JET Program CIR Report
August 31, 2014
August 31, 2014
CIR Report from Kanazawa 4
By Werner Vanhorenbeeck
The 3-day Hyakumangoku Festival is considered to be the most important festival in Kanazawa. I haven’t had the opportunity to see many festivals in Japan yet, so I thought it was worth a look. The first day traditionally started with lanterns flowing down the river.
The festival parade was quite long. I was surprised by the number of participants, and the variety of them. There were people of different ages, nationalities, professions and organizations that joined the parade, not to mention the tremendous amount of fluffy mascots that also joined in. I guess joining the parade is a way to make publicity for one’s shop or company as well. The parade was led by an actor who was hired to play the role of Lord Toshiie Maeda, who occasionally stopped to wave to the crowds. I wonder if the real Lord Maeda was such a handsome as the actor. It seemed a bit idealised to me. Either way, the festival was a good occasion to meet up for some drinks with a friend and a colleague.
I was asked by the planning division of Kanazawa to go to the Italian city of Fabriano to interpret at a UNESCO Creative Cities Network gathering. The purpose of this trip was to meet with other UNESCO Creative Cities in order to talk about the future of the Creative Cities Network. I was quite excited about this trip because I haven’t been to Italy since I was in elementary school and I had a craving for some good ol’ pizza. After a long flight we arrived and met up with people from the city of Fabriano, representatives of UNESCO Paris and people of other Creative Cities from over the globe. The weather was nice and the city was beautiful. As someone from Brussels the cleanliness of the city surprised me. In a way it also saddened me a bit.
The city of Fabriano is known for its paper-making techniques. We received a tour at some museums and some papermaking shops. In Asia, papermaking techniques had been around for centuries before reaching European shores; there is nothing special about paper, I thought. I was soon to be proven wrong. They showed that the paper making techniques of Fabriano were quite inventive. To make paper stronger they melt small pieces of animal skin into a sort of gelatine that covers the surface of the paper. Also, they introduced the watermark. This is a great way to decorate letters and in some way also prevent counterfeiting.
Although being European, I was surprised about the big difference in culture and way of thinking. It was hard making oneself clearly understood using English. I guess knowing Spanish helped me understand and communicate with the people from the city. Going to Italy for work, I realised that language barriers are a lot easier to overcome than cultural barriers. By this, I refer to what is sometimes ludicrously called the barrier between butter and oil, beer and wine. The concept of time is a funny thing. A professor I respect a lot once told me that in the colder northern countries people tend to be more punctual compared to the warmer southern countries, because nobody likes to wait in the cold and nobody likes to hurry in the heat. I don’t know how much of this is true, but to me, and probably to people raised in Japan as well, it is a difficult barrier to overcome.
In the end the conferences and meetings went well, and the people from the city of Fabriano took us to classy French restaurants. Unfortunately I had to settle for not having had any pizza.
The other day I went for a drive to Komatsu. I stopped by the Hanibe Gankutsuin. This is an infamous temple for many reasons. Since it is situated in a rural area, it is quite difficult to access without a car. One can notice the big Buddha head from far away. Under the Buddha head is a small room filled with little statues of children and an ornament where one can pray for his or her lost child. The atmosphere in that space was quite heavy.
Outside however, one finds what the Hanibe Gankutsuin is famous for: strange or rather unusual statues. Further up the hill is a grotto with a fixed route to follow. The route gives one the experience of travelling through the afterlife according to Buddhism, of course this includes a trip through hell as well. It is one of the lesser known places of the Ishikawa prefecture, but it certainly is one of the things I would recommend anyone to visit.