The Smell of Yukari: Arrangement #3

What is Yukari, you ask? It’s Eucalyptus! Though probably not the kind you are thinking of (ie Koala food).

So then, what kind of eucalyptus am I talking about?

Well, that is a difficult question. There are over 700 species of eucalyptus in the world and the majority of them are found in Australia. Only a few species can be found outside of Australia naturally. In this weeks arrangement, I worked with Eucalyptus Cinerea (I think – there are over 700 species people!) nicknamed “The Silver Dollar” because of its round silvery leaves.

This was the first time I ever used Eucalyptus in an arrangement. The first thing I noticed about this plant is its smell. It is very fragrant. It is has a sweet herby smell that comes from its sap. Eucalypts are part of the gum tree family so you best be prepared for some stickiness when handling this plant. Its leaves become sticky when you crush them, the smell might stay on your hands for a day or so.

The biggest difficulty with this arrangement was how to use the Yukari. When it comes to large branches with a lot of leaves, I don’t know how to use it. DoI leave it as is? Do I strip the branch of most of the leaves? Sometimes it is hard to know. Sometimes I too cautious. I don’t want to make a change I don’t like. I am in awe of my teacher’s confidence. She’ll rip off leaves without flinching. She knows what will look good even if it’s not “perfect.”

And that was my biggest lesson from this week. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Nature is rarely perfect. Don’t be afraid of cutting a leaf of a branch short or ripping off a bunch of leaves and disrupting the ones you leave behind. A singular branch might be bigger than the flower but give the flower room to blossom in the arrangement especially if it’s something as extravagant as a Dahlia.

Arrangement 3

Karatsu Kunchi: Feasting and House-hopping

Food and alcohol are undeniably an important part of Karatsu Kunchi. Locals open their houses to family, neighbors, friends, and even strangers to come and spend a little time eating and drinking. Most of the women and some of the men in the family will work tirelessly to prepare a variety and large quantities of food. Every year ALTs are invited to the homes of co-workers and friends. One house we visit always has an elaborate spread of local food.

Kunchi Feast
This giant delicious fish was the centerpiece of the entire meal! Photo courtesy of Jess 2014

The centerpiece of the feast is a large fish called Ara あら, or seabream in English. Families save up money all year-round for this massive fish. One fish can cost several hundred to a couple thousands of dollars. No corners are cut when it comes to a Karatsu Kunchi feast.

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Japanese Seabream in the centerpiece of a Kunchi Feast

People never stay too long as they will probably visit many houses during the festival and there are many mouths to feed. The alcohol is always flowing and I usually bring a decent sized bottle of sake to the houses I know I’m visiting as a gift to help replenish supplies. Beer is always on hand as families tend to stock up on crates of beer.

Sashimi Platter
A beautiful presentation of sashimi

Sometimes you get spontaneous invitations from friends going to other houses or running into people you know. Last year I ended up in the house of a firefighter who was friends with one of my teachers. There we got a front row seat to the hikiyama parading through the neighborhood.

Food Platter

For Americans and Canadians, think of Kunchi as a Thanksgiving of sorts. Everyone is celebrating the good fortune of the year and show their appreciation by sharing food with not only family but the community and strangers as well. After pulling the floats, the men hop between houses in their home neighborhoods and those of their friends. Children and teenagers visit their friend’s houses or hang out at the food stalls downtown.

Top of Food Platter

Kunchi house fair is usually made up of raw and cooked fish, shellfish, rice balls,  hamburger steaks, sushi, tempura, bread, fruits, and cooked vegetables. This year I was fortunate enough to be invited to a very important house. The husband was a leader for one of the floats and he knew one of my teachers. We spent a good time chatting and eating delicious food. As we were leaving we thanked the wife and other women for the food.To my surprise, she gave each of us a hand embroidered dish towel and cute squid shaped sweet called youkan. It’s like a firm jelly and it pairs well with strong green tea.

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Yuzu flavored youkan, a traditional Japanese sweet, in the shape of a Yobuko squid.

Karatsu Kunchi is my favorite festival in Japan. I love the food and hospitality that is given to old friends and strangers alike. As an ALT, Kunchi is the time I really feel like I am a part of the community. For foreigners wanting to experience Kunchi for themselves, I don’t recommend just popping into any old house. Enjoy the parades and the delicious stall food. But if you get an invitation, I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and take the chance to experience a true Karatsu Kunchi.

Karatsu Kunchi 2017 Album

Check out my pictures from Karatsu Kunchi 2017. The first slideshow is from the first night. Sorry if some of the quality is bad, all of these photos were taken with my iPhone.

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Day 2: The Sand Pull and too many people.

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And finally, a couple videos I took during the first two days of Kunchi!

Karatsu Kunchi: Day 2 – The Sand Pull

That’s right I said sand pull. It’s the only way I can describe what you are about to see

 

The second day of Karatsu Kunchi begins mid-morning at a large sand lot between an elementary school and a major road. The road has been blocked to make way for the floats and hundreds of spectators who watch the 1-ton structures dash into the loose sand. It doesn’t take long to get stuck. Each team tries to pull their hikiyama as far in as possible. After the initial “pull” the ropes are reversed and the hikiyama is pulled to the far edge to line up with the others. This is a true test of strength

 

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Taiyama – one of the most popular floats. It is also one of two floats the swing to and fro.

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Shuten Doji on samurai Yorimitsu Minamoto’s Helmet (wow that’s a mouthful!) preparing to dash onto the sand.

 

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My friends and I were lucky to find an open spot across the street to view the event. The sidewalks were packed with people and those in our group brave enough to venture off found it difficult to move. It took some of us more than 30 minutes to reach our main group. We took turns climbing on a concrete ledge with a fence to get a better view. Most of my pictures were taken this way with someone bracing my legs so I wouldn’t fall over.

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It takes a lot of muscle to move the floats through the sand.

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After the floats are lined up spectators are allowed to walk onto the field, take pictures with their favorite floats, and find participating family members.

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So there you have it! But wait that’s not the end of Day 2! Stay tuned for Karatsu Kunchi Day 2 Part 2 – Feasting and House-Hopping Kunchi-style!

See you next time