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Monday, July 18, 2011

Rocky Raccoon

It's Sunday, September 8, 1991 and Ashley and I are participating in the Yoichi Nasu Kyudo Matsuri in the Sakuyama district of Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), Japan. Kyudo is Japanese archery... a little different from the standard modern bow in that the Japanese bow is about 7-feet tall.

Ashley and I just spent a long night of not being boyfriend/girlfriend to simply being friends-with-benefits. As such, we awake all sticky and sweaty with only two hours of sleep. That's fine for me, but Ashley's the type of girl who seems to need 8-10 hours every night.

Up at 6AM. Blah. Okay... maybe I need more than two hours of sleep. Ashley leaves almost immediately to go home and get some tampons and then would be back to have a shower. Her place has a wooden bath tub that is a large (?) three-foot x three foot square. I sat in it once and wondered why Japan would create something as uncomfortable as this for its people. Okay... maybe 100 years ago, but why is it still in existence in the 20th century?

I have a shower - a nice hot 20th century shower. Finishing, Ashley calls me up and says she has a flat tire on her bicycle. Can I come and pick her up? She's 20 minutes away by bike over in the next town of Nishinasuno.

I race over, and double her back. If I wasn't tired before (and I was), I am completely wiped out now. It's hot out - close to 30 Celsius, and it's only 7:30 AM. It looks like it will rain, however... which doesn't mean it will cool down, but rather become more humid. This is Japan.

Back at my place, my arms and legs feel like they want to fall off. Ashley showers and gets dressed. With no time for breakfast (and trust me, I should have had another shower after that bicycle ride built for two), I double her over to the Ohtawara Kyudo Club.

It begins to drizzle rain.

I look for my arrows, and only find three of four. Where the hell is it? Oh yeah... when I left in a huff two days ago, I forgot to pick-up my arrows and put them away. Number four is embedded in the ground with its feathers all screwed up. Great.

With Sano-sensei (a kyudo instructor) driving us, we leave. We return. I forgot my kyudo glove. We get it and leave again. Wow... we are off to such a great start!

Arriving, it begins to pour like someone should be building an ark and counting the animals. I get dressed in the men's area, and Ashley in the women's. It's not like it's separated by anything other than some imaginary line.

I chat with Ashley in the rain - we look good, but we feel like crap. Tired, hungry and wet. But... it is better to look good than to feel good. I have no idea why I am up tight. It's not like anyone expects us to win this event! But still, I want to do well. I want to show that gaijin (foreigners) and Andrew especially can do Japanese things as well as the Japanese.

Sano-sensei seeing us chatting in the rain, invites us into his van for some sake. Really? That's going to help? It's only 10:30AM.

I have a long shot, and some food. But I'm really nervous now and need to go to the bathroom, but can't because of my costume.

Then someone tells me I have my costume on inside out. Oh crap. Way to make a good impression! Still no time to go to the washroom! I go and change with some help from a friendly woman who is all hands... by that I mean it seems like she is feeling me up. I don't mind because I'm a guy.

Ashley shoots first. She's not bad... comes very close but no hits.

I shoot with some Kurobane Kyudo Club. (Kurobane is the town where my boss and good friend Kanemaru-san lives... I have had four homestays at his place so far, and look forward to many more this upcoming year!) Thank goodness they don't use a 'K' for club like with would have in North America. That's all I need... to be shooting against the KKK.

Stepping up and going through the slow rituals, I drawback the bowstring, slow down my breathing, hold the arrow in perfect form, stare straight ahead at the target and wait until I become one with the arrow. I release.

The crowd gasps!

I hit the target! Holy smokes! I hit the target!

Then I look closer... it just wasn't mine.

Thinking I was aiming at the wrong target, a tournament official comes up and points at my target. At least he didn't bother trying to do it in Japanese, because it might have freaked me out... and you never want to freak out a gaijin... especially one armed with a weapon. Hah! As if. I wouldn't be able to kill anyone I aimed at. I don't tell anyone, but I was aiming at my target... something in my release made my arrow fly off target.

Anyhow... that hit and a miss really throws me. Or perhaps it was the lack of sleep, nerves, alcohol, no food and crappy weather combined with dressing inside out, forgetting my archery glove, using the screwed up arrow first, and having to double Ashley hither and yon. Or... it could be that I am m not very good. I'm not really. I do the one sport where I have to stare at a target... my astigmatism makes things a bit difficult. But, no one knows about that problem.

My second shot sucks, though the third and fourth ones are better. I still don't hit anything, like anyone else's target, but in this tournament the guys I am shooting with - only one person hits a target.

I was really scared and nervous and my hand's wouldn't stop shaking... but at last it's over! And no one took pictures of me! In fact, I have zero photos of me doing kyudo. I do have a kyudo bow, arrow and targets here in 2011, however!

Just think... if that target I hit had actually been mine, I would have gone onto the next round! I think I'm glad I missed. 

Ashley and I change to our regular clothes - jeans and a t-shirt and then go off to buy some souvenirs. I pass out in the back of Sano-sensei's car.

Ashley comes over and wakes me up when it's time to go.

I woman who has watched Ashley and I at the Ohtawara Kyudo Club gives us a ride back. I think she's a friend of Ashley's, but to be honest, I am too tired to care. It's Japan... it's sleepy little Ohtawara... the people are all nice and friendly here! Her English is excellent!

Driving back to the club in her white car, I double Ashley back on my bicycle to her place and was then going to go with her to a bicycle shop in Nishinasuno to get the tire fixed...  because like in every town, village or city, there are literally hundreds of bicycle repair shops in this country. I have no idea how anyone makes any money, but they all seem to survive!

At Ashley's place, we discover that her locked bicycle needs her key... which is back at my apartment in Ohtawara.

I race home, finally have that washroom break I've been dreaming about and head back to Ashley's place. I run into her while riding there... she's carrying her bike!?! Pretty strong! I guess that's why she does all right in our wrestling tickle fights. She too is exhausted, so I have no idea how she is able to carry her bicycle... remember, the lock is through the wheel so it won't roll.

I carry her bike for her the rest of the way to a repair shop.. and then remember I have the key! We are both really tired, I guess. We unlock her bicycle and walk our bicycles there! They fix her up and then ride back to my place. She changes clothes again... and I dig out a pair of shoes she left at my place back in April or May... from when we traveled out west to Beppu... I think she bought these shoes from the Kintetsu department store where I bought some old coins.

We have some Coke, talk and then she has to leave at 5:20PM because she has another enkai (party) to go to at the Girl's High School here in Ohtawara.

Nervous... about something or another... I clean up. Ashley always comes over after an enkai and we get busy... but I expect she is too tired for any tickling or stuff... what with that whole no sleep, drinking and menstruation thing going on.

Naoko comes over at 6PM and stays until 9PM. We talk about the gossip of myself, Shoko, the people of Ohtawara, Ashley... I wonder if Naoko noticed any of Ashley's clothes at my place? Probably. We talk about my life in Japan and proper English for a jacket she is making. She wants it to read Freedom Flight Ship '91. I don't know what to tell her. She tries to explain why, but I don't really get it. I tell her to get rid of the "Ship" part, but she insists she wanted a nautical theme. That explains the hard navy shoulder boards!

The flight part? I'm guessing it's an aircraft carrier. Freedom? Fight for freedom? I tell her the English is fine, but it's still not something us Westerners would add to our jackets... however, it is a popular style here in Japan. In fact, I recall seeing a bomber jacket worn by a Japanese man that had Enola Gay written on the back - oblivious to the fact that the Enola Gay was the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima back in 1945, but content in the fact that he had English words on the back of his jacket.

That is how much people love English in Japan. By the same token, in 2011 many non-Japanese have tattoos with incorrect Japanese kanji (words) on themselves. At least the Japanese guy can take off his bomber jacket.

Lisa Arnold, a black woman on the JET program... chubby, but bubbly and pretty with a personality anyone would die for calls... but I am too tired to talk and tell her that I want to go to sleep and that I will call her tomorrow.

Yet... I don't go to sleep. I stay up and do my 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and watch the Mission Impossible movie on video tape until 12AM.

Now I am zonked. I jump on my bed and fall off. Can't even hit that target. Figures.

Somewhere off target,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Beatles: NANCY. I just like the song... and the Robert Service poem - The Shooting of Dan McGrew - that inspired it.
PS: Yoichi Nasu for whom the kyudo festival is named after, was a local hero in Ohtawara-shi. That's his image at the top on my business card (meishi).

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