Let's read about another party day in Japan:
So... It's Sunday, August 25, 1991. My mom has returned to my apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan after spending the past week traveling around the country by herself. That in itself is pretty amazing, as I usually get lost crossing the street. In any country.
I have zero sense of direction.
I'm in my 13th month here, flying over from Toronto as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme) to teach as an assistant English Teacher to seven junior high schools in the city. That's how many there are, and that's how many I teach at - one per week for four days. It's an easy job, and despite some internal belly-aching about things, I really do love my job and love the people and the culture.
Today, I get a peak at some of the people and culture.
My mom and I are up early. Suzuki Tokunori (surname first!) comes by to pick us up at 9:30AM. He's a farmer of everything from vegetables to flowers. He's a fine English speaker, tall, strong, intelligent and good-looking with a wicked sense of humor. He's also the leader (at least I think he is) of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association, a group that likes to get together with gaijin (outsiders/foreigners) and make them feel welcome so that each can learn about different cultures.
I may not have fully appreciated it at that time, but I did enough to know that I liked the people in this club.
Suzuki-san takes us over to his farm and house first, where he dresses me up in the appropriate matsuri (festival) garb.
Today is the Sakuyama Obon Matsuri ... it's a Sakuyama district festival of the dead where according to Buddhist traditions, the spirits of those passed are allowed to leave Hell where they reside to come up and hang-out with family for three days. It sounds totally wild - and I wonder how many people really believe that... but then again, this is part of Japanese culture so who the hell am I to even question what they believe - and besides... it's not like it's offensive or someone gets hurt... they have other festivals that do that! More on those later!
I'm wearing a blue hoppi coat with a yellow ribbon and shorts that, for lack of a better term, look like diapers.
God, but it's hot outside - 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit). Hotter than hell, I'd wager.
We walk over to a shrine near Suzuki-san's home. People are praying while a ton of kids are running around screaming at the top of their little lungs. The kids are totally oblivious to the solemnity of the ceremony, though none of the adults seem to care.
There are no teenagers around and thus, no one knows who the heck I am. Not really, anyway.
My mom, Lynda, talks with Suzuki-san as he takes pictures around the shrine. His kids are hanging around me like flies for some reason... but I'm cool with that, because they are nice kids.
We then walk over to the district chief's home (he's one of eleven). Four men carry around a large portable shrine to his house. Two men dressed as dragons run through the house to chase away the evil spirits. I think that's in case some of the evil dead leave Hell and try to bother the nice spirits and the living.
The chief gives everyone (me, included) a lot of food and beer. It's only 10:30AM.
Thirty minutes later, we're off to the next house. It's more of the same - but it is very cool. I am always taken aback (not surprised though) by the generosity of these people welcoming a pair of strangers like my mom and myself into their home and then plying us with food and booze. I know I'm drunk by 11:15AM. Oh god... only nine more chief houses to go... or are we just hitting everyone's house in the neighborhood? Why does my liver hurt?
The folks let me carry around a huge banner between a few of the houses. Honor yes - heavy - holy smokes it's heavy. I think we the guys wearing the hoppi coats take turns doing stuff for the matsuri!
Round about the fifth or sixth home, Suzuki-san go and I visit the home of a local ham-radio operator. We contact a guy from Moscow - wow - it's just three days after the failed coup attempt! He tells us that things are crazy over there right now with people wondering if there is going to be a civil war.
We head back over to the festivities (after the ham operator gave us more food and booze). The booze, I should mention could be anything from sake (rice wine), beer, or whiskey. I never eat breakfast... but I think I wish I had today.
It's a good thing the dysentery I picked up on vacation a week or two ago seems to not be bothering me at the moment.
By the way... it was only Suzuki-san and myself who visited the ham-radio operator. I have no idea where my mom is, and presume her to be hopelessly lost here in the Sakuyama district (a major farming section of the city) of Ohtawara. Except for Suzuki-san, it doesn't appear as though anyone here speaks any English.... at all.
I'm not knocking the intelligence of farmers - Suzuki-san is proof that they are smart - but it is often true that many Japanese farmers are not exactly highly educated. But even if no one speaks any English, they are smart enough to see a guy large enough to be a small sumo wrestler (a normal-sized gaijin) as a means to help carry around a heavy shrine.
And so I do. But... I do present a bit of a problem for my new friends. I'm about four inches or more taller than everyone else. At least my shoulders are a lot higher... which means that while I can easily carry my load of the shrine, my height will tip it down onto the smaller people. You can see that in the photo above... one of Suzuki'san's young boys (in the glasses) is near me.
I learn how to crouch while carrying a heavy load... I am sure my chiropractor is going to get a visit this week.
We head down with the shrine atop my broad shoulders to another district chief's place. With the shrine, we turn a few circles, sing a song (I don't - I'd love to, but I certainly don't know the words!) and then place the shrine down in his home.
Then it's food and beer time (again!). It hasn't stopped - and I'm so hammered that I'm pretty sure I could lift the shrine up all by myself. Bets are taken and I get to work. Let me tell ya... just because you are drunk, it doesn't mean you are any stronger than usual. I definitely have to see my chiropractor!
Next, I get to play the part of a dragon. Actually, I get to play the rear of the dragon. Figures. To me, this is still the ultimate cool thing, regardless of whether or not I'm a dragon's ass or not. My name Andrew is translated phonetically into the katakana alphabet of An-Doh-Ryu. For my hanko (signature stamp) and meishi (business cards), I use kanji (a Japanese alphabet based on the Chinese pictographs) to make my name mean something in Japanese: An-Doh-Ryu is translated into "Peaceful-Leader-Dragon". Joseph - or in katakana/kanji is Jyo-se-fu means "Help-World-Walk".
I was also born in 1964 - the Year of the Dragon... so if I was to ever get a tattoo, it would be of a Japanese dragon (ryu)... but everyone does that for some reason... even if they don't have as many reasons as myself. Buggers. It's why I am still tattoo-free.
So... dressed as the rear of the dragon (not the year of the dragon), I run into every single house in the district and shout "Ongiri!" At least that's what they told me to say. I assume it means demons out... but while writing this up 20 years later, my dictionary says the proper way to say 'demons out' is to say: "Oni wa soto". Perhaps these guys were just having fun with me and I was actually shouting for some rice balls (onigiri)!
As I am running through the house yelling for the demons to leave the house, I am expected to toss off my sandals while I continue running around. Fine by me - I have a wicked blister on the top of each foot from the sandal's strap!
Oh - there's my mom. She's wandered into the house I am currently in. The men (like men everywhere) are pigs, and are ogling my mom saying she has nice tits (that I did understand in Japanese - having used the term myself on quite a few young ladies here these past 13 months). Everyone is drunk, so whatever.
After the 11th party of food and booze, my mom, Suzuki-san and I slip away to Suzuki-san's home to relax. We get plied with even more food - but this stuff is substantial - onigiri,unagi-no-kabayaki (grilled freshwater eel) on rice and yakitori (grilled chicken chunks on a skewer) ... ahhhh, it helps take some of my buzz off. Not all, mind you, as it was one heck of a noisy day. I love it!
At 8:30PM, we head out to see some of the bon odori (obon dancing). Despite being in Ohtawara, I am told the Sakuyama district does not do the Ohtawara bon odori, but rather chooses to do the more famous Nikko bon odori, complaining that the Ohtawara version is too new at a couple of hundred years versus the 500+ year-old Nikko one. Nikko is a very old city about 45 minutes west of Ohtawara, and is famous for being the birth place of the three wise monkeys (Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil). It sounds funny to me.
As I sit and watch the dancing, little kids find me and begin crawling all over me, grabbing my hands and playing with my long pony-tailed hair. A few little girls grab my hand to make me walk around with them - so I do. Some of the kids started giving me presents and then gave some to my mom, too, once they found out who she was.
Whomever said that the Japanese are afraid of or don't like foreigners is an idiot. And not the type I am.
We go home at 11PM with a ride from Suzkui-san's wife, as it appears as though every single man in Sakuyama is smashed drunk! Man, I love this place.
Somewhere hell is blistering hot,
Today's blog title is by Mötley Crüe: SHOUT
PS: In the photo above... I'm the tall brown non-Japanese fellow. See HERE for more photos!
PPS: Oh... and read my other blog! I just added a new entry a day or two ago: FEELTHEHEAT