Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Festival Smorgasbord

Japan is a country of festivals.  If one had time, a festival could probably be found somewhere in Japan every weekend.  Here, for instance, is the list for just the festivals celebrated each year in the city of Hamamatsu.  They all look fun and interesting.

Akiha Fire Festival

Ever since long ago, Mount Akiha was believed to have supernatural powers to prevent fires. Bow and arrow, sword, and fire dances are performed at the Akiha Shrine. At the Akiha Temple, a firewalking ceremony is performed where both believers and spectators celebrate the festival. (Haruno, Tenryu-ku — December)

Enshu Dainenbutsu

When a family commemorates the first Obon holidays after the death of a loved one, they may request that a dainenbutsu (Buddhist chanting ritual) be performed outside their house. This is one of the local performing arts of the region. The group always forms a procession in front of the house led by a person carrying a lantern and marches to the sound of flutes, Japanese drums and cymbals. (Saigagake Museum, Hamamatsu City — July 15)


Hamamatsu Festival

Hamamatsu Festival, held from May 3 through May 5 each year, is well known for Takoage Gassen, or the kite fight, and luxuriously decorated palace-like floats. The festival originated about 430 years ago, when the lord of Hamamatsu Castle celebrated the birth of his first son by flying kites. In the Meiji Era, the celebration of the birth of a first son by flying Hatsu Dako, or the first kite, became popular, and this tradition has survived in the form of Hamamatsu Festival. It is extremely exciting to see over 160 large kites flying in the sky to the sound of bugles. Those who visit Hamamatsu at this time of the year can experience the city at its most exciting time.

During the nights of Hamamatsu Festival, people parade downtown carrying over 70 yatai, or palace-lake floats, that are beautifully decorated while playing Japanese traditional festival music. The festival reaches its peak when groups of people compete by violently marching across town. (Naka-ku, Minami-ku — May)

Hamakita Hiryu Festival 

This festival is held in honor of Ryujin, the god of the Tenryu River, and features a wide variety of events such as the Hamakita takoage (kite flying) event and the Hiryu himatsuri (flying dragon fire festival) which celebrates water, sound, and flame. (Hamakita-ku — June)

Hamamatsu International Piano Competition

This festival celebrates Hamamatsu's history as a city of musical instruments and music, and brings dozens of the best young pianists from all over the world. It has been held triennially since 1991 at the Act City Concert Hall and Main Hall. (November)

入賞者披露演奏会 東京公演

Hamakita Manyo Festival

This event takes place in Manyo-no-Mori Park to commemorate the Manyo Period and introduce its culture. As part of the festival, people reenact the ancient past by wearing traditional clothes from the Heian period and presenting Japanese poetry readings. (Hamakita-ku, Hamamatsu — October)

Inasa Puppet Festival

One of the few puppet festivals held in Japan, featuring 60 performances of about 30 plays by puppet masters from all over the country. The shows provide a full day of enjoyment for both children and adults. (Inasa, Kita-ku — November)

Princess Road Festival

This reenactment of a procession made by the princess in her palanquin along with her entourage of over 100 people including maids, samurai, and servants makes for a splendid scene beneath the cherry blossoms along the Toda River. In the Edo period, princesses enjoyed traveling this road which came to be known as a hime kaidō (princess road). (Hosoe, Kita-ku — April)

Shoryu Weeping Ume Blossom Festival

In Ryusui Garden there is a stream with seven small waterfalls and about 80 weeping ume trees pruned to give the appearance of dragons riding on clouds to the heavens. There are also 200 young trees planted along the mountainside. (Inasa, Kita-ku — late February to late March)

It Boils Down to Faith and Repentence

Testimony written by Elder Stewart Insch shortly before his mission.

I have experienced the influence of my Heavenly Father and my Savior in my life and have found that when I am doing the things that I am supposed to be doing, I am happier and my life is easier.  I compare this to the people I see around me, friends, family, strangers, and the things they do to try and find happiness without success.  It breaks my heart to see how miserable others are because of their choices.  I have felt the power of the Atonement in my life, and the blessing of the Spirit and I know that if other people were to take advantage of these gifts that have been given to us, they could find the true happiness that they seek.

My dad taught me something that I always try to keep in mind when it comes to the Gospel.  What he said is that everything basically boils down to two principles, faith and repentance.  Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in all sorts of intricacies of scripture and doctrine and forget why it all matters.  Through faith and repentance, we can keep the commandments and allow the Spirit to guide us in our lives, as well as make up for our shortcomings.

My choice to serve a mission has been an important milestone in my life.  When I was nineteen I put in my papers under the pressure and influence of my parents and church leaders, and felt really wrong about it.  I felt like if I were to go, it would only have been through coercion and out of obligation and not out of my own desire to serve the Lord.  My testimony at the time was relatively weak, and I had a lot of doubts.  After time, I resolved these issues but didn’t really think much about serving a mission again.  I drifted through life, having fun, but feeling no major direction that my life was headed in.  I’ll freely admit that what caused me to redirect my thinking was a girl.

After transferring to BYU, I met a young lady and fell madly in love with her.  As things with her got more serious I started to focus more on my life to that point, as well as where it was headed.  This young woman loved me for who I was, regardless of the fact that I wasn’t a returned missionary.  This knowledge let me be free to reevaluate my choice not to serve a mission.  I thought about the man I was, and the man that I wanted to be and I thought of my father.  I want to be just like my father, and he always said that a mission saved his life and played the biggest role in how he became.  I started thinking it over again, praying and fasting, and I felt like I really should serve a mission.  I felt good about my decision, but I worried how this young woman would react, thinking that it would effectively bring about the end of our relationship.  But once I told her she was excited, and nothing but supportive of my decision.

I feel much better now than I did when I was nineteen.  Even though I was spurred to reconsider a mission, thanks to my involvement with this young woman, I was making the decision on my own, between me and the Lord.  I know that this is what the Lord needs and expects of me at this point in my life.  I am excited to be serving, and feel that this positive attitude and desire will be a great benefit to me in doing the Lord’s work with a glad heart, rather than grudgingly out of obligation.

The only thing that I was nervous about concerning a mission is where I was going to go.  People were constantly asking me where I wanted to go, and I didn’t know.  The one thing I really wanted was to go foreign, since I have always wanted to visit somewhere else in the world and learn a new language.  However, I was truly content to go wherever I was needed.  When I got my mission call and read Japan Nagoya Mission, I was filled with peace.  I had never imagined going to Japan, or any Asian mission, but I knew right away that this was where I needed to be. 

PS:  Elder Insch is now married….to that special young woman he knew before his mission.

Do I have faith? Am I Able to Serve a Mission?

Testimony of Sister Nozomi Tsukino, written just before her mission.

Recently, I learned a poem from the missionaries.  The poem talks about how instead of relying on the testimony that we had, it is more important to rely on the testimony that we have today, no matter how small that testimony may be.  Instead of listening to an inspirational talk that brings tears to our eyes, it is better to speak and let the spirit touch and warm our hearts.  Instead of planning a special day of special experiences, it is more important to live and use our faith in our everyday lives.

When I heard that, I thought about it a great deal.  Do I have a testimony now?  Or do I just rely on the testimony that I used to have and on the testimony of others?

Before going to bed, I prayed to Heavenly Father.  I asked Him, “Do I have faith and a testimony?  Are you sure that I am able to serve a mission?  Please answer my prayer in a way that is clear and easy for me to understand.”  As soon as I finished praying, in my mind, I could feel the words “Alma” and “56”.  In front of me was my Book of Mormon.  I opened it up and read Alma 56.  Alma 56 talks about the faith and determination of Helaman’s 2000 stripling warriors.  I felt that this was the answer to my prayer.  Like the 2000 young soldiers of Helaman, I too wanted to be brave, and I was inspired and encouraged that I could rise to the challenge. 

I am thankful that Heavenly Father answers our prayers.  I am thankful that He provides me opportunities to increase my testimony.  Missionaries serve as instruments in the Lord’s hands, and as a result, are able to bless the lives of themselves and those around them.  I know that the Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ.  I testify that I know that the Lord knows me personally, and through the Holy Ghost, shows me what I should do.