Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall Matsuri

Last weekend, Kyle and I went the local fall matsuri, or festival, in Maebashi.

Some local festival-goers happily posing for a picture

Kids playing drums on a hand-drawn float

It was similar to the Tanabata festival we blogged about in July in terms of street food, but had 2 pretty cool additions. The first is that people carried mikoshi, or large "portable" shrines installed with a local kami, or a divine spirit, for a jaunt around the neighborhood.

a beer cart following the Mikoshi

mmm... fish on a stick

Second, we were lucky enough to catch a taiko ensemble performing in the street. Taiko literally means "drum" in Japanese, but the word is often used outside of Japan to refer to Japanese-style drums. Apparently (according to wikipedia), these ensembles are a relatively new art form, established in 1951 by a guy named Daihachi Oguchi. As you can see from the very crowded street, they are quite popular (and deservedly so).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cover Your Mouth

So amid all the hubbub back home about whether or not the swine flu vaccine is safe, the Japanese are taking a slightly different tack. Yes, vaccines are available here, and yes many people are choosing to get them, but even before the vaccine there's another line of defense: the face mask.

A couple wearing face masks at Matsuri, the fall festival

Donning a face mask to avoid getting sick is nothing new here, in fact it was a common practice before the swine flu epidemic to combat everything from flu to allergens. Many of my students wear them frequently, and people seem to especially wear them while in large crowds. I also remember many people wearing masks on my flight from Vietnam into Japan back in May when the swine flu epidemic had just begun.

But, there's an even better reason to wear a mask here in Japan than to avoid the flu: to avoid getting other people sick. If you're sick in Japan, you're expected to wear a face mask as a courtesy to others so they don't get sick too. Everyone does it, so it's not as though anyone's going to laugh at you. And it works. The common cold and flu are spread through coming in contact with the secretions of sick people (i.e. viruses people coughed and sneezed into the air or onto their hands, which then get onto sinks, desks, railings, etc.), so it only makes sense that covering up your secretions helps keep others from getting sick.

I've been sick all week, and I'm proud to say that I, too, wore a mask to protect the innocent. It's a really great practice that I think we could adopt back home. So, the next time you're sick and have to go out anyway, try wearing a mask and telling any naysayers it's for their own good. If they really want you to, you could offer to take it off and cough into your hands for them instead. You could be the beginning of a positive new trend.