Over the weekend I made a visit to Tsukuba University in Ibaraki, Japan. I attended the 2010 Fall Festival. It was truly a lot fun. There were so many wonderful things to see and do. It was just good, clean fun (yes, even with the death metal, rock music). As I walked towards the student center and art building I could hear the sounds of guitars tuning, drums beating, and the clamor of people talking and laughing. The weather was perfect, a little bit warmer than it’s been for the past few days, but relatively comfortable. I stopped to watch one of the student rock bands, and they were really good. I loved hearing the sounds of bass guitar and the drums, sounds that hit you right in the soul, sounds you just can’t experience through a CD. The music was intoxicating, as were the smells of the barbecue from many of the student-run food stands that university clubs were using to raise money for their respective groups. Everyone seemed so happy cooking, selling, and smiling.
I continued to make my way to the University Commons. I was greeted by a super-tall (this guy had to be about two-meters tall or around six-foot-six…and I thought I was tall!), friendly African man saying “Let’s go back to Africa, my brother.” I thought “Fair enough.” He showed me to his food stand, and they were selling ethnic cuisine from different parts of African (I remember seeing dishes from Sudan and Nigeria). It was so surprising, and quite heart-warming to see ten other people that had brown skin just like mine. They had accents, but their English was really good. Just talking to them and finding out where they were from made me happy, because, just for a moment, I didn’t feel so much like a foreigner.
The roar of voices was getting a little louder, and I could see more and more people. In my peripheral vision, I actually saw a student wearing a “Fight the Power” shirt, a phrase made famous by the hip-hop group Public Enemy…random, but interesting. I could also see lots of cute, funny, and weird costumes: chicken costumes, dragons, aliens, scuba gear, Pikachu, that masked character from Ghibli’s Spirited Away, Goku from Dragon Ball Z, Jack Sparrow, an old Japanese sage, men dressed like women (“lady boys” as they are called in Japan), and some costumes that I can’t even begin to describe. Why didn’t I get the memo? Was it Halloween already? No. Students were using the costumes to help to promote their clubs. For some reason I am always drawn to the martial arts clubs, regardless of their styles. I saw the judo and kendo club members decked out in full uniform. I bought some takoyaki from the judo club members. These guys were very friendly as well. I even decided to take a silly picture with them, afterwards.
I visited the United Stage in the courtyard next to the Tsukuba University Library. This stage was set up for larger shows and had a more powerful sound system to better accommodate the bands and performers. One show I watched was a student death metal band. Do I like death metal? Not even in the slightest. Despite not being a death metal fan, I decided to be open-minded, just for today. The lead-singing lady’s voice would change from cute to the death roar from hell all in an instant. Students would go into mosh mode at the start of each song, and then be overtaken by a head-banging trance. As much as I hate to say it, I actually enjoyed watching it.
The second show that I saw on the United Stage was my favorite performance of the festival. I saw Tsukuba University’s Shamisen Club. I saw beautiful Japanese women in brilliantly-colored kimonos with gold fans, so stopping to watch wasn’t really a problem. The men were dressed in much more conservatively-colored, gray-and-black, traditional clothing; it provided a nice optical balance. When the women spoke, they sounded like the voices that I would hear so often in Japanese anime or in video games, high-pitched and cute. Visually, the group looked stunning and the kicker was…they could REALLY play!! After their introductions, the taiko drummer helped the group transition into their Shamisen-playing position. The taiko drummer wasn’t wearing traditional clothing, instead he had on some sleeveless vest. He was insanely good, and I think the reason he didn’t have sleeves was to keep from burning a hole in them with pure energy that was emanating from his taiko sticks. The group members picked up their Shamisen instruments, and unison and with precision, they began to play. I felt like each dry pang of the Shamisen strings took me back in time one year…so by the middle of the performance, I think we must have been in Japan’s Edo Era…It was a wonderful show.
Overall, the 2010 Fall Festival was a well-run, memorable event. I could probably make this a day-long post, but I’ll stop here, and just show a little of the video from event. Again, I don’t know if my camera will do the Festival the justice it deserves, but please enjoy it:
I left for Japan on the cold winter morning of January 10, 2008 via Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia....