Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Giant Japanese Snake Festival

To honor this year’s Chinese Zodiac animal the Snake, I offer this look at an interesting unique festival from the small town of Sekikawa in Niigata prefecture where they parade an enormous snake made of bamboo and straw. The snake is 82.8 meters long or about 271.6 feet and weighs about 2 tons requiring 500 people to carry it and is in the Guinness Book of World Record as longest snake made of bamboo and straw (wasn’t aware there was such a category).

The festival is a type of Obon celebration – a time when the Japanese remember the spirits of the dead. It also is reminder of a terrible flood which hit Sekikawa in 1967 costing a number of people their lives. The date was August 28th which is why the snake is the exact length of 82.8 to reflect that.

As to why a giant snake, one has to dig further back into the misty past of Sekikawa. Legends say the area was troubled by a giant snake which had been a cursed woodcutter’s wife.

Some centuries ago, a local woodcutter was attacked by a giant snake while he was out gathering woods. Giant snakes have been a common theme in myth and legend and perhaps represent a memory of large snakes which once lived in Japan long ago. The woodcutter killed the snake and deciding on not letting a chance meal go to waste brought it home to eat.

The woodcutter told his wife not to eat any of the snake meat till he returned from gathering more wood. The wife disobeyed him and ate a little of the snake meat. It was so delicious she couldn’t stop eating of it and she ate the entire snake. Then she developed a powerful thirst. No amount of water could quench it. She drained all the water supply at her home and then the village’s supply too. She went to river to slake her unnatural thirst but to no avail. It was there that the wife transformed into a giant snake herself. She left her family and the village forever – or so it seemed.

Some time later after her family had passed away a biwa player was passing through the area. He stopped to rest and while he did so he decided to practice his skills. The snake wife heard his music and was charmed by it. She approached the biwa player and praised his skill. The biwa player being blind as many biwa players were in those days thought he was being addressed by one of the local women. There was a strange musty smell in the air but he thought nothing of it.

The snake wife asked him where he was going and he told her to the village which is now Sekikawa. She warned him not to do so. She revealed to him what she was and that she planned to destroy the village. She only told him this because she was enchanted by his music and wished to spare him. The snake wife then told him not to warn the villagers or he would pay with his life.

The biwa player left very afraid. However, instead of running off he decided to go to Sekikawa and warn them. He told the chief of the village his tale. Some say the biwa player vanished because he was a helpful spirit but others say he died from the snake wife’s magic for having told her secret.

The villagers eventually were able to kill the snake wife and they enshrined the biwa players personal effects in the local temple.

Centuries later in modern times it was thought after the flood that perhaps the old snake wife’s spirit was restless so the festival was held to appease her possibly angry spirit.

The festival began in 1980s and every year they parade two large snakes around the town. A smaller one is carried/dragged by children while the principle snake of 82.8 meters is carried by 500 people.

I was fortunate to bump into a local prominent citizen of the town who told me the story in his own words. He says he remembered the biwa player’s items being on display when he was boy though they aren’t now. I later had dinner with him and wife and several friends of his from Niigata City. Apparently for people of the town there are those who believe the story to be true – to a degree. It is interesting though the number of giant snake stories that abound in the ancient myths and the old legends of times closer to now.

Who knows? But as to the moral of the story with the woman who was changed into a giant snake for eating the snake her husband told her not to, I guess it would be -“Women, don’t eat a man’s snake without his permission” or something to that effect.

For more photos check here

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Giant Japanese Snake of Bamboo
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The woodcutter who killed a giant snake then his wife became one
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February 2, 2013 Posted by | festival, japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, matsuri, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese Golden Week

Golden Week is a spring holiday in Japan when many Japanese travel. May 3-5 and to some degree April 29th are national holidays and the whole country seems to move to the other side of the country. 

Here I talk about the tradition of Golden Week and the hassles of traveling during this time. Still it’s nice to get up to a week off, something we never get in the States.

Here I talk about How I spent my Golden Week Holiday past and present.

The first few years I worked or stayed home. In 2007, I started traveling going to a samurai festival in Yamagata Prefecture then another festival in Hiraizumi in Iwate.

In 2008 I saw ancient Imperial court music known as Gagaku and dance Bugaku at Meiji Shrine on Showa Day – April 29th. Then I went again to the samurai festival in Yamagata and a castle nearby. I went to Hiraizumi again and the day after to a replica of what Hiraizumi once looked like.

This year I went to Tohoku yet again starting in Kakunodate a town with samurai houses in Akita. After that I stopped by Lake Tazawa then went to a Jomon site, a stone circle in northeastern Akita that goes back over 4000 years.

I took a ferry boat from Aomori city that night to Hakodate and saw the last place of defense for the old followers of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The next day I took a ferry to ShimoKita where I went to the land of ghosts known as Osorezan. It’s a smoky sulphuric dead landscape said to be where people go when they die.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | festival, Golden Week, hakodate, hokkaido, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, Jomon, tohoku, tokyo, travel, video, vlog | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samurai Dave’s 2008 In Review Video

2008 was a busy year for this wayward wanderer though I didn’t travel much abroad due to the high fuel surcharge. I did however travel a fair bit around Japan going to a number of festivals. This is a photo montage of my experiences.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | 2008, culture, festival, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, life, music, music videos, photographs, photography, tennessee, tohoku, tokyo, travel, video, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samurai Dave’s 2008 In Review: Travels, Events, and Festivals

Samurai Dave’s 2008 In Review – Travels, Events, & Festivals

Another year has come and gone and it’s time to look forward to next year while reflecting on the last. This year I stayed in Japan save for two trips home. Fuel surcharges increased to ridiculous amounts sometimes more than the flight cost itself. Fortunately in Japan there’s always festivals going on year round to keep one occupied.

JANUARY
The first of the year saw me checking out the acrobatics of old Japanese firefighters, kimono-clad cuties at Meiji Shrine, Momote Shiki – an archery ritual for new adults, and a bit of sumo.

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Old Style Meets New Style

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FEBRUARY
February brought in a surprise snow storm on Setsubun, a day when Japanese drive devils from their homes in a kind of spring cleaning to symbolically end winter. It’s kind of like a pro-active GroundHog Day with devils. Later, I headed up north to the Tohoku region to face off against the deadly monster trees the Juhyo and hairy devils known as Namahage. I also saw a snow lantern festival and snow festival dedicated to the clever Akita dog. Later in the month, I went to Nikko to see the half frozen Kegon Falls then to Nagano, to see the snow monkeys again.

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Setsubun Devils Survery the Wintry Carnage

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Hirosaki Castle

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Snow Lantern Festival

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Namahage – the bane of lazy children

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Snow Festival for Dogs

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MARCH
Plum blossoms, Japanese St. Paddy’s Parades, Swordsmen, an Anime Con, Sumo in Osaka, and a Giant Penis made for a interesting third month.

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Hands up! Who wants pizza?

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I have no idea who she is supposed to be and I don’t care

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My first encounter with Tokyo Decadance – a risque subculture melting pot

APRIL
April offered up yet another penis festival – this one with a very graphic erect to the sky penis carried by some unconvincing drag queens. I went back to Nikko where old style priests forced people to eat large quantities of rice – unfortunately this was all behind close doors. We only got to see them posing before and after so I don’t know if they actually ate any huge bowls of rice. At one of Tokyo’s major temples, I caught a display of Gagaku which is ancient dance style. A few days later I took in some free outdoor sumo at the controversial Yasukuni shrine. Nearby Yamanashi Prefecture had two festivals to honor their hometown here – Takeda Shingen. One had a parade with armored warriors and the other a re-enactment of his most famous battle – Kawanakajima.

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Festival Sponsored by Viagra

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Damn, that’s one big pipe!

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Ancient Court Dance – Gagaku at Zojo-ji Temple

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Shingenko Matsuri

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Japanese and Foriegners duke it out at a re-enactment of a famous samurai battle

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Samurai swimsuits while protective weren’t terribly comfortable

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Takayama Spring Festival

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Gifu Castle

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Traditional Japanese Wedding at Meiji Shrine

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Yabusame Archer Scores a Hit

MAY
The first week of May is Golden Week – a time when just about the whole country goes traveling. I used to stay in Tokyo to avoid the troubles but after learning about the wonders of overnight internet cafes I started venturing out more. I went back up to Tohoku to see the Uesugi Matsuri which I saw the year before. Here too they re-enact the Kawanakajima Battle but from the other side’s perspective, Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda’s greatest rival. Since the battle was basically a draw both sides can celebrate it and pretend they won. Afterwards I went to Hiraizumi which in ages past was a rival of Kyoto and its replica Fujiwara-no-Sato. Back in Tokyo I saw the artistic chaos known Tokyo Design Festa for the first time. The last part of the month I went to Fukui Prefecture to see a festival with big warrior floats.

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Uesugi Matsuri

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Ancient Dance performed at Hiraizumi

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Kaminoyama Castle in Yamagata

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Playing Old Games at Fujiwara-no-Sato in Period Clothing

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A Ghostly Figure from Tokyo Design Festa

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A Warrior Float from the Mikuni Festival in Fukui

JUNE
June is the rainy season so not as much goes on then so I tend to stay indoors to avoid the rain and humidity. I did take a trip to Yunishigawa to see a festival celebrating the Heike exiles who founded the town. I caught the last day of the festival last year so this year I came to see both main days. I saw again my Biwa Player from last year who surprisingly remembered me. At the end of the month I went to a Tokyo Decadance event.

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JULY
Went out to Chiba to see two new festivals I hadn’t seen before. One was a Gion Festival (Gion is one Kyoto’s big Festivals) at Narita City, the place many people zoom past on their way to Tokyo. The other festival only got an hour of my time due to work and inconvenient train schedules. Still it was an hour wellspent at the Sawara Matsuri with its floats of Japanese gods and heroes. Later in the month I went once again to Soma Nomaoi, the samurai horse racing festival. Can’t get enough of horse racing samurai! Maybe next year I’ll start placing bets.

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Noh at Narita Gion Festival

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Ota Dokan, original founder of Tokyo (then Edo) at the Sawara Matsuri

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Coming around the bend at Soma Nomaoi

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Female riders ride after semi-wild horses on the third day of Soma Nomaoi

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Odaiba in Tokyo all lit up

AUGUST
As it was with last year, August was a busy month for both work and travel. Like last year I took the first week of the month off to travel north around Tohoku to all the different festivals in the region. I went again to the drumming festival of Sansa Odori, the somber but artistic Neputa Festival of Hirosaki, the 3D floats of Nebuta with their scary faces, the Tachi Neputa Matsuri of Goshogawara with its towering floats clocking in at 22 meters, and the bamboo balancing Kanto Matsuri in Akita. In between this I went to some new festivals – the Sansha Taisai in Hachinohe which also gave a display of polo lacrosse, the dancing festival of Hanagasa in Yamagata, and the decorative (but boring) Tanabata Festival in Sendai.

That should have been enough for me but no! I returned to Tokyo via night bus, work the same day then caught another night bus to Nagoya in order to catch a fire festival in Gifu which was pretty freakin’ awesome!

Later in the month I went to Niigata where I saw my third Kawanakajima Battle re-enactment! This time there was celebrity presence. The part of Uesugi Kenshin was played by Gackt. Yes, Gackt! Ok, I never really heard of him before either but he’s big in Japan and there were tons of girls there who normally wouldn’t be caught dead at a samurai festival. The next day despite the rainy morning I went to Sado Island to catch the last day of the Kodo drum concert festival. The rest of the month I stayed in Tokyo where I saw street performances in my old neighborhood Otsuka and Samba which got poured on.

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Sansa Odori in Morioka

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Polo Lacrosse in Hachinohe

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Ornate Float from the Sansha Taisai Matsuri

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Fan-shaped float from the Neputa Matsuri of Hirosaki

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Ghostly Girls from Neputa

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Samurai Float from Nebuta

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Towering 18-meter float at Tachi Neputa in Goshogawara

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Kanto Matsuri in Akita

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Hanagasa in Yamagata

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Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai

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Samurai Dave at Inuyama Castle – oldest intact castle in Japan

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Fire Festival in Gifu

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Yasukuni Shrine on Aug 15th the date of Japan’s WWII surrender

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Gackt is Uesugi Kenshin!

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A Samurai Fights Deer on Sado Island

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Otsuka Awa Odori

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Wet Slippery Samba Girl

SEPTEMBER
I had an old college buddy stay over with his GF in September so the first part of the month found me cleaning my dump of a shoebox of an apartment in prepartion for their arrival. I gave them the nickel&dime tour of Tokyo and took them down to Kamakura to see Yabusame and Diabutsu – the Great Buddha. One day we did a Triple Play – caught Kabuki in the morning, saw sumo in the afternoon, and watch a baseball game in the evening. The fans with their little plastic bats and choreographed cheering was most entertaining!

At the end of the month I flew home for my father’s 60th birthday. Damn fuel charge was more than the damn flight cost! While there I went to Nashville’s very own Parthenon. Yep, we got us one just like Greece except ours is concrete and it ain’t broke!

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Kamakura Sake – they wouldn’t let us have any

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Diabutsu and Diadavidsu

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Japanese baseball fans

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Nashville Parthenon – it ain’t broke!

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Golden Athena

OCTOBER
After my father’s birthday I went to the East Tennessean town of Jonesborough to see a storytelling festival. Storytellers from all over the world go there to tell stories of all sorts. It’s a great event!

On the way back home I stopped at two caves – one, the Lost Sea which has the second largest underground lake in the world and is about to become really LOST if they don’t get more rain in the future. The other cave was Ruby Falls whose billboards I had seen for years and years all over the southeast which perhaps made me avoid it for so long. As it was, it was pretty darn neat. The last night in Tennessee Obama and McCain had one of their debates in Nashville which of course I couldn’t get near.

Back in Japan I was lucky to bump into a street dance festival in Ikebukuro and archery demonstration. I went to Kyoto to see the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) and the Fire Festival on Mt. Kurama despite the pouring rain. Back in Tokyo I rode once more the infamous Yamanote Halloween Train this time with cops and angry internet nerds.

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A Cowpoke tells it like it is at the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival

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The Lost Sea

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Ruby Falls

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A cat in a sink

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Obama supporters on the night of the Debate

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Bambi, no!!!

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Procession of 1000 Warriors in Nikko

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Samurai Street Dancers

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Golden Pavilion of Kyoto

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Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri – Festival of Ages

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Fire Festival of Mt. Kurama

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The Joker having fun at the infamous Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train Event

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Enjoying Tokyo Decadance’s Halloween Bash

NOVEMBER
November 3rd is Culture Day, a national holiday where there’s culture galore to be had. I got up late that day so I missed some of the culture but I did see Tokyo’s version of Jidai Matsuri and later a bit of Kendo at Budokan where the Beatles played many moons ago. Later that week I went out past the airport in Narita to see a festival which celebrated Japan’s history from over 1500 years ago. Young people dressed like the figures known as haniwa which were clay figurines buried or placed around earthern mounds known as kofun.

I went yet again to Kyoto to see a Geisha performance known as Kitano Odori then I went to the costume museum to try on some quite fetching 1000 year old threads. At the end of the month I flew home again for Thanksgiving because I love me some T-day turkey!

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Swan dancers at Tokyo Jidai Matsuri

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A hit, a palpable hit!

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Haniwa Matsuri

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Geisha dances a Wintry Fan Dance at Kitano Odori

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Does this make me look fat?[

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Komaki Castle

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Hikone Castle

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Mt. Takao

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A relic from the mysterious Old Stone Fort in Tennessee

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TURKEY!!!

DECEMBER
The last month! Whew! Long year! While still at home I went over to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels to have a bit of southern cooking lovingly laced with whiskey. On my last night in Nashville, I saw a kickass show with Nashville Pussy and rockabilly legend the Reverend Horton Heat.

Once again in Japan, I did a little firewalking at one festival – ok, actually the coals were lukewarm before I strode over them! I went to the 47 Ronin festival again and a fair for selling New Years decorations known as hagoita. Tokyo Decadance had a Christmas event and I was able to see decadent cuties in scanty XMAS attire plus girls were making out together – thank you, Santa!

The last night of the year saw me in the same place where I had rung in the the year – Zojo-ji Temple. Couldn’t believe another year had raced by! It had its ups and downs, its thrills and chills but all in all another fine year. I say that because I didn’t have any stock investments.

I hope 2009 is as equally as interesting and exciting and more importantly sees everyone in much better spirits at the end!

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A sign in Lynchburg – no drunken tomfoolery allowed

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Nashville Pussy

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The Reverend Horton Heat

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Come Firewalking with Me

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The 47 Ronin with their enemy’s head

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Hagoita – decorative New Year’s Paddles

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Tokyo Decadance

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Hello, 2009! Don’t disappoint!

January 13, 2009 Posted by | 2008, culture, festival, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, life, photographs, photography, tennessee, tohoku, tokyo, travel | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment