愚かな外人 – 26 October 2012
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.