Itako


I guess it only makes since to talk about the city I’ve been living in for about four months. It’s a very nice little town, it’s a quiet village. Everyday like the one before. Ok, an ode to Disney said and done. Seriously, people here are very welcoming and nice (Granted, I’ve yet to meet an openly hostile person in Japan yet).

Itako is situated near Kashima and Kamisu in Ibaraki Prefecture. Here’s a map:

The city’s biggest tourist season is in the summer. In June, they have an iris festival called the “Itako Ayame Matsuri” in Japanese. The pictures are gorgeous! I’m really looking forward to being here when the flowers are in bloom. Some of them were when I arrived, but apparently the iris park is something amazing to see.

This picture is brought to you by Wikipedia! The college student life saver.

As in it’s so ridiculously gorgeous!

There’s also boat rides! They’re kind of like the Venice boat rides, wherein people sit in them and get rowed around while looking at all the pretty sights around Itako. Every year, Itako chooses some young maidens to play the Ayame-hime, or Iris “Princesses,” for a big iris festival play. Out of the “Princesses,” an iris bride is chosen to “marry” an iris “prince.” My predecessor, Lauren Parker, was one of the iris maidens. Perhaps I will be one, too!

In the fall, there are other festivals. One of them I went to was pretty special. It was a candlelight vigil for the people lost in the big earthquake in March at the Itako Shrine. People’s names were written alongside the paper cups, and the cups had candles in them. Visitors to the shrine lit the candles in remembrance of all that was lost. It was beautiful. The entire place was alight, and the candles were put into formations. One was a heart with the kanji for, “Ganbare!” which means “do your best” or “fight”  or “hang in there.”My friend Nobuko took me, and I’m forever grateful she did. It was a wonderful, sad, yet uplifting experience.

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

I’m not entirely sure what goes on in the winter. From what I understand so far it’s get under the kotatsu and wait until spring. A kotatsu is the best damn piece of furniture ever invented. I’ve been living under this thing whenever it gets to 10 degrees C or below (my apartment has the same temperature as the outside).  Basically, it’s a low table that heats up. You throw a blanket over the top of the table, put the cover on the blanket, and the heat is trapped. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve fallen asleep under that thing more than once, which is really dangerous and if you own one you should never do that! Do as I say, not as I do.

Other things to do involve going next door to Kashima and going to an Antlers soccer game. I would suppose the Antlers are to Kashima what the Wildcats are to Kentucky. In other words, everybody keeps track of the games, traffic in Kashima is hell when a game is about to start (I finally realized that the sense of deja vu I felt was from the same experience in Lexington whenever Rupp Arena had something going on), and people will suddenly yell in the middle of a game while you’re at the mall (scaring you half to death and making you scream a little).

Kashima Stadium is huge! As in massive!

As to why the team is called the Antlers, I can only surmise that it comes from the mascot for Kashima, which is deer. See, Kashima is one of the oldest cities in Japan, and it’s home to one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Kashima Shrine (Kashima-jinju) has deer, because they’re considered connected to the god that touched down at the shrine thousands of years ago. Neat fact: the Nara deer came from the Kashima Shrine.

For some reason I never entirely understood, there’s also a story involving a warrior fighting with an underground catfish (yes, underground, and yes, catfish) because apparently fish cause earthquakes. There’s a statue and everything at the shrine. It’s really cool, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The Kashima Shrine is really something to see. It’s also a nature preserve and park. It’s beautiful in the summer time, and with the changing leaves right now it’s also really pretty. People come from all over to feed the deer and have a spiritual experience. I had fun going there with my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei, and her son, Aki. I really want to go back, but the kotatau beckons me!

I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring my town and nearby places. I’ve already found an awesome cafe thanks to Lauren. The chocolate croissants there are delicious! I showed the place to a few people. Samantha is one of them. She’s a new ALT in Kashima. She’s from New Jersey, and she’s a history buff. She and I have been hanging out and getting to know each other here lately. She’s got a sweet tooth and loves bunnies. She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes, so as you can imagine, people stop and stare.

That is something to report, I guess. People in Itako don’t gape at me anymore. I’m just the English teacher now. Instead, I’ve been getting parents stopping to say hi, and more and more people want to try talking to me in English. No one’s really surprised to see me walking around. Although, sudden ambushes by middle school students have happened. That’s always fun! I love my kids. They’re so cute.

Anyway, I also hang out with Mish. She’s my block leader. She’s from Hawaii and she’s all about Totoro. I don’t know if it’s possible to love Totoro as much as she does. I try. I bought a Totoro and he’s quite fuzzy and soft. Mish and Sam can play volleyball. I can pretend to play volleyball and hurt myself.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to catch up on my bloggin’ as soon as I can. I had a free hour so I decided to crank this one out really fast. I hope you all enjoyed it!

TTYL!

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