From August 4 to August 10, 2016, eight URESPA Club students and two teachers joined the Sakhalin Indigenous People’s Festival Program. One teacher was from Sapporo University and one teacher was from Hokkaido University.
Day 1: August 4
On the first day we took a plane from New Chitose Airport at 18:10 to Korea Incheon airport and spent the night at the airport hotel. On this day I learned how difficult it was to exchange money. At first, I tried to exchange money at New Chitose Airport, but they were running out of ruble. So I tried to exchange at Incheon Airport, but they were also running out of ruble. I thought I could exchange at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport, but when we arrived, there was no place to exchange money at the airport. I had to ask the Japanese Embassy to exchange money for me at the bank.
Day 2: August 5
We arrived at Yuzno-Sakhalinsk airport. When we arrived at the airport the festival staff welcomed us in the traditional Russia way. The traditional welcome is to offer a very big slice of bread and salt, but in Sakhalin they offered salt salmon roe because salmon is local product. It was very delicious. After the airport we went to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk State library. At the library hall, the guests for the festival performed dances for the staff.
The festival guests included Sapporo University’s URESPA Club, the People’s National Ensemble Mengume-Irganox and a singer from the Sakha Republic of Shiniriga-Kuiruiaa. The Mengume-Irganox are the indigenous people of Sakhalin. The singer from the Sakha Republic of Shiniriga-Kuiruiaa is not only a singer but, also teaches Sakha language and culture. After that we checked in at the hotel and went to dinner with the other guests. At the dinner we were greeted by the guests, the Japanese Ambassador and the festival organizers. There was also a live band. The atmosphere was like an American wedding.
Day 3: August 6
The first day of the festival was held at the Sakhalin State Museum. We brought some things to the exhibition. At the festival there were many famous crafts made by the indigenous people of Sakhalin on exhibit. There were wood carvings, embroideries and items made from beads and leather, as well as many traditional clothes. At the opening ceremony, we performed some traditional Ainu dances. After the opening ceremony, we went to the village of Troickoye to see the Troickoye Bell Festival.
The festival organizers gave us a traditional soup call uha, but this soup tasted the same as the traditional Ainu soup called ohau. After having the soup, we wandered around the festival and browsed the booths and checked out the stage where they were performing traditional Russia dances. A few of the booths were selling black bread juice. I tried it, but I didn’t like it. After the Bell Festival we went back to Yuzhon-Sakhalin City and went to a mountain. You can get a good view of the city from the top of the mountain. It was very beautiful.
After that we went to a supermarket because many members wanted to see what one looked like. The supermarket we went to was as big as a convenience store in Japan. The difference between a Japanese supermarket and a Russian supermarket is that at a Russian supermarket the cashier is near the entrance and there is always a security guard. Also, if you buy alcohol they will always put it in a black bag. We went to many different supermarkets, but there was always a security guard near the entrance, but there were no guards at the smaller family-owned shops.
Day 4: August 7
We returned to the festival at the museum for the second time. There were the same exhibitions from the first time, but there were also many handicraft workshops. At the workshops you could make a seal (stamp) by carving wood, make fish skin bags and make beaded necklaces. I carved a wooden seal. At noon we performed traditional dances followed by a fashion show.
Day 5: August 8
In the morning we went to Sakhalin Zoo where there were some animals that you can’t see in Japan, such as camels. And the deer in Sakhalin are much bigger than the deer in Hokkaido.
After the zoo we went to Gagalin Park next to the zoo. In the park, there is the former site of a Japanese shrine. In the afternoon, we went to Chekhov museum. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov wrote about how people live in Sakhalin when he went there and he also wrote a lot about the Karahuto (Sakhalin) Ainu.
The museum displayed reproductions of Chekhov’s writings. Mainly it showed how the Russians lived and showed the life of inmates there, along with writings about the Karafuto (Sakhalin) Ainu. Many years ago, criminals and people who protested against the government were send to prison in Sakhalin. We then went to the second floor of the museum where there was a big area for an inter-cultural exchange with many teens. We performed traditional dances for each other and discussed about our cultures.
Day 6: August 9
In the morning we went to the village of Vrestica to climb Mount Ryagusika. There were many areas for camping between the village and the mountain. There was a very big rock that looked like a frog on top of the mountain. The scenery from the top of the rock was beautiful. It was like what you see in nature movies.After that we went to a big lake to have picnic and swim. In the afternoon we went back to the city and then back to Sakhalin Museum.
The festival was held at the same place but, we were busy looking around the museum with the curator’s commentary. The part about Karafuto (Sakhalin) Ainu was bigger than we imagined. The museum exhibition was about animals, Karafuto (Sakhalin) Ainu and World War II. After that we had an inter-cultural exchange with National Sakhalin University students who major in Japanese. That night we had dinner with the Japanese Ambassador.
The next day we said our good-byes and returned to Japan. It was a very memorable and educational experience for everyone. You should try to visit Sakhalin someday if you have the chance.