyuniza-kagura" (十二座神楽) or "12 Zodiac Kagura" on the Kagura stage. It is performed five times a year.

This kagura was first introduced to the local people more than 500 years ago. Originated from Kyushu, it was brought to this area in 1504 and was in listed as one of Chiba prefecture's cultural heritage in 1962.

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The road leading to Inage Sengen Shrine.

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The main gate to the shrine. It was believed that during the olden days, worshipers sitting in boats would go pass this gate to visit the shrine.

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Took a photo by the magnificent bamboo lanterns at the entrance of the shrine.

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The shrine is on the top of a hill, so one has to walk up the slope before reaching the main shrine.

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The main shrine hall of Inage Sengen Shrine.

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Kagura performance on the stage.

It was not my first time watching the kagura performance, so I just stayed there for a while before there were other interesting events going on along the Sengen-dori and the main stage. After spending some good short time there, I left the shrine and returned to the main area.

Besides the areas I visited, there were still a few places where the illuminations were held, including Inage Community Centre (稲毛公民館) and Inage Park (稲毛公園). Unfortunately, I missed out on those places. I will make it a point to visit those places next year.

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In total, there were approximately 6,000 paper lanterns and another 500 lanterns were made of bamboos that decorated the area at this festival.

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Tokyo Tower and train, something very common to Japan.

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There was a Yosakoi Soran (よさこいソーラン) dance performance by team "Let's Mihama Yume" (Let's 美浜 - 夢).

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Despite having to perform in a limited space along the narrow street, it didn't stop the team from giving an energetic performance in front of the crowd.

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Yotoboshi-ane-san also joined them dancing haha!

The festival ended around eight in the evening. It started to drizzle towards the end of the event, but fortunately for everyone, the rain wasn't heavy and the event ended without any major problems. In all, it was a wonderful and interesting festival that I enjoyed it a lot. Looking forward to it again in one year's time!

But for Yotoboshi-ane-san, I guess she has to prepare an umbrella for herself next time.

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Someone lend her an umbrella so that she won't get wet haha!

I am starting to fall in love with Inage.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kevin's Birthday Party

Introducing Kevin Tan, the birthday boy.

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Kevin turned ten last Sunday and his Mom was kind enough to invite me to his birthday party at their place in Toyocho, Tokyo. Well, it was actually a surprise for Kevin because his Mom kept the plan of us going there to celebrate his birthday from his knowledge. It was his second surprise birthday party, in less than twenty-four hours, after he had one the previous evening with his school mates. You know what? Kevin is such a lucky boy.

Until today, I have had twenty-three birthdays and so far, my birthday party count totals up to yilek haha!

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Andrew with the birthday boy and his present. Kevin was still in his pajamas when we arrived lol!

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Andrew spent two hours looking around for Kevin's present at Shibuya, and he got him Blokus, an abstract strategy board game.

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Reading the love letter birthday card from his friend, Makoto.

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Haha! I have no idea what the drawing's all about to be honest, but isn't it sweet to receive a drawing like that from your friend? 

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Both of them played their super high-tech gasing while waiting for the party to start.

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Kevin showing us how to use the top. It is known as Beyblade, according to Anonymous. Thanks for the info.


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Hmmm, it looks like Kevin's eye are looking at something else haha!

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Ichi, ni, san! Hanase!

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Tried to ask the two little kids to teach me how to play their high-tech gasing haha!

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Two-on-one wrestling match! They damn love to climb on me-lor, as if I'm a coconut tree lol!

So, how did I get to know them? Kevin's Mom, Crystal is actually my super-to-the-power-of-ten senior from PPKTJ. She was one of the students from the very first batch at the Preparatory Center for Technical Studies to Japan (PPKTJ) in 1992, under the Look East Policy. I was not even in kindergarten at that time yet as I was only five! I got to know Crystal in May this year at the annual Golden Week gathering in Tokyo. Since then, we have been keeping in touch every now and then.

Besides me, Crystal also invited Andrew, another senior of mine, and Amy, a Penangnite who is currently doing her graduate studies at Meiji University to the birthday party. It's a party for a ten-year-old boy, so Crystal invited her Chinese friend and her little son to join us as well.

When two married working ladies are having a conversation with a young girl and two guys, what do you think would be the conversation be all about? Yes, it's all about gossips about their husbands lol! The two ladies would and tell everyone their husbands' biggest dark secrets, while sharing a few tips and kinda brainwash the still-single girl to be really careful when picking her future husbands haha! The two guys would then just listen to them and pick up a few points to make sure they won't do similar mistakes like those husbands haha!

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The three girls preparing the food at the kitchen in the communal room at their apartment.

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And see what I discovered - 20 cents MIMI prawn snacks! Maybe it's just me being ancient because I feel that they have modernised their packaging.

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Fried anchovies (ikan bilis) with dried chillies, peanuts and tempe!

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Forgot what they call this already; mini popiah? "They sat on airplane all the way from Malaysia to Japan" (an inside joke) haha!

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The potato salad I made, in which I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Looks a bit messy, but they said it was good.

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Main meal of the day - bak kut teh. I am not exaggerating, but it was sooooo nice!!!

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Every bowl of bak kut teh has a hard-boiled egg in them, except for one bowl and that's Kevin's bowl.

But it was not all about gossips. Crystal shared with us her stories from how she met Kevin's Dad (both of them studied in the same kosen - Takuma Kosen in Shikoku and that's how their love blossomed), how she experienced and learned the term "drunk" for the first time in her life, how a New Year's Eve celebration with her husband and Kevin, who was only two-year old at that time ended up with an awkward but hilarious situation, etc. Believe me, they were really interesting and funny, but I guess I would save the details here.

Kevin's Dad was missing earlier in the afternoon. We thought perhaps he was busy with his office work, hence he couldn't join us there. However, he was actually busy working on something, which was meant as a surprise for Kevin. During his absence, Kevin's Dad was actually trying to ride on the bike around their apartment haha! It was a brand new bike, in which they got it as a present for Kevin.

The birthday cake had to wait until tea time to make its appearance. Finally, it was time for karaoke. Errr, I mean birthday song haha!

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Our group picture with the birthday boy. 

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Everyone sang karaoke for Kevin while he blew the candles lol!

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Hmmm, I have no idea what Kevin was trying to do here.


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Papa asked Kevin to close his eyes while passing something onto his palms. It was a bicycle key!

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Everyone was ready to cut the cake but that surprise caught not only Kevin's, but every one's surprise! 
I bet Crystal had carefully planned this surprise with Papa for some time.

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Birthday boy with his new bike.

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Kevin's birthday cake.

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After trying out his new bike, it was the cake-cutting session. But something was to happen seconds after this.

Makoto, the five-year old boy insisted to cut the birthday cake as well. His Mom asked him to let the birthday boy do it. Too bad the little kid suddenly turned so emo and he cried! Walao! Totally wrong timing at the wrong place. I immediately carried him outside and tried to coax him, hoping that he would stop crying.

The big problem however, is that I had to talk to him in Japanese. Even though both of his parents are Chinese, Dad is from Shanghai and Mom's from Guangzhou if I not mistaken, the boy speaks Japanese most of the time, and his Japanese is ten times better than me haha wtf! I had to ask him to talk slowly because I could hardly catch his word as he talked while crying.

After using whatever techniques and kung fu I have to console him, he finally stopped crying. Guess what, we made a promise to each other by locking our fingers together lol! He had to promise me to stop crying and in return, I would get him the biggest piece of cake once we get inside.

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That's the biggest piece of cake I promised to get for Makoto.

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Kevin's top two presents he likes the most. A Lego space shuttle and Blokus, which was from Andrew and me.

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Birthday boy with his two of his presents and a birthday card I made for him.
 
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Everyone started to like the board game and we just couldn't stop playing it rounds after rounds. In this round, Andrew, Amy and I berpakat to team up and attack Kevin. But in the end, he won against the three of us haha wtf! Lesson learned, never underestimate kids.

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I decided to have a one-on-one game with him. Towards the end, he realised he was losing, hence he started to come out with his own rules haha!
That's what usually happen when you are playing with kids lol!


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Emo boy reflecting on his loss haha!

We were so hooked on the board game that we didn't realise it was dinner time already. Kevin's Dad went out and get a few boxes of Shichuan signature dish - mabo tofu for our dinner. It was from the famous Chin Kenichi Mabo Tofu restaurant in Shinkiba, in which the restaurant has been featured in a few TV programmes and ran by Chin Kenichi, the Iron Chef Chinese from the television series Iron Chef.

I have eaten many kinds of mabo tofu at many places, but I gotta say this one was one kind of its own. The spiciness was just at the right balance and the texture of the tofu and gravy was smooth and nice.

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Boxes of mabo tofu for our dinner!

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It was one of the best mabo tofu I have tasted.

After dinner, we hung out for a little while more, playing some other board games like dam (draughts/checkers) and Othello. It was my first time playing Othello and playing against the skillful Andrew was the last thing I should've done. We played one game and he beat me kao kao even though he already gave many chances to me lol! So, I let him play the game with Amy while I play against the computer on his iPod.

The first two games was a total disaster because the game ended even before the board will fully filled haha wtf! I didn't give up and after several more attempts, I managed to beat the computer! My first win in Othello! Walao, damn proud I tell you haha!

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First attempt- total failure. But as a consolation, at least I let the white to have a nice pattern on the board lol!

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The second loss - 0:62. What a scoreline haha wtf!

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I was so satisfied to finally able to put a sweet revenge to my earlier losses to the computer haha!

After getting bored with Othello, I switched to playing checkers with Kevin. That was when he came out with his own rules again. He has a few extra rules for the movement of the pieces. According to "Kevin's Rule" the pieces on the board can move left and right, and also they can even gostan!

Like that, how to win-lar right?

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This is not a manga, but a dictionary!

So I went to look for new strategies from Doraemon's dictionary lol!