Yesterday, my Japanese Culture class had a fun little trip going to the Izumi Kamuri village (name meaning “mountain spring”), a community of only 1,500 about an hour away from Sendai’s city center. It is here that the traditional Sword and Deer Dances had originated. The Deer Dance, or shishi odori, was originally created to commemorate deer but eventually evolved to praise the Buddha, or so I’ve been told. The Sword Dance, or kenbai, had begun over 1,300 years ago and was, and still is, performed to praise the Buddha. The dances in themselves were extremely unique, I would post a video if I could, and had absolutely no hint of western influence; it had been created before the West had connected with the East and had been passed down ever since. With sharp moves and quick, sudden turns, the dances may have some reflection of Japan’s samurai days. The accompanying music composed of wooden flutes and drums, ancient and simple instruments that still offered a variety of harmonic tunes.
What truly was an absolutely wonderful experience, however, were the folks that had surrounded us. According to my Culture class teacher, it was the first year the village had officially set up tourist visits for non-Japanese visitors. We were greeted with an insurmountable amount of food: apples from local orchards, vegetables from local farms, and a special omochi or rice cake. “The omochi is prepared to celebrate something special, and it was their intent to demonstrate their spirit to welcome our group today on the occasion of their traditional performance festival,” on a note specified by our teacher. Without spending a single Yen (okay, that’s a slight lie, I bought myself a drink to hydrate from hiking, I’ll get to that later), I had easily consumed enough to keep myself full for the whole day! The local people were extremely giving of their food and even offered us sweetened fried crickets! We were stockpiled with so many apples that everyone was bringing back one or two apples in their bags for later!
The festival was a spectacle to see when all of the townspeople–from children to teenagers to adults to elderly–were performing the same dances. It was a bonding experience for the village to come together every year, pass down knowledge and history of the dances, and enjoy their own homegrown food; I had some jealous thoughts that I grew up in a city too big to have something similar! I wish I could visit again next year, just to even say hi to all the children I’ve made friends with once again.
After the whole charade was over, our teacher took us to hike the local mountain Nenoshiroishi. I wouldn’t necessarily say there was anything specifically Japanese about the hike, especially since we only had international students and no locals, but it was a fun bonding experience for the whole group–singing songs, learning more about one another, and helping each other not slip in the mud! It was two hours worth of making sure you weren’t going to step on mud that would cover your body from head to toe!
All in all, I’m extremely happy about the experience of being in a small town in Japan, an experience I had never thought I’d be able to do due to my lack of speaking the language. Although it was slightly different due to the accompaniment of my entire class, if I could visit Japan again one day, Izumi Kamuri is on my list. Let’s just hope I can speak enough Japanese by then to get around!