Interview with David Weber

- What inspired you to pursue writing about Japanese festivals? Have you been involved in any activities concerning festivals? Was there perhaps a definite turning point in your life that led you here? Please provide specific examples.

I stumbled upon Japanese festivals quite by chance. I originally came to Japan simply because I liked traveling and living abroad. At first I had little knowledge or even interest in Japan. It was just a place in a part of the world I had not yet visited. While in Japan I began to become interested in the history and subsequently traditional culture. However, I still knew very little about festivals except for some famous ones in my guidebook and ones going on around me. I went to a few of the traditional type festivals with the mikoshi (portable shrines) but they hadn’t really filled me with the matsuri madness I have now.

That all changed when I came across a book in a souvenir shop put out by JTB a travel agency. It was an illustrated book with brief summaries of festivals going on all around Japan throughout the year. What seized my attention were the festivals of people in samurai armor which related to historic events and people. I bought the book immediately and from then on became obsessed with festivals. One of the first festivals in the book that I went to was Soma Nomaoi in Fukushima Prefecture. There they have a 3-day festival where participants wear samurai armor and parade around. The second day is the best when they have a 2 hour parade of armored riders followed by a series of races where the riders wear their armor sans the helmet and have standards on their back. At the end they do a free-for-all on horseback as they try to catch streamers as they come down after being fired up into the air. I like the festival so much I went back two other times.

Knowing about the background of festivals – the history, culture, religion, people, etc.. – helped me appreciate the festivals more so while my language skills in Japanese are subpar at best, I have become more and more familiar with the history and culture of Japanese festivals and this information I like to pass on to others who might interested in seeing such events and understanding more about them.

- How do you define and achieve success? What, if anything, has proven instrumental to your success thus far (e.g., luck, effort, innate ability, networking)? Please provide specific examples.

I define success as being happy and content though with a desire to learn and experience more. With festivals this desire has certainly helped me get out to see them and to delve further into their backgrounds.

- How do you envision the readers you expect to follow your DigiLetter, and what will inspire them to subscribe?

I envision people who are interested in travel, other cultures, history, and folklore and wanting to see and learn something new and different.

- What is your motto? If you have a personal motto or an explicitly defined set of values, please write about what it is and how it came to be.

My motto is learn and experience and be tolerant toward other cultures and just don’t take anything too seriously in this life.

- What are you like outside of work? Please describe your personality to your readers using any keywords, items, anecdotes, or adjectives that are easy to convey.

Adventurous, inquisitive, sarcastic, odd, opinionated.

- What are your strong points and how do they play into both your personality and your career? What specifically makes you one-of-a-kind? Feel free to write about any related anecdotes.

I think my strong point is a strong sense of wanting to learn more. I like learning new things. What makes me one-of-a-kind is my DNA no but seriously is perhaps its the sharp contrast between laziness and activity. Some days I’ll not move more than 5 feet from my bed and then other times I’ll cross half a country on a whim to see something unique like a festival.

- What are your weak points? Is there anything that try as you might you cannot fix about yourself? How do these make you interesting as a writer and entertaining for your readers?

Getting distracted easily with my catlike attention span. Impatience – I hate waiting especially with computers and machines. Laziness – I spend too much time on the Internet often arguing with idiots.

- How do your public and private lives differ? Is there anything that readers would find surprising or interesting about your private life (e.g., habits, hobbies, friends)?

Not much difference. I tend to be pretty direct and open. What you see is what you get however I am very sarcastic so sometimes people get the wrong idea. I’m generally an easy-going person who will talk a person’s ear off.

- Where do you recommend readers follow you besides through your DigiLetter? Please feel free to list links to any social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc.) where your readers might be able to find you.

I have Facebook page entitled Ronin Dave – The Roving Ronin Report
My twitter is @ronindave but I don’t tweet that much
My google+ is also Ronindave

- What festivals are you dying to go to that you haven’t had the chance to hit yet?

Mainly festivals in Kyushu and Okinawa as they are further away and more difficult to get to. One festival I’d like to see is the giant tug of war festival in Okinawa.

- Have you been invited to participate in any festivals?

I recently took part in a Japanese fire festival in a small town in Wakayama prefecture. The festival is over 1400 years old and only males can participate. Men of all ages dress in white clothes which is similar to the whiting clothing of pilgrims in Japan and at their waist they have rope wound around several times. In the evening they climb a steep hill to a shrine where a sacred fire is made. All the men light torches big and small from the fire and soon the whole hillside is covered in flame and smoke. There were over 2000 men on that hillside when I was there. It looked like something out of a fantasy movie.

At a certain time the men are allowed to go down the hill and the first of them race down the steep and treacherously slippery and uneven old stone steps to be the first to reach the bottom. The first down will supposedly have the best luck in the coming year. Being towards the back of the group I was content to walk down and not risk breaking my leg or neck on those steps. It was an exciting experience that I would like to do again if I have the chance.

- Are there any non-Japanese festivals that you’re a fan of?

Running with the Bulls of Pamplona and Oktoberfest.

- What’s the first festival any newcomer to Japan should hit?

Any festival that they have a chance to see whether it’s a small local one or a huge famous one. In February any Setsubun event is worth checking out. Setsubun is the old New Year’s Eve of the Chinese calendar. Now it is set permanently on February 3rd. At temples and shrines they’ll have events where “devils” show up and are driven off by beans. This is followed up by mame-maki where beans and other items are thrown to the audience.

In August, Tohoku has a slew of interesting festivals. On 3 separate occasions I spent 5-8 days going from festival to festival. The best one is Nebuta of Aomori City where they have giant illuminated floats of bamboo and washi (hardened Japanese paper).

- What’s your favorite festival?
Difficult to say as I like pretty much every festival I have been to however Nebuta of Aomori City is probably my favorite as I have been to it 5 times.

- Are there any festivals that never get old for you?

Pretty much all the festivals never get old because what I like about festivals is the atmosphere so every festival is fun.