Monday, September 25, 2006

ParaPara Girls

It's school festival season in Japan, and well, I love a festival!

Recently my school was a hive of activity while the students prepared for their cultural festival. In the afternoons, after class I would walk around the campus and see boards being cut, painted and nailed together. Other students would be practicing drumming on large tyres and others dancing. The build up and the anticipation was exciting.

On the first day of the festival, a Sunday, Wayne and I rose early to make it to the taiko performance in the opening ceremony. We weren't dissapointed, the students put on an impressive show.

The rest of the morning, we wandered around, watched different shows, sampled yummy fair food and checked out the classrooms. Each homeroom had put on a different display - anything from a dominos track, a home-made rollercoaster, robotics to art.

Wayne was also on display it seems as many genki students came to meet this mystery man by my side. Excited girls asked of me "Darling, darling?" My response of this is my husband was met with giggles. The giggles got more animated when Wayne would introduce himself in his deep voice.

One group of fun girls that I teach were decked out in colourful yukata and put on a ParaPara performance. To explain parapara it's a dance done with mostly hand movements, in a set pattern. They looked so cute and I was like a proud parent.

This is my first every video, so please excuse the quality, but you can get a bit of an idea the dance from it.

Happy viewing

Shocking Baths

After a long week of walking around Kyoto, Wayne and I decided we really deserved a good long soak in a hot bath. Without an onsen, a natural hot spring close by, we chose a sento, a public bath in the vicinity.

On our way we got quite lost due to misreading the guidebook map and wandered around the warren created by narrow Japanese streets. The cold rain fell steadily and was threatening to become sleet. That hot bath was becoming more and more appealing.

Once found, the building itself was rather non-descript and the entry a little cold as we removed our shoes. We had already inserted our umbrella into the specially made umbrella locker but were having trouble fitting Wayne’s large gaijin shoes into a shoe locker. Eventually we were able to get the shoes each into a different locker if we turned the shoe at just the right angle. We turned in opposite directions and made our way to the segregated baths.

The locker room was on the bottom floor and luckily a little warmer than the entry. The floor was tatami matting and the room contained old coin-operated hairdryers and massage chairs. Hopping onto the scale in the room I was a little shocked at how much weight I’d gained from sampling all the delicious, warming Japanese winter food and snacks despite trudging from one temple to the next, day after day.

Undressed, I felt vulnerable with nothing covering my ample flesh except a small hand towel held strategically in front of me. I stepped into the elevator. This was my first time to be in an elevator naked. The ride upwards was a little thrilling and a little embarrassing at the same time.

I glanced around me at the first bathing floor, saw a number of baths, some bubbling, some still and rows of showers mounted at belly button height in front of mirrors. After collecting a cheap looking stool and bowl from a pile at the wall, I chose a shower in the corner, took out my shower gel and began the obligatory ritual of scrubbing from head to toe before entering the shared pools of water.

So as to not have to walk too far exposed, I approached the closest bath. As I tentatively dipped my left foot in, my flesh was seared from the heat, I could almost feel capillaries breaking. I took a deep breath and slowly let the rest of my body follow my foot into the blistering water. I waded towards the bubbling jets and decided that once the burning pain eased off, it was actually quite nice. I relaxed there for a while and began thinking about exploring the other baths.

Next to me was an innocent looking, small rectangular bath. It had no steam rising from it unlike many of the others so I thought it might be cold. I dipped my hand in, and to my surprise, my hand shot straight out of its own accord. The reaction was so fast I wasn’t sure what had happened. I was confused. Maybe it was really cold, I didn’t really know as no sensation had actually registered in my brain. This time, with more determination I broke the surface of the still water with my hand. Again, albeit a little slower, my hand shot out. I was shocked. Literally! I had heard about these baths, but believed them to be a Japanese urban myth. It was an electric bath!

I sat there for a while looking into the deceiving water. How could a person bathe in electricity? All my life I’d been warned of the dangers of mixing water and electric power, and yet right next to me was a pool of water writhing with live, possibly deadly energy. No warning signs! Nothing! Nervous to be even too close to this bath, I hopped out to explore the other baths on the other side of the room and upstairs.

There I found nothing terribly unusual; an iron-rich bath that looked liked a pool of soy sauce occupied by a wrinkled woman eating Japanese oranges; a couple of hard showers rigged up like waterfalls; a rooftop rock bath in a garden of imitation bamboo with a view of the grey clouds; a sweltering sauna with a TV screen showing an over-acted Japanese soap opera and an ice cold bath.

I returned to the showers to wash away the salty sweat from the sauna. As I sat on the low chair, in the reflection of the mirror I saw an old hunched over Japanese woman, whose drooping breasts appeared to have supplied many a feed for children long ago. She was headed toward the electric bath! I wanted to yell out, I wanted to warn her, but before I could decipher the Japanese required in my head, she had already descended the stairs and was waist deep in the water. All sense of public bath etiquette flew out the window as I whipped around and stared directly at her. A serene look had come over her face. She slowly opened her eyes and returned my gaze.

“Isn’t it dangerous” I asked incredulously in Japanese.

“Not at all” she assured me. “It feels really good on my hips.”

She gave me a benevolent smile and suggested I try the bath on the other side of her. Almost like a good grand-daughter, I did.

While I sat there with jets manipulating my flesh from every angle, I noted a pink egg timer that the woman had set next to her. “How long can you stay in that bath”, I asked.

“About three to five minutes” she told me.

We both sat relaxed as the sand worked its way down through the timer, needing nothing more than smiles for communication.

The last grain of sand fell on the bottom heap and the woman nodded her head slightly to me as she climbed out of the bath. I was now on my own.

“If an old woman like that could survive the bath, then surely so could I”, I told myself.

It took a few minutes to build up the courage and I checked that there was no-one hidden in the thick steam to witness any embarrassing behaviour if I couldn’t.

Tentatively, I edged towards the inert bath. “Still time to back out”, I thought. I continued on, took a deep breath and dipped my toe into the water. Nothing. No reaction. Once again, I was confused.

I worked my way down the steps and stood in the centre of the bath. Quickly I jumped back as I had felt the current working on my thighs. Though not visible, there seemed to be currents at either side of the tub in the middle. They were set out in such a way that only a localized area was affected at any one time. I worked my way back until I felt a tingling sensation on my leg. It was like a bad case of pins and needles. Not too painful, but still strange. I raised one leg to place my tired calves in front of the current and watched in amazement as my muscles tensed of their own accord. A little braver now, I explored the sensation over different parts of my body and brought my body closer to the outlet to increase the strength. I sat on the ledge to have the electricity work its debatable magic on my lower back. As I relaxed my forearms dipped into the water. The effect of all the muscles curling up made me feel strangely helpless and out of control, so I vowed to keep them out of the water from then on.

I’m not sure if I managed a whole three minutes in the bath, but nevertheless I felt proud of myself, I felt brave, I felt like I had overcome a fear. I showered and took the final naked elevator ride back to locker room to dress and once again confront the cold wet Japanese streets ready for another adventure.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Things you can buy in Japan

I just turned on the TV to watch as I eat lunch and ended up on a shopping show.

They were showing a product which when pasted on, will give the user a "double eyelid". It's like a glue that changes the traditional Japanese eyelid shape to a more Western look. A little freaky!

The picture at the side is a product available in stores for the same purpose. They are little stickers that are places on the lid, pressed in place with the plastic stick and Wahla! Double Eyelids!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

One of the joys of teaching a second language is the amusement that can be found in the students’ Engrish. I know I make a mess of the Japanese language, my students certainly come up with some real gems of their own.

"I would be healthier if I excavated regular stools." A homework answer to
the question of how to be healthier.

"My front hair line is in big trouble." A student talking about his receding hairline.

"You can drink the water that comes out of the cock." A student's explanation of a sign that indicated that the tap was for drinking water.

Question asked of a student, "Have you ever had a bad day?" Reply,
"Yes, I have. I've been bound hand and foot several times." Mmm a little
too much information there.....

"He... goes home, goes to bed and sleeps around." The correct answer should have been he "sleeps late".

"....I'm impotent..." the intended meaning was "helpless". A reason why not to always trust your dictionary.

"Today, I went to the massage parlour". I had fun explaining this one. Luckily, I knew the phrase in Japanese for a brothel, "soap-land". The girl though, had simply gone for a massage.

"The cherry blossoms are hyaku (100) percent open."
This was a creative attempt at telling me the Cherry Blossoms were in full

"I really want have deep sleep in someones softry brest."
Again, maybe a little too much information....

“My mother…… my mother…. my mother…. my mother….. cook….. eat me.” polished off with a broad smile happy that he could answer the test question successfully. The question? “What club do you belong to?”.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Remembering Spring

“Oshoi, oshoi!”
Wild paper blossoms dancing in the wind
Scent of sake through narrow streets
Mino celebrates spring

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Rainmaker

Call me the rainmaker.

With the Japanese love to put people into categories, one is related to the weather. They say that people are either "sunny" or "rainy". If you are a "rainy person" then on important days of your life and when you travel, it will rain. Obviously, it works the other way around if you're a "sunny person". If a sunny and a rainy person travel together, it may be cloudy or if it rains, that means that the rainy person has more "power".

Always when I would travel with my friend Natsuki, it would rain. She is a self-confessed rainy person, so I would just blame her for our bad luck in weather, telling her that she had a lot of power. She repeatedly denied that it was all her fault and said that just like her, I would bring on the rain.

This argument continued for years until my wedding day. A couple of months out of cyclone season, I not only got rain, but a mini-cyclone especially ordered for the day. There was no longer any doubt about which way I swung.

Last week, I went back to Brisbane for a brief holiday. Brisbane has been in a bad drought for a while now, no rain, no moisture, everything is bone dry. On her way to pick me up from the airport, Christine who has heard the "rainy person/sunny person" argument for years looked up at the clouds forming in the sky and said, "Maybe she is a rainy person after all". A couple of days into my trip, the skies opened up and down came the rain, not a small drizzle, not a light shower, but heavy downpours. Call me the rainmaker! I've decided that I could use my powers for good and will travel for good food and good accomodation to areas in need for a little of that wet stuff.

I left Brisbane on Thursday and wonder what happened to the weather.....