Sweet Buns

Strollin' in the hoods
Strollin’ in the hoods

Weekend trip to an outlying island – always a fun day! This time, it was something rather special that I had been waiting for months!

Busy in the bun business
Busy in the bun business

Cheung Chang is a charming island just an hour off Hong Kong. I have been looking forward to it’s annual Bun Festival, which is when things get rather interesting, to say the least. This festival is an old Taoist ritual, held according to the Chinese lunar year, coinciding with Buddhas’ Birthday (remember to celebrate on May 17th!)

Bun scrambling towers getting bunned up
Bun scrambling towers getting bunned up

Throughout the festival week, there are various activities and festivities, in addition to the different types of buns that are everywhere! The highlight and culmination of the festival is the bun tower climbing competition, when brave pre-selected climbers compete on who reaches the top first. Before the actual competition, there is demonstrations and whatnot.

Climbing practice, no buns
Climbing practice, no buns

I don’t know how lively the island is outside of the bun-season, but now everything seemed to be revolving around those sesame, red bean, lotus or taro paste-filled steamed, white “pillows”. Besides the edible versions, one could buy keychains, toys, posters, and God knows what other necessary stuffs.

All bunned up
All bunned up

The story behind all this? Well, the all-knowing Wikipedia tells that the festivities are fishermen’s rituals for praying safety from the pirates! In ’78 one of the towers collapsed and killed 100 people. More precautions have been taken into action since. Also, the village goes vegetarian for one day (not when I visited, though) – all of the seafood restaurants as well as McDonalds apply this rule, too! If I had been there on that day, maybe McDo could have lured me in…

Scary dragon and Mickey
Scary dragon and Mickey

Festivals are always filled with happy people and interesting things; the Bun festival was definitely not different in that way, though it was quite like nothing else! And going to an island is always an experience, this time I even went to swim, for the first time this year! Once going into the sea, I cannot get enough.

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Setsubun

Setsubun is a traditional Japanese festival for the change of seasons, celebrated on the 3rd of February, one day before Springtime. Like any other decent celebration in Japan, setsubun includes customs, traditions, special foods and rituals to bring good fortune, health and a better future. The rituals are then mixed to suit everyone’s taste. I did a whole bunch of traditions on my last whole day in Japan, plus an extra something: walking on burning coal!

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Setsubun includes mamemaki, throwing soybeans in order to ward off evil spirits. Beans are sold in stores as well as festival stalls. Some shrines have mamemaki events, where priests throw beans to people while yelling “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (demons out, luck in!). I participated in mamemaki in Nara, where I visited on setsubun. Sake was served, and the spirit for good fortune was all around.

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Amulets and charms are burnt in bonfires to bring luck. I got to participate in the big bonfire burning in Yoshida shrine, Kyoto. Unfortunately I have no pictures of that; Let’s just say it was about 10 times the size of Finnish midsummer fires. The festival stalls in Yoshida shrine were definitely great to experience before leaving Japan.
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It is customary in Kansai area to eat uncut makizushi called eho-maki (恵方巻) (lit. “lucky direction roll”) in silence on Setsubun while facing the year’s lucky compass direction (this year South-East), determined by the zodiac symbol of that year. My eho maki was sitting in a shrine, overlooking Nara.

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with all these evil-repelling activities (and at least a kilo of beans I ate), my Hong Kong time ought to be lucky!

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Tenkusai

Happy students and visitors on campus

This weekend APU hosted its’ 10th annual Tenku festival. For two days, the school campus was filled with the extra curricular activities circles’ food stalls, performances in various fields, exhibitions and activities. Open campus brought many visitors from Beppu and maybe other cities to see, what else than studying this mountain beholds.

Traditional Japanese dance

 

There were many activities, such as chemistry lab for kids, movie screenings, calligraphy exhibition and a lot more. Besides the interesting and talented performances, to most people Tenku was all about the food. There was a lot of different kinds of treats, and the students were really persistent on their selling.

Kawaii price tags were usually not in English. All the food was fairly cheap!

 
Since the prices were from 100 yen to no more than 400 or 500yen per portion, people could afford to go from stall to another to taste different foods from around the world.

My personal favorite: hotate clam, sold out on both days
Chinese tea eggs, way tastier than what they look!

 
Even though it rained on Saturday, I think everyone enjoyed the festival and thought it was a success. On Sunday, the outdoor stage was popular and had performances one after another.

 

Visiting high school students dancing to one of the performing bands’ music

Tenku festival was probably something the circles have been waiting for a long time, I can imagine the countless hours of practicing, planning and organizing the selling. I bet most of the people involved are happy that the festival is over – I wish we could have something similar more often! There was so many things I didn’t get to try yet, and so many great things I probably missed. Several people wanted to have pictures with me, it doesn’t stop surprising and amusing me! I wonder, if all the festivals in Japan are similar to ours.

Opening Ceremonies

My first day in APU was full of information, papers to fill and sign, brainwork in the form of Japanese test (I passed the hiragana test, but after the grammar test everyone was put to level I) and of course, many many new faces! I met more exchange students whose name I can remember, and even got to go to Beppu city in the evening. More about the town later, this post is dedicated to today morning’s Opening Ceremony.

In the Opening Ceremony, many important people gave speeches (including the mayor of Beppu!), and there was more bowing that I even imagined. After the speeches the festival really started.

Apparently Gangam Style cannot be escaped anywhere

In addition to the APU version of the Gagnam Style (if you don’t know it, be glad and do not Youtube it), there was an Asian version of Gossip Girl and Twilight (interesting, to say the least), as well as introductions to some of the schools’ circles (activity clubs). We got to enjoy performances of Korean drum club, fast-paced Indonesian traditional dance and singing, Japanese dance Yossha-koi, Chinese performance, and a Japanese drum club. I may have found my future activity in here! More about that later, too. I did take pictures, but they are really poor quality.