Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Parades, panties and a cultural pageant

Ah, Sunday, the day of rest. After a long week teaching kids, teenagers and adults alike, it's time to catch up some well-earned sleep. That is, unless you're a teacher in Japan, where you may find that the motto "sleep is for the dead" is embraced a little too-literally. Yep, forget the Sabbath, this Sunday was time for Johen's very own Bunkasai ("文化祭" or "Culture Festival")... an opportunity for the kids to perform various skits (which they've been practicing every afternoon for weeks) in front of their teachers, parents and, most importantly, me. You name it, the kids were doing it: across an eight-hour marathon, we were treated to calligraphy demonstrations, sing-a-thons, student dramas, comedy, acrobatics and, occasionally, a touch of child cross-dressing. Throw in a Donald-Duck-onesie-clad parent gyrating onstage to a live orchestral version of "Maru, Maru, Mori, Mori" (see earlier post) and you’ve got yourself a perfect Sunday afternoon. I may not have been getting much sleep, but this was a dreamworld of homemade entertainment.

With a non-stop weekend of waking up on floors and Bunkasai, you can imagine how thrilled I was on Monday to settle down to a quiet night in with nothing but Sex and the City and a freshly-made bed. Bliss. Well, it would’ve been. Remember my Japanese Dad I posted about a while ago? He certainly has a habit of tempting me out drinking on school nights. That, and I have all the self-restraint of a fat woman at McDonald’s whenever he calls. So it’s Monday night, and after a characteristically transactional phone call “JIM. WE DRINK. YOU COME?”, I once again find myself out with the locals. Except this time, there’s a new face. We’ll call him Karaoke Man.

There's a reason he's sweating... he knows the forfeit he's
gonna have to face if he loses.

Now, Karaoke Man has a particular hobby which he likes to show off. Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you a clue... it’s not stamp-collecting. So there we are: me, my two Japanese Dads and Karaoke Man, innocently drinking and understanding about 10% of what each other are saying. Then, to spice things up a little, Karaoke Man suggests we play a little game. Of course, I understand none of the rules of his proposition until a microphone’s thrust in my hand and I’m singing Kelly Clarkson’s, “Walk This Way”. All I do know is that we’re apparently all taking it in turns to sing a song, and the person with the lowest score at the end is going to have to perform some form of forfeit. Three songs in and I’m in last place, despite what I thought was a killer performance (if I do say so myself). Now I start to panic. What the fuck am I going to have to do?! Japanese Dad #1 and Karaoke Man are sitting there in the warm light of their victory, with looks on their faces that tell me, whatever the forfeit is, it’s not going to be pretty.

Luckily, it’s not a forfeit I end up having to do. Yep, Japanese Dad #2 steps up to the mark, making a complete shitshow of his Japanese enka and putting himself in last place by a comfortable six points. THANK YOU, KARAOKE GODS. So, what was his forfeit? Well. Er... I’m just going to say it.

He had to buy our hostess a pair of panties.

As if that wasn’t fucked up enough, there was, inexplicably, a box of individually gift-wrapped women’s panties sitting on the bar from which he could make his choice. Rummaging through, he casually asked the hostess her size before picking out a frilly pink pair and presenting her with them. Wow. Just when I was considering the idea that these hostess bars weren’t as messed up as I’d initially thought. I take it all back.


Sadly, I didn't have my camera on me... but the lion looked
pretty much identical to this!

Thankfully, from the black hole of decency that was Monday night’s panty-buying experience, things were looking up today, thanks to the fact that it was Ainan-cho’s very own festival! Well, I say “festival”... Ainan being a rural village, it’s not quite on the Matsuyama scale... rather, what it appeared to consist of was four of Ainan’s biggest lads roaming around town carrying a float, recruiting kids, and periodically stopping to put on a drum-‘n’-dance performance.  Not that I’m putting it down! What I managed to see of it was awesome. They stopped at Johen JHS during a break between lessons, and the whole school gathered outside to watch their performance. Three kids, decked out in the most amazing fluorescent-coloured outfits I’ve seen since being here, banged away on their taiko drums whilst two of the men danced in time in their Chinese-style lion outfits. I'd thought it was a dragon at first, but my friend assured me it was a lion, called "Karashishi"... and that it brings good fortune to all those who it visits.

Sure, Karashishi's one-man dance didn't have the same scale as a Matsuyama street festival, but this way I actually managed to get up close and see something without a crowd obstructing it all! To finish it all off, Karashishi ran into the crowd, creepily clacking its unhinged jaw away as it came face-to-face with the terrified audience. One of the teachers told me that, in the past, it was used as a scare-tactic to keep children in line, warning them that the Karashishi would seek vengeance if they ever acted naughtily. ...all I can say is, with a sight like that burned into their mind’s eye from a young age, no wonder they’re so bloody well behaved all the time!

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