153rd Annual Koga Chouchin Saomomi Festival

When: December 7, 4-9pm
Where: Koga Station West Exit

During the Chouchin Saomomi Festival (literally “Paper Lantern Bamboo Pole Festival”), groups from Koga city each hoist a lantern on top of a bamboo pole nearly 20m high and jostle to extinguish other groups’ lanterns.

The festival is believed to have originated in the Edo period in the Koga domain (present day Nogi in Tochigi Prefecture), where the Shinto priest of Nogi Shrine would ride around the seven villages that were part of the shrine’s territory on horseback, proudly bearing a kamihoko spear, one of Nogi Shrine’s goshintai (an object of worship believed to contain a deity). When he returned to the shrine in the early morning on December 3, his welcoming party, who carried lanterns, would ward off the cold until the priest arrived by tussling with each other. It is said that the original name of the festival was Okaeri, or ‘welcome back’.

Nowadays, the young people participating in the festival shout ‘konyabeda, konyabeda’, meaning that tonight is a night to let your hair down and go crazy! There will be a temporary fence roughly 10m tall set up for the festival, inside which the participants will collide, violently clashing their bamboo poles together. It is definitely a sight to behold.

Ibaraki Prefectural Disaster Drill

As anyone who has lived in Japan before knows, earthquakes are a part of daily life. Most of the time they are so small that you barely notice them – however, it is important to be prepared for the possibility of a large earthquake, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. In order to provide citizens an opportunity to learn about what they should do if a large earthquake or other type of disaster occurs, many areas in Japan hold annual bousai kunren (disaster training).

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Areas in Japan have actually been holding disaster drills since the Edo period – usually revolving around putting out fires with bucket relays. September 1, the day of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, was designated bousai no hi (Disaster day) in 1960, and many places in Japan hold disaster drills on this day.

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This year, Ibaraki Prefecture held its annual disaster drill on November 9 in Kasama city’s Geijutsu no Mori park. Despite the unseasonable chill there was a great turn out. Many organisations took part, such as the prefectural fire department, the police department, and the Ibaraki International Association, who invited a number of foreign residents to attend and gave some of its members the opportunity to practice interpreting in the context of a disaster situation.

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Participants were given the opportunity to be a part of a bucket relay, to learn how to use fire extinguishers and perform CPR on adults, children, and babies, perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a mannequin, use their own manpower to generate electricity for a vending machine to get drinks out for free, experience different levels of earthquake in a truck that simulated the motion of an earthquake, and much more. There were rescue demonstrations from trains, crashed vehicles, and burning buildings. Helicopters flew overhead to collect data on the damaged areas and drop water on ‘fires’, and landed to carry gravely injured people to nearby hospitals.

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A number of tents provided information that would be helpful in a disaster, such as how to leave a message for your loved ones when the phones are down and what kinds of things you should keep in your emergency pack. Volunteers handed out steaming bowls of tonjiru (pork soup), a meal often provided at emergency shelters during disasters.

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All in all it was a very educational day, and one every resident should attend at least once.

Hitachi Starlight Illumination 2013

When: November 23 – December 25, 5-10pm
Where: Hitachi Civic Center, Shin Toshi Square (18 Saiwai-cho, Hitachi City, Ibaraki
317-0073)
Admission: Free!

Be amazed as the whole square is lit up by over one hundred thousand individual coloured lights. On November 23 between 5 and 6pm you can enjoy the lighting ceremony, where five children will give a short speech about their dreams, and then switch on the lights. On December 14, between 4:30 and 6:30pm, you can ‘entrust your dreams to a candle’! Bubbles will fill the air on weekends and public holidays between 3 and 5pm, making the Christmas trees set up in the square even more dreamlike.

10th Annual Tsuchiura Curry Festival

When: November 16-17, 10am – 3pm
Where: Kawaguchi Exercise Park Athletic Field, Tsuchiura City

Tsuchiura’s connection with cheap and delicious curry goes back over 80 years. In 1929, when the German airship Count Zeppelin was flying around the world, it visited Tsuchiura. According to the ship’s log, the crew were welcomed to the city with curry made entirely from local ingredients.

At the Tsuchiura Curry Festival you can sample curry from all over Japan –  there will be stalls from Furano City in Hokkaido, Yokosuka City in Kanagawa, Omachi City in Nagano, Kitakyushu City in Fukuoka, and many more. Of course, you can also try a variety of Tsuchiura Curry made from locally grown ingredients. Apparently you can’t have Tsuchiura Curry without lotus root, and during the festival there will also be a Lotus Root Cuisine Fest, a Yuruchara Festival, and many more events to enjoy while you eat the delicious curry on offer. Be sure to come with an empty stomach, because you certainly won’t be leaving with one!

Takahagi Revival and Industry Festival

When: November 16-17, 9am onwards
Where: The site of the old Takahagi Town Hall, Takahagi Shimin Taiikukan, and other places around the city

The Takahagi Revival and Industry Festival will be divided into the Revival Area and the Industry Area, and each will have distinctive events throughout the day. In the Industry Area, there will be 50 exhibitors displaying and selling local products. In the Revival Area there will be stage events throughout the day and interactive displays for visitors to experience.

On the 17th, the London Olympic 48kg Class Weightlifting silver medalist, Hiromi Miyake, will visit the festival. She is scheduled to give a talk at the Takahagi Bunka Kaikan (Takahagi Culture Hall).

22nd Annual Okukuji Daigo Festival

When: November 10, 9am – 3:30pm
Where: Daigo Town Hall parking lot and other areas around town

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Daigo is one of Ibaraki’s most picturesque towns, and there is no better time of year to visit than autumn, when the colours of the changing leaves paint the town red. Head down to the Okukuji Daigo Festival and enjoy Daigo’s delicious local cuisine against this brilliant seasonal backdrop! There will be a food sampling party featuring Hitachi Beef and Okukuji Shamo (a type of game fowl), both known as high quality and especially delicious varieties of meat. Local specialties, sake, and beer will also be on sale, and there will be tons of hands on activities to take part in!

There will also be a Japan Agriculture Festival held in the Daigo Town Hall parking lot that weekend, so you can check that out too! Furthermore, there will be a stamp rally in the Daigo Shopping District, a Yosakoi dance performance on the street in front of Daigo Station (Daigo eki mae doori), and a short film festival at the Daigo Bunka Fukushi Kaikan (Daigo Culture and Welfare Hall). You certainly won’t run out of things to do!