It’s been an exciting month here in Nisshin.
I’ve gotten used to the routine of going to class and everything, but I’m loads more interested in what lies further afield from the suburb where I live. To be honest, if I could have come here with the express purpose of crawling through Nagoya (and Japan in general), I would have been all over it before Nagoya (and Japan in general) knew what hit it.
However, part of the deal in my coming here is that I attend classes, and I’ve been keeping up my end of the bargain, but dammit, it’s hard as hell. The classes are difficult, and sitting in them all morning sucks, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
And this man’s intent on exploring as much as he can, AWAY from the NUFS campus.
I mean, when it all comes down to bare bones and honest facts, this is what I’ve wanted to do and where I’ve wished to be for years now. And I’ve finally brought that chance to fruition, albeit with some important stepping stones and helping hands along the way. It would be a waste and a shame not to see what Japan has to offer me, to show me, and to teach me.
But I’ve said all of this before, and there’s really no need for me to repeat myself, is there? If you want the recap of Why This Record Now Exists, check out my previous posts, why don’tcha.
But back to October.
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks here, and there’s been some awesome stuff to take in and absorb. Maybe we should start with the hooker festival I went to a couple weeks ago.
Okay, okay. It’s not called the hooker festival – I just call it that for funsies. It’s actually called the 大須大道町人祭り (Osu Daidou Chounin Matsuri, or the Osu Street Performers Festival), and though this happens every year, and all over Japan, this one was special because it was in commemoration of the Osu shopping arcade’s four-hundred-year history. I went with a few friends, and just as we walked through the massive red gates leading to the gravelled courtyard before the Osu Kannon temple, a procession began. But this wasn’t just any old Japanese procession, no way. This was a procession of the three finest おいらん (oiran, Edo-era prostitutes to the upper class) in Japan.
Yeah, I know this may not seem to have much to do with street performers, but these women are the draw to this festival, in the most major way. Young women from all over Japan audition for a spot in this festival, and every year it only goes to the three “best” girls. I can’t say for sure what constitutes “best,” but that’s not to say that I don’t have an idea or five about what they might be. In any case, these women are dressed in fine robes, sport lots of makeup, and are paraded through the shopping arcade before fascinated crowds anxious to get close enough for that perfect photograph. And I was one of them. Damn straight.
At length, after the girls were introduced to the adoring crowd, they began their crawl through Osu, and a huge crowd of people followed in their wake. We pulled back a bit, and checked out a 漫才チーム(manzai comedy team) called Sesame Street, who played dueling shamisens amplified through speakers (I’m dead serious), with props like kewpie dolls and gags such as riding atop one another’s shoulders while playing (no, really), while a pimped-out old dude in the loudest pantsuit I have ever seen – who I think could have been their manager – stood off to the side and watched the proceedings without showing any visible sign of approval (I could NOT be making this shit up). They were pretty bad-ass, though, cranking out some System Of A Down song as part of their finale (I was told this by one of my friends after the show). We followed the crowd through the shopping arcade, and happened across a performance of 文楽 (bunraku, or traditional Japanese puppetry). The sensei (as this master of the art should probably be called, whether one is interested in learning his craft or not) and his assistant acted out three stories for us, pausing in between the first and second to give us a brief explanation of how the puppets themselves worked, and a history of the craft in general. The third story utilized a lion puppet (which was really two human puppets underneath, operated by a seeming mass of tangled strings), and afterward he had the puppet bite us all on the head to promote good luck in the coming year.
We continued walking through Osu, stumbling across a cool engraving stall (where I picked up a pair of chopsticks and a cell phone charm and had them engraved with the kanji for “bear” – 熊, or kuma – ) and this smoking-hot comedienne (her name was something-or-other Da Vinci, I can’t remember) when all of a sudden the oiran and their attendants came strolling past. We dropped everything and, like everybody else, I began following them mindlessly through the shopping arcade, eventually trailing them into a department store where they stopped for a rest and a photo op. There was also a crazy parade and a Thriller performance that was kick-ass, but at the parade yours truly realized he forgot to charge the damn camera, and it died on me.
愚かな外人. 写真がとても大切なものだよみゃ～. (Silly gaijin. Pics are important.)
The next Saturday was the 名古屋祭り (Nagoya Matsuri), which commemorates the three unifiers of Japan – Nobunaga Oda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and the big guy, Tokugawa Ieyasu – who all, at one point or another, had their bases of operation nearby. The parade was loooooooong, and, unlike American parades, weren’t overly boisterous affairs. Golf clapping abounded, peppered by the occasional shout for the perfect photo op and the awesome staged battles in the middle of the parade. There were dancers, and drummers and bands, and… everything else that makes a parade a parade, I suppose.
The parade was the main draw, but the festival was city-wide, and was covered that day and the next. The central park in Sakae was overrun with food vendors and performers and the like, and there was a ton to see and do.
And regrettably, I couldn’t see or do it all. But next time, perhaps.
There’s so much about Nagoya that’s just… I don’t know… important, at least to me. Stuff like these festivals, and the odd shrine or temple that lies juxtaposed with some busy thoroughfare, and the ninety-year-old woman holding her own against the crowd in the subway – these things have ceased to be some sort of far-away fantasy. They’re very, very real. And very, very intriguing. And very, very Japanese.
Which should make perfect sense, as I’m currently in Japan.
It’s been a month since my last post, and there’s a good reason for that: I’ve been on a honeymoon. But this honeymoon, like all things, has come to a pretty heavy end. It’s been trial-laden and discouraging at times, and it’s been far from easy in some aspects, but it’s worth it, based on the people I’ve met here already and the experiences I’ve had thus far. In the blink of an eye a month has passed.
And the Wub-finding doth continues. In no particular order of discovery –
Wub – Learning Japanese is HARD, but I know I can stick with it.
Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be easy; I’m too smart to be that much of an optimist. I did, however, assume that I would learn some of it through osmosis, and thus far I have been gravely mistaken. Anything worth doing takes time and effort, and learning a foreign language probably heads up that list. For fifteen hours a week I have Japanese shoved under my nose and into my ear canals, and it’s taken a toll on my brain. It might not seem like much, but it’s exhausting, let me tell you. But it’s not to the point that I’m ready to throw in the towel and give up – hell no.
An example –
About a week ago, a friend and I went out to a restaurant for 食べ放題 (tabehoudai, all-you- can-eat). The waitress there spoke no English (duh, she’s Japanese) and our Japanese is rudimentary at best (duh, we’re not Japanese), and it took ten minutes for the three of us to convince the three of us that the three of us knew what the hell was going on. But we got through that fine, and had a delicious meal on top of that. Situations like that give me confidence that my skills have to get better, so long as I apply myself and sharpen them accordingly. So it’s all good.
Wub – Nagoya is SICK, and I’m doing things here I’d never thought I’d do.
This one pretty much speaks for itself. It’s like absolutely nothing I’ve ever seen. There are diamond boutiques and clothing stores and people all over 栄 (Sakae, the central business district); there’s a beautiful Buddhist temple and a huge shopping arcade and people all over 大須 (Osu, another district); there’s 熱田神宮 (Atsuta Jinguu, an important Shinto shrine) in the district named after it, filled with huge trees and, in total Japanese fashion, situated along one of the major thoroughfares that run through the city; there’s the 名古屋市営地下鉄 (Nagoya Shiei Chikatetsu, the city’s municipal subway system), which rocks my pants off; there’s 名古屋港 (Nagoyakou, the Port of Nagoya), with a huge aquarium and ferris wheel; though, strangely, almost no one goes there. But I like it, though. There’s so much about this place that’s historic and brand new, and it all exists side-by-side. And I’m working my way through it all, doing things I’d never do otherwise.
An example –
A few days ago I went on a field trip out to Seto City, about forty-five minutes from where I live. This area is world-renowned for its pottery, and there we met 加藤裕重 (Kato Hiroshige, family name first), the pottery sensei and twelfth-generation master of this art. He spoke English, and gave us a brief history of his family and the area, and showed us how to make simple things in his 霞仙 (kasen, pottery studio – I made an ashtray and a cup; when I get them back pictures will follow). It was interesting, and the backdrop was pretty darn nice, too.
Wub – Japan is EXPENSIVE, and thus I’m learning how to budget.
This one’s pretty self explanatory. I’ve bought a few big things, but most of it goes on food and eating out and alcohol – and even those have to be curtailed, to some degree. I’m not gonna go broke (hopefully), but there is a lot of traveling I want to do, and now’s as good a time as any to start saving those useless one-yen coins. Seriously, they’re as bad here as pennies are. Nobody wants them. I haven’t tried to change them, but I’m sure I’d catch hell trying as there are no Coinstar machines or their brethren to be found in this place. I’ll probably just dump them in a Mickey D’s donation box when this one fills up (yes, they have those here too), but exact change doesn’t mean so much to me that I’d carry them with me wherever I go. I have enough problems keeping my pants up as it is.
Of course, I’ve done loads more stuff than this in the month I’ve been here. It’s just that all of it has begun to smush themselves together in my brain, and because I’ve done so many things two, three, four times now, they overlap. But everything I’m doing is making me better, in some capacity – as an individual, as a man, as a person. I like finding wubs. I’ll continue my search for them long after I leave here. But for now, I promise NO MORE HUGE GAPS! I’ll keep trying to untangle the wubs from my consciousness and spitting them out here with prompt regularity for you people.
You crazy, wonderful, literate people, you.