Rainbow Forest Camp
I was at a cafe in Kumamoto City few weeks back with a friend when we found a flyer for a trance music festival called ‘Rainbow Forest Camp’, the following weekend. It was to be held in beautiful Aso (4 hours drive from my place). Since it was a long weekend, I had made plans to go to Nagasaki to visit some friends, but I knew when I saw the flyer that the music fest was too good to pass up.
Given the festival was only six days away, I realised it might be difficult to find a gang of people to go with, as many would have already made plans for the three day weekend. But I thought I’d give it a shot. So I basically invited every one I knew. I even threw out an invite to a guy I matched with on Tinder who’s bio said he liked trance music. Why not, right?
Eventually, I was able to rope in a group of four of my other fellow ALTs, all of which were male. Sammy (US), who lives in Amakusa, and Max (N-Z), Matty (UK) and Bilal (US) who live elsewhere in the prefecture.
The festival offered free camping, and had 12 bungalows on site. Since we were late making arrangements, we figured all of the bungalows would be booked, but Max called to check anyways. Low and behold, they had availability! We were surprised. So we snatched one, woo! We made a list for food and everyone was assigned some grocery items to bring. Since we had stayed in bungalows twice before (at the Ashikita beach party and at the Waterfall party) we assumed the music festival bungalows would be similar and would therefore have a fridge, cooking facilities, toilets and showers, as well as beds for everyone.
The morning of the festival came and as I was just leaving my house, I checked my phone and saw three texts from three different people stating that Mount Aso (the famous volcano in the region we were headed) had erupted that morning. Only in Japan would this happne! lol. After some panicked research, we learned that the festival was still on until further notice. So off I went to pick up Sam. Before he and I drove off, Sam asked, ‘Do you think I should bring a blanket and pillow, just in case?’ to which I responded something along the lines of ‘you can if you want, but I didn’t. They’ll have bedding there.’ But he ran in and grabbed a blanket and pillow anyways.
We eventually made it to the camp ground in Aso after a long, beautiful drive, It had been beautiful all morning but eventually turned grey and started raining towards the end of the drive.
By the time we reached the festival, it was pouring. I was so grateful that I had made a last minute addition to my backpack.. a rain coat. We met up with the others ALTs and Marcus, the dude I invited from Tinder. I never thought he would actually end up coming, but he did! Max picked him up on his way down. He’s from Sweden but was visiting Japan for a few weeks to study at an inter religious centre.
We walked around the grounds of the festival a bit. It was so cool. The campground was located in a valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains. There were two stages; the main stage was in a field, surrounded by vendor tents, and a smaller stage down the hill near a beautiful river. There were interesting looking Japanese ‘hippy’ folks and their kids around everywhere. Dread locks and crazy clothes, tattoos and piercings galore. This was pretty shocking, yet refreshing to see as I never seen this type of person in my every day life in Japan. In fact, I didn’t even know they existed in this country. Most people I come into contact with are quite the opposite. Another somewhat shocking discovery was that for the first time since moving to Japan, it was cold. It had cooled down that weekend all over the prefecture, but it was especially cold in Aso since the campground is up so high in the mountains. It was a weird sensation to feel cold again.
We paid for out tickets and got the key to our bungalow and went off into the woods to find it. We tracked down the spot and had to jump rocks to cross a rapid river below a waterfall to get there. That was tricky.
The bungalows came into view and I just started laughing. They are not what we expected at all. They’re old and rickety. Not to mention, tiny. We open the door and it’s one single room, no bigger than my (small) bedroom in my apartment. It’s dirty and old with spider webs and bugs hanging around. There is nothing in the room except for a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, a broom, and a picture of a daisy on the wall. No toilet, no cooking facilities, and most certainly, no beds.
As soon as I opened the door a bat flew in to the room and we all screeched. It was hilarious. This couldn’t have been further from the lovely, air-conditioned bungalow with several rooms and a heated toilet seat that we all expected.
None of us were prepared for this, to say the least. And that goes for the rain as well. We didn’t have proper bedding, or clothes/shoes for the rain and cold. And as it got later, it was getting colder.
The hilarity of the bungalow/weather was ridiculous. But we didn’t let it get us down. Everyone remained in high spirits and we decided the only way to survive the harsh conditions was to have some drinks. So we did. We sat on the floor of our new home, put all the alcohol we had in the middle and had a big Kanpai!
Eventually, the booze warmed us up a bit and we ventured out of our bungalow and into the festival, where we danced in the pouring rain to one of the DJs. There weren’t a whole lot of people around, likely because the weather was miserable. But those who were around were happy and friendly.
We had packed all kinds of food, as well as pots and pans but due to the bungalows not exactly living up to our expectations; we had nothing to cook on and nowhere to cool our food. I had made a big pot of curry the night before to bring along and it needed to be eaten soon. We were able to track down someone that was willing to lend us their camping stove and some gas, which we promised to replace the next day. We all huddled under the outdoor cooking shelter and cooked some rice to go under our curry. It was delish.
Eventually, we ended up under one of the vendor tents near the main stage to listen to the tunes, which were awesome. We huddled together for warmth under some blankets we found laying around.
We ended up borrowing two of the wet and muddy blankets we found and brought them back to our bungalow to attempt to sleep. It was a cold and uncomfortable night, to say the least. I was freezing all night, my feet especially, and most of the others were too. What a weird sensation to go from living in sweltering heat every day for the past two months, to spending the night shivering under a wet hippy blanket. lol.
The next morning, Matty (who had ended up sleeping in his car) and I went for a walk up through the hills. It was gorgeous. By the end of the weekend I had fallen in love with the Aso area, which interestingly, reminds me a bit of being in Ireland. I hope to spend more time there during my JET tenure. Later, we joined the others and debriefed on the night before. Poor Bilal was probably the least prepared of all of us and had only brought shorts and boat shoes… no sweater or pants or bedding. So he spent the night freezing under just one of the dirty wet blankets we found. What a trooper.
This festival was free for kids and many of the parents took advantage of that. There were little ‘Rainbow’ children running around everywhere and they were SO cute. We spent some time playing with them, which was thoroughly enjoyable. I could just sit and watch these kids all day. Something about Japanese kiddies.. I just can’t get enough of! And the free-spirited hippy children were even better. One of the kids we were playing with, we later found out, was one of the performers that day. So we made a point to go down to the river stage and check him out when the time came.
We walked around and checked out some of the vendors, who were selling delicious vegetarian/vegan food, jewelry, handmade goods, clothes etc. One of the booths was selling socks and Sam bought a pair, since his feet were still cold and wet. I followed suit, which ended up being a great call since I had only brought one pair of socks and they were totally drenched. By the end of the weekend, we had all reached the point where our feet NEEDED extra warmth so we all ended up with matching ‘Rainbow’ socks. Worth every penny of the $15 for cozy feet and a souvenir for our hilarious weekend 🙂
The hot sun came out that morning and it felt glorious. The sun brought more and more people into the festival. We spent the afternoon laying on the grass to dry, listening to the musical acts, chatting and playing my favorite drawing game.
I was hungry so I bought some vegetarian curry (pretty much my favourite food on earth) I was sitting there on the field, finally dry and warm, eating my favoruite food it, amongst my friends (who are freakin’ wonderful), listening to some awesome Brazilian girl play the guitar.. and I thought Damn.. I am HAPPY. It was absolutely blissful. I didn’t think it could get much better but the yoga teacher (from Quebec!) who I later met and became friends with, laid out a bunch of mats and started a class in the middle of the field near the stage. I joined. #blissful
It came time to go watch the little eight-year-old boy’s set. He sang lead vocals and played the guitar while his day played backup. It was the cutest thing and they sounded fantastic! I loved how the dad let his son take center stage, where he clearly belonged. After a few songs, their grandpa joined in as well. Three generations! Grandpa took the lead while the little boy got on the drums. They were all wearing homemade hats made of tin foil and colorful tinsel. It was too good… one of the highlights of the weekend.
Later, we came across a big beautiful tent near the main stage with a sign that said ‘come hang out.’ So in we went. It was carpeted and had blankets and pillows and lanterns. Super cozy. They also had free drinks and cups for everyone. It was like the Japanese Tea Hive! (The tea hive is a similar cozy-tent at ‘Evolve’ festival, back home, where I volunteered last year) By that point it started to get cold again (an unfamiliar sensation, still) so we were happy to hang out in the tent for a while. We made a few new friends in the tent that day, and elsewhere around the festival. Everyone was very open and friendly. And I was pleasantly surprised that there were actually a lot of English speakers there! Likely because this type of festival goer tends to be into travelling.
At one point I made friends with an Israeli dude who told me that he has gone to seven different events across Japan with the same crowd of people. Apparently the hippy community of Japan is quite small and they stick together. He told me how lucky I am to have gotten a chance to see this side of Japan.. he was right.
Suppertime came and the friendly hippies let us borrow their stove again to cook some spaghetti. It’s amazing how delicious something so simple can taste when you’re outside in the cold without the comforts of home.
The sun set and out came the super-freaky psychedelic sets. One, was quite possibly the coolest/most bizarre musical performance I’ve seen. The main singer was dressed up like Michael Jackson and he was alongside a female dancer dressed up as a sheep who was just GIVIN’ ER on stage. The light show and the visuals were unreal too. They had the whole crowd on the tip of their fingers. It was mesmerizing.
After MJ’s encore, the DJs started up, and they didn’t stop until the next afternoon. We danced and danced, taking breaks when needed in our new favourite cozy-tent (which was much cozier than our bungalow, to say the least)
Eventually, it was time for bed. Having no interest in a freezing cold night sans bedding again, three of us opted to try to snooze in our cars. I actually fell asleep, surprisingly, but woke up freezing at about 6am. By that point, all the festival goers were up at at em’ and dancing away. Bilal and Max left early and headed to Greenland, the nearby amusement park, for the day. I could not have done that, they are total champs. Sam and I hung around and got breakfast and danced a little more and then headed home, stopping briefly on our way home at the spectacular look off point of beautiful Aso. I can’t wait to go back there soon.
What a fantastic weekend we had at Rainbow Forest Music Fest. I would say it was my favourite experience since arriving in Japan. It felt so similar to being at Evolve festival, back in the Maritimes, so I felt right at home there. The ALT gang that went was such a solid group, and we all left the weekend feeling much closer than when we had arrived. I think we’ll always share a special little bond because of that ridiculously silly weekend we experienced together. And theres theres Marcus, who is likely back in Sweden now and we will probably never see again. He he.
The community of people involved with the festival have events in the area periodically, actually. I made Facebook friends with one of the ladies cooking food and she invited me to join their invite only ‘hot spring dance party’ the following weekend. Which according to the ad, if you couldn’t afford entrance fee, you could pay in agricultural products instead. He he. I couldn’t go, unfortunately, but it’s nice to feel welcome within this group.
On the way home, Sam and I stopped at the ‘Tsutaya’ (the movie, game, book and CD store) so he could help me get set up with account. This means, I can now rent CDs and movies. And man, it’s great. I didn’t realize how much I missed the ritual of going to the movie store (Blockbuster) and picking out a movie, taking it home and watching it on an actual television. I much prefer this to watching Netflix on my laptop. So I have been taking full advantage of this. I recently got into Greys Anatomy… which I once swore I’d never watch, because it didn’t interest me. Now I’m somewhat hooked. #McDreamy
The next week I felt pretty run down and low energy. It was probably recovery form the festival combined with the abrupt change of season here in Amakusa. I noticed a lot of students and teachers were sick too. You can tell because they wear masks over their faces. I remember when I first came to Japan, two years ago; I was a bit startled by the masks. It reminded me of the SARS epidemic. I wondered what they were trying ‘not to catch’. Should I have been wearing a mask? But my Japanese friend assured me that no, the mask wearers are the ones who are sick. They are wearing them as a courtesy, as to not pass on their sickness. Which is very kind, if you ask me.
I guess the change of season can be a bit hard on everyone. It was so weird to go from coming home to immediately turn on my air-con, to needing a sweater indoors. How strange. That fall feeling did make me miss home a bit, too. There’s not much i love more than fall in NS…
So this week, I’m grateful for lil’ ol’ Nova Scotia, my home.
The older I get the more I come to love my little maritime province. And living away from there, I have a little Nova Scotia shaped hole in my heart.
I have been priveledged enough to grow up in the capital city of Halifax, spending many a nights at my beautiful cottage not far from the city in Lawrencetown, and a couple weekends a year at my family’s Fishing Camp in Sherbrooke. I also spent four years of University in Antigonish (my heart hurts just thinking about it) and one summer in the stunning Cape Breton highlands (Mark my words, I will own land there one day.)
I am so proud of where I’m from. Especially when I meet people abroad who have visited N.S. No one ever has anyting but good things to say about it. A lot of what I’m talking about can be associated with Atlantic Canada as well though. I feel similarly towards N.B, PEI and NFLD.. all wonderful provinces. But of course I’m biased.
I grew more in love the Halifax in the past couple of years, when I got to live in the downtown area. Living DT on my own is much different than living in the burbs with my parents. Through trial and error, I realized I am a North end gal through and through. While I like spending time in the south end, I have no interest in living there.
Nova Scotia is home to some of the nicest people on earth, if you ask me. They are caring and generous and they support one another. Theres a lot of multiculturalism in N.S., and people are generally tolerant of others who are ‘different’. It’s so easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, rural or urban folks alike. We all meld together.
Another thing I love is the Halifax ‘bubble’, as I call it. Halifax isn’t that small of a city… about 390,000 people. However, it feels much smaller. Everyone seems to know everyone. You can’t walk down the street without running into someone you know, or a friend of a friend. I miss those typical Halifax serendipitous moments of running into an ol’ pal on the street. I love those moments. I don’t know what it is that makes Halifax feel so much smaller than it is, but I wouldn’t change it, it’s so special.
I’ve visited many places and also lived in N.B, Alberta, Quebec and B.C but nothing compares to N.S. in my eyes. It’s rugged yet quaint and unimposing beauty will never get old to me. It is full of seemingly undiscovered places. Don’t’ get me wrong, I loved B.C, and AB but it was tough to find a hike or a beautiful view that wasn’t full of other hikers or tourists. Or sometimes even a lineup. The same can’t be said for N.S. It’s easy to find a special spot that feels like your own. Nothing would make me more happy than an old fashioned N.S. roadtrip to Lunenburg, Mahone Bay or Ingonish for a day of exploring, meeting locals and hittin’ up all the Guys’ Frenchies along the way.
I absolutely love exploring a new country and Japan is no exception. But I must say, especially at my favourite time of year (October) I miss N.S. I miss Point Pleasant Park, I miss random North End pot lucks, I miss spending time in the middle-of-nowhere in our little fishing camp in the woods, I miss the Halifax bar scene bubble, I miss all the hipsters and granola heads and the ease that comes with dealing with my food allergies. I miss spending the whole day in Lion and Bright or Local Joes. I miss Guy’s Frenchies ❤ (the best second hand clothing store known to man) I miss driving to my parents house for dinners, I miss people watching at the Seaport market, I miss reading ‘love the way we b*tch’ in Coast, I miss the number 7 bus, I miss the multiculturalism. I miss NSCAD. I miss being able to walk everywhere. I should probably stop myself now before I start to cry…
If youre reading this from N.S.,give it a hug for me. And soak up that beautiful fall weather for me. If you’re reading this from elsewhere, visit N.S., you won’t regret it.
The Best Sushi in Town
Clare’s mom, Kim, who was visiting from Canada, expressed interest in coming to Amakusa last time I saw her in Kumamoto City. So I told her she could stay with me, rather than spending money on a hotel. She graciously accepted and took the bus to join me last Wednesday. We met and decided to go for sushi. I had asked a friend for a sushi restaurant recommendation, so we went where he told us to go.
We walked in to the place, which was pretty fancy, and sat at the long bar-like table in front of the sushi chef. He spoke no English. Since we couldn’t read the menu, we said we’d have whatever he recommended. It ended up being a thirteen-course sushi dinner. and the best sushi I’ve ever had. We’d watch him make each piece individually in front of us and serve them, one by one, on our plate.
Kim and I were having a great time, chatting and enjoying every piece of sushi more than the next. I saw a group of young people walk in, followed by another group, who ended up sitting next to us. I told Kim how it was somewhat unusual to see young people of this sort in Amakusa. It’s mostly children and parents and grandparents. You don’t often see many of the ‘in between’ young people. We joked that maybe they were travelling from elsewhere to come have the delicious sushi, which, upon chatting with the folks next to us, we realized that was indeed true. They were Basketball players form Kumamoto city and drove over 5 hours that night just to get sushi. They told us that that particular restaurant was #1 in Amakusa, and better than Kumamoto city sushi, (I guess it makes sense, since were right on the water, so the fish is more fresh) This came as a surprise to us!
After our courses and dessert. We were finishing our drinks when we noticed the four basketball players sitting next to us were eating some kind of fish that we hadn’t tried…and it looked delicious! Kim and I were full by that point but we couldn’t stop looking at how delicious the fish they were eating looked. Kim suggested we try some. Of course, I was in.
So we asked the sushi chef for one more thing..’one of those delicious looking fish, please.’ Much to our surprise, he said no, followed by some Japanese that I didn’t understand. Noticing out confusion, the people next to us explained that you had to call in advance to specially reserve that particular kind of fish, if you wanted some. Jeeze. Fancy eh?
We got the bill, as while it was much more than we had expected, we agreed it was worth it. Since it was such an experience and we had fun! Kim treated me.. which was so nice of her.
I must say, I was pretty proud of myself for my Japanese abilities that night. Since Kim has no Japanese what so ever, it was up to me to attempt do the talking. Normally, I’m with at least one person who knows more than I do, so I don’t often get a chance to practice. It was fun to try it out and I was surprised how much the staff and I were able to understand each other. I haven’t been dedicating a whole lot of time to Japanese, but it seems I’m picking up more than I realized.
A week or so later, I was invited out to dinner by the lovely teacher I sit next to at Elementary school. (The one who made me a beautiful necklace for my Birthday, which I shared a photo of on my last post). We pulled up to the restaurant and low and behold, it was my new favorite sushi restaurant, the very same one Kim and I had been to the week prior. I was stoked. This time, however, I was with a native Japanese speaker, who could converse with the chef (same dude as last time( and do a better job at ordering. We had a feast. There were 12 courses of sushi, plus about 5 other dishes and dessert. I was so full by the end of it. She and I had a lovely time and she gave me more gifts. Two gorgeous Swarovski Chrystal necklaces that she had made and a pair of store-bought earrings, all in ‘peach’ colour that she had remembered that I loved. There was no occasion for the gifts, she was just being extremely generous. I appreciate hand-made gifts so much, so i was extremely grateful. I don’t know how to thank her.
RIP Aunt Mary
My underlying feeling of homesickness in the pit of my stomach just magnified, ten fold. My aunt, whose been battling MS for years, past away two nights ago.
I received a terribly sad Face time call on Sunday regarding the condition of my Aunt Mary, moms sister. She has been battling MS for years and her condition had taken a turn for the worst so the family was gathering. My mom is one of fourteen kids, so as you can imagine, a lot of people gathered. My parents and my sister and Hannah Factimed me and told me the whole story, recounting the day’s events.. all of the cousins and aunts and uncles gathering at Mary’s bed side. They knew it was only a matter of time before she passed.
Naturally, I was gutted. I seriously considered hopping on a plane to go home to be with everyone. But the more I thought about it, and as much as I wanted to, I realized it was best to stay put. That was a tough call to make.
Since Mary had been suffering, it was naturally a bit of a relief in some ways that it was her time to go. Nobody wanted to see her suffer any longer. She would undoubtedly go straight to heaven, as she was such a gentle, beautiful soul, and she had been through a lot in her lifetime.
As a child, I was the only person in my immediately family who didn’t have god parents, since I wasn’t baptized. Mary recognized this and used to spoil me as a child, not wanting me to feel ‘lesser than’ my sisters who would sometimes receive special gifts from their godparents. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Mary made me feel special and comfortable and warm. She is also the mother of my four amazing cousins, who are all freakin’ gems. I’m so grateful to have them and my heart goes out to them at this sad time.
Mary’s MS got significantly worse a few years back and she was admitted to a home, where she would later die. I visited her in the home from time to time but I certainly didn’t make as much of an effort as I should have.. I didn’t like going there, as I found it so sad to watch her deteriorate and get further and further from the Mary that I knew. I felt she didn’t belong there. Fortunately, my relatives, who are pretty amazing folks I might add, were there for her. So she had lots of visits from her brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren.
Two days ago, I was talking to a colleague and realized that I had never been atop of Amakusa’s observation tower. I thought I had, (as previously mentioned in another blog post) but it turns out, the one I found wasn’t indeed the ‘best’ most beautiful one. So I decided to cancel my plans that afternoon and drive up to check it out.
I went home first to drop off my things and saw I had a post card from one of my oldest friends, Carly. I decided to hold off on reading it until I was up on the observation deck. The drive was a half hour away and I mistakenly trusted Google maps to get me there. I was about half way up the mountain when I ran into a gate, prohibiting me from going any further. I saw on the map there was another way up, but it was across town. I decided to try to track it down anyways, but got a bit lost and then stuck in traffic. By that point, the sun was beginning to set so I figured I’d just go home and try another day. While driving home, though, I changed my mind. I felt determined to go up there and see it, after all of that.
I got up to the observatory and it was absolutely stunning. I could see all of Amakusa and it’s surrounding islands. The sun had set, leaving a beautiful orange layer of sky above the mountains. There wasn’t a soul in sight, just the crickets and me. It was so peaceful up there. After about five minutes I got a Face time call from my dad, and I knew exactly why he was calling. My aunt had just passed away 15 minutes prior.
That’s the kind of phone call nobody ever wants to receive, but I knew it was coming, and I was grateful to have gotten such sad news in such a beautiful setting. Now it made sense why I had been so determined to get up there that night, despite the obstacles. I sat on the bench (pictured below) and thought about my beautiful Aunt Mary. I wrote in my journal and just cried. I longed to be at home with the Zareski family, grieving with everyone else.
I remembered my snail mail that Carly has sent me and sat there and read it and cried some more. Carly is such a beautiful writer and her lovely card was that little taste of home that I needed in that moment.
It was one of those reflective, personal moments in my life that I’ll never forget. On the way home I stopped and bought a plant in Mary’s honor. Named her ‘Mary’ of course.
I just received an e-mail from my sister who is in Costa Rica in the midst of completing her 3 week intensive yoga teaching course. None of us have heard from her since shed left because almost every minute of her day is tied up with the course. Poor Alex had to find out about Mary’s passing via e-mail. So she had mailed me to express her understanding for being away and longing to be home at such a time. She feels the same. My heart goes out to her, as I know how difficult I’m finding it to focus. With such a demanding course on her hands, I can’t imagine what she’s going through.
Grieving while across the world without your family is difficult. I wish I could be there to support them. I’m at school right now but everyone keeps asking me if I’m ok, which we all know just makes the tears well up. I don’t know how to say my aunt died in Japanese. So I ust keep saying I’m ok. I wish I could teleport home.
I read a Japanese poetry book the other day that had a poem about sadness that was translated into English. It read…“People who become sad have generous hearts. Sadness comes from a very deep emotion. When people become sad, they reflect upon themselves and they face the reality of life. People grow and mature from sadness.’ I thought that was so beautiful.
The silver lining is that my parents will be here in one week to visit. Mary’s passing took place at such a time that they didn’t have to cancel their trip, which was a very real possibility. Timing is everything.
I wondered whether or not I should write about this on this blog. But I’m happy I did. It feels good to get it out on paper. My vice principal just gave me the OK to go home. So off I go.
aka Mary Ellen