Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moka Summer Festival 2010 - day 1

Yesterday we went to Moka for the summer festival. It was hot. Very hot. But fun.

And an about an hour before the fireworks were scheduled to start, we, or rather, I, got caught in the thunderstorm. Soaking wet, I finally made it to the car. It started to hail. I was wet, cold and hungry. We decided to go home. And wouldn't you know it, the fireworks went ahead as scheduled. So, we missed them this year AGAIN!

But fortunately, most people were not as dumb as us, and stayed on. And filmed the fireworks. And then immediately posted it on youtube.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Volunteering at Paseo Los Monos in Ecuador

Because there's more to life than all Japan all the time, today we bring you a guest post by one of our readers. She volunteered at a wild animal rescue in Ecuador, and very kindly offered to write about her experiences there. And of course, the rescue center fits with our volunteering-on-a-budget profile.
Read on:

I wake up at 7:30. A squirrel monkey is staring at me beyond the window. I drink a cup of coffee, eat a fresh pineapple and head to the main house. Five dogs are accompanying me and at the entrance Poncho, a spider monkey, gives me a good morning hug. I grab some fruit, vegetables and plates and start preparing breakfast for the animals. I need to remember to prepare a plate for the baby monkeys, for a sick white capuchin Fernanda, for two babies that still don't go outside the house. Several monkeys are hanging onto the kitchen window, waiting. I go outside with a huge plate and call all the animals - "A comer!!!" (come eat).

Monkeys from six different species recognize the call and follow me to the regular spot next to the house. They sit together and eat. Pancha, almost an adult woolly monkey is afraid of the bigger fellas and seeks my protection. She jumps on my shoulders with a piece of papaya and eats her breakfast on top of my head. Pancha will stay with me for the rest of the day, hugging me, changing positions clinging to my arms and shoulders. Gigi, a six-month old woolly monkey, and Etza, a woolly monkey that was raised in a small, closed box by some cruel people, and as a result didn't develop enough, are awaken. I feed them both from their plate inside the house.

From this moment on, I am in charge of watching both of them, since they can't manage to go outside alone. Gigi is very energetic, she is just learning to climb and jump, but her balance is still not very good. Yesterday she learned to drink from a water cooler and we are all very excited about that. I need to make sure she doesn't climb too high, that other monkeys don't hurt her, that tourists won't try playing with her since they might drop her. Gigi is aware of some of the dangers, so every few minutes she runs back to me and wraps her small tail around my leg, then she feels protected. She recognizes me and never seeks protection from strangers.

A group of tourists is coming, I should check what language they speak - maybe I could be their guide around the rescue center.

But first of all - make sure Gigi and Etza are being watched and they are safe. A couple of tourists are looking at Etza and asking what is wrong with him. I explain them that monkeys need to spend many hours per day in the sun, so their body will be able to absorb vitamins and develop properly. Maybe next time when these people will see a monkey kept in a small box in some touristy place, they will remember Etza and condemn such cruelty.

In few hours we are going to have lunch, always delicious and every day something new - in all the time I’ve been here I’ve never had the same dish twice! Around 4PM we are going to feed the animals again and around five we will gather all the smaller monkeys in a playroom inside the house, where they spend the nights.

At six in the evening Poncho will give me a good night hug and I will return to the wood cabin. Tomorrow, with my help, Gigi will learn new tricks, Etza will absorb the sun outside and maybe Pancha will get a little bit braver.

That was a typical day during my volunteering in Paseo Los Monos, a rescue center for wild animals set up by a Swiss-French couple. The center is located in a rain forest near the city of Puyo in Ecuador. There are 64 monkeys from 7 different species here rescued from animal trade, or from being kept as pets in captivity. The center is supported exclusively by charitable donations and a symbolic entrance fee for tourists.

Volunteers are needed to help construct new cages, guide tourists, watch the babies and special needs monkeys, feed the animals, create and build games. The volunteer project costs 100 dollars per week and includes accommodation, all the food (you need to prepare breakfast and dinner by yourself from supplied products), laundry. There is electricity and running water, kitchen and even an internet connection for short usage.

During the evenings you can go out to Puyo (there are great local bars and clubs there) or just hang out in the wood cabin. During the day you can wander around the rain forest, walk to the river, smell, feel and touch the nature.
Paseo Los Monos is looking for animal loving volunteers. The volunteers should be responsible, sensitive to animal needs, patient and observant. It is possible to get along with English, Spanish or French. There is no minimum stay required but I would recommend at least a week or two.

In case you have any questions or you can't wait to start volunteering, feel free to contact me: nana.ginzbourg (at)
Or call the rescue center directly at: (03) 2885097 (phone number in Ecuador)
And here is their website: Paseo Los Monos

Their email address is: paseoecologicolosmonos (at)
Thanks for your time,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Utsunomiya Tenno Sai 2010 - part 2

Because Dr Trouble is crafty like (or like Paul the Octopus could predict the future, or both), he saved a couple of batches of photos on yet another hard drive. One that for now still works. And that's the only reason we were able prepare this post.
(Well, not only. Anything that has to do with the Bamba team, the one of the huge drum, Ms. Trouble saves directly on her MacBook. Yes, she likes those drummers.)

Today, Dr Trouble, in his usual matsuri otaku (matsuri – Japanese festival, otaku – otaku) manner, gives you the ins and outs of Tenno Sai.

Read on.

Japanese Wiki says that this festival is related to Gozu Tenno (cow-headed Tenno - 牛頭天王, sorry Japanese only). This cow-headed creature is a Buddhist guardian but thanks to the syncretism principle, a.k.a. Shinbutsu shugo (神仏習合), is worshipped in both Buddhism and Shinto. In Shinto, Gozu Tenno became Susanoo (素戔男尊).

Why Tennosai festival in Futaara but not Yasaka shrine?

Enshrining Susanoo is Yasaka shrine’s (八坂神社) responsibility. Of the approximately 2300 Yasaka shrines in Japan, the one in the Gion district of Kyoto (京都祇園) is the mightiest of them all. Before the Meiji era, Gozu Tenno used to be worshipped there. As there was little or no distinction between a Buddhist guardian and a Shinto deity, people just came and prayed to Gozu Tenno or Susanoo, as they chose fit. After the Meiji era, shrines were forced to abandon Buddhist references, and that's how now it’s just Susanoo at Yasaka.

Actually, there is a Yasaka shrine in Utsunomiya, too.

View Larger Map

Location of Yasaka shrine. It's a 5 min walk from JR Utsunomiya Station.

But Yasaka shrine in Utsunomiya is not involved in the Tenno Sai festival. Ichinomiya Shrine [= the most prestigious shrine in the area (一の宮)], and here that's Futaara shrine, organizes the festival. Every Utsunomiyan knows that the deity enshrined at Futaara is, in fact, Toyoki Irihiko no Mikoto (豊城入彦命), son of Emperor Sujin (崇神天皇). Futaara Shrine does not appear to have anything to do with Gozu Tenno. So how come Futaara is responsible for a festival of a cow-headed Buddhist guardian? Here is the answer. Futaara Shrine has incorporated several smaller shrines nearby and Suga Shrine (須賀神社), which was responsible for worshipping Gozu Tenno before the Meiji era, and Susanoo since then, is part of the Futaara complex. It’s to the right side of the main hall, behind the horse statue.

What happens during Tenno Sai?

What you could see on July 17th of Tenno Sai was a mikoshi procession from each city district. The exact number of districts participating varies every year. This year the procession was visibly smaller than in 2009, and to make sure that all mikoshi arrive at Futaara shrine at the usual time after sundown, the festivities started later than last year, around 5PM. However, the place where they gather before the procession was the same – the grounds of Utsunomiya castle park.


Participants get together, ready to carry mikoshi


There are boring speeches and drum performances prior to the procession.

By the time the participants got together at the castle, most of them were already totally drunk! Then the mikoshis head to Futaara, guided by Tengu, a.k.a. Sarutahiko. If you’re unfamiliar with Sarutahiko, read this first, we wrote about this guy before.


Very drunk Tengu ready to lead the procession

The procession goes through Orion street and all the mikoshis stop by at PARCO, where the ancient Futaara shrine used to be located. Mikoshi from each district meets the head honcho – the Futaara mikoshi, and pay their respects. Their relationship is that of a father (Futaara mikoshi) and sons (city districts).


Mikoshi on Orion Street

Bowing in front of Parco

What everyone came to see

After greeting dad mikoshi, it's time for baby mikoshi to climb up the 95 stone steps of Futaara’s entrance. Thanks to all the booze, the participants go crazy and compete which team can run up the steps the fastest.


Pain is good, extreme pain is extremely good!

But that’s still nothing with the massive drum being carried up to Futaara. THAT is the attraction that everyone was waiting for. At least in Utsunomiya and at least during the matsuri season, these guys are bigger than Lady Gaga. And it helps that the drummers are kinda cute, too, you know…

And they never stopped drumming.

When the drum arrives in front of Futaara’s main hall, it’s time to bow for the last time. And then – paaaaarty!!!! Huge quantities of booze, roughly corresponding to the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf, are waiting to be consumed.

To be continued in part three. Maybe. That depends on whether or not we can recover our lost data.

External hard drive disaster - IO-Data, I HATE you!!!

PS. If you are a nitwit spammer trying to push some moronic $afecopybackup, don't bother. Your comment will be marked as spam. And really, 5gig free backup? Shove it up your a**. Now, go away, and spam some other people.

Today we were supposed to bring you part 2 of our Tenno Sai report, but we won't. We were supposed to post a ton of new photos, but we can't. Our backup drives crashed. Both of them. Within days of each other.

We thought we were very careful and prudent storing our data not on one, but two different external drives, just in case one of them crashes. Well, they both did. One yesterday, the other one today.


I am beyond pissed at this moment. I want to nuke the headquarters of IO-Data, the company that manufactured both of those pieces of shit.

We'll take both shits to a computer doctor tomorrow and see if they can recover anything. In the meantime, there will be no fun new posts on either one of our blogs.

And a special, oh-so heartwarming message to IO-Data:

I hate you. I hope you will go out of business. Soon. And judging by the quality (or rather - lack thereof) of your products, you will. You suck, you're stupid and whoever is responsible for your quality control, I hope he falls under a bus.

So there, I feel better now.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Utsunomiya Tenno Sai 2010 - part 1

At the very end of the rainy season, there is a festival in Utsunomiya called “Tenno Sai (天王祭)”. Last year we had rain during Tenno Sai, and Ms. Trouble’s video camera got wet and almost died. So this year she got herself a brand spanking new waterproof gizmo, but guess what? This year it didn’t rain.

Though the rainy season ended about five minutes before the festival, the humidity and temperature remain high. It feels like a sauna outside… Our northern-Sweden-born daughter (Norwegian forest and who knows what mix) is suffering from the Japanese heat. Though, being Scandinavian, at least in principle, she should be used to saunas.

Here are a couple of videos from this year’s rain-free Tenno Sai (official dates - July 15-20, 2010). These videos were taken on July 17th. (Yeah, that's how Ms. Trouble spent her birthday - sweating like a pig with a camera in hand).

Detailed explanations about life, universe and Tenno Sai will come tomorrow, courtesy of Dr. Trouble, of course, because Ms. Trouble is busy doing who knows what these days. (She's working like crazy and finishing a book, you dipwad!)

Enjoy your long weekend! (In Japan, Monday, July 19th is a public holiday).

Remember this guy? We wrote about him in this post. And check out his shoes! How can he walk in them? Especially after a couple of beers?

And here we have mikoshi from the parade (which as usual, started at the Utsunomiya Castle) saying hello to the big kahoona mikoshi in front of Parco (department store, shopping mall, whatever):

After saying hello, they go to Futara Shrine. Actually, "go" is an understatement. They either leisurely saunter up the stairs, fancy footwork and all, or run like maniacs. There's no in-between.

And yes, a couple of them fell down. But they got right back up and continued running.

And because we know how much you love pictures of Japanese girls, here's Tenno Sai - the hairstyle version. Ok, so there are a couple of guys in there, too. So what?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy 4th of July! - Miyaichisai style

There were no fireworks today in Utsunomiya. But then again, who needs fireworks when you can have a mikoshi parade, right?

I had to stay home today and do some computer work, but Dr Trouble decided to brave the hot and muggy weather and went to downtown Utsu to bring you this - Miyaichisai 2010.

Even though the event has its own name, it's more or less just a dress rehearsal for a much more festive and important Tenno Sai, which I think will take place in two weeks.

And this is how it looked today:

The feet - 2010 edition. Whenever I see it, "We can dance, we can dance" automatically starts playing in my head.

on Orion dori (street)

carrying, carrying...

Blogged! No clue who these guy are, but that's not going to stop me from posting their faces on the interwebs.

Yeah, it was hot.

On the steps to Futaara shrine. Those who know these steps can appreciate the effort involved.

And of course, it wouldn't be a summer festival without summer festival hairstyles.