Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ever the Limbo Between Cultural Doings and Not so Cultural Doings

Halloween happened and I looked like this, jammed in between millions of drunk foreigners and Japanese people dressed as Mini Mouse.  This look is called "I totally don't give a fuck about Halloween and just bought cheap fake flowers to make it look like I am in a costume or something."  Halloween turns out to be a popular holiday for some Japanese people..I'm sorry, I really should have gotten pictures of them... but these situations when everyone is taking pictures of everyone make me NOT want to take pictures of anyone.  I'm working on this.
I am still reaping the glorious benefits of Philip's visit with me from Italy - bearing the sweet, sweet gift of six months worth of Italian coffee and this dainty little percolator.  
A detail of the obi, the tie that goes around the waist of the kimono-wearer, that one of my teachers was wearing.

My friend and I went to a performance that took place in front of the largest temple in the city.  The performance was a collection of musical pieces and traditional performance pieces taken from Noh.  As you can see, we were the youngest people, and the only foreigners.
A dance/marching/chanting piece featuring this guy in a crazy mask.
This orchestra played some of the most interesting sounding instruments I have ever heard.  There were flutes that looked like pan-pipes but were held differently and sounded like an organ was inside of them, a flute that sounded like a bagpipe, and of course this giant gong.  The music was wailing, circular, incredibly sad, and lasted for a long time.  There were three little Japanese ladies sitting next to us who started getting restless and began to wail along with the music to make fun of it.  It was incredible! People are so publicly composed here, that when you experience someone doing something a little more "out there" it is all the more stunning.  And really, really funny.  I wanted to wail along with these little ladies in knit hats.  They seemed bored, and before the concert was over, they left.
This last Monday was National Culture Day, and all schools spend the day having a school bunkasai, or culture festival.  This event reminded me of a mix of back-to-school day and a talent show.  The students did dances, sang songs, put on plays, held small bazaars of their old clothes and games, turned classrooms into haunted houses, made science-fair-esque displays and most importantly had food booths!  The PTA made udon noodles in a large pot for everyone!
Students made "sausegi" (Japanese pronunciation of sausage).
One of my favorite teachers led us in tea ceremony.  
Her father is a kimono maker on one of the southernmost islands of the Kagoshima prefecture.  I was informed by another teacher that this kimono she is wearing is incredibly expensive and made with the finest silk.  Kimono are really hard to wear - there can be lots of layers underneath the main piece and they are quite complicated to learn to tie and fit correctly to the wearer.  Many of the teachers I know take classes just to learn how to properly wear kimono.
Students perform a traditional fisherman-themed dance.  See, they are pulling in the nets.
Now they are doing a "hip-hop" dance.  
If you would please, look to the left of this picture and locate the person in the mustard cardigan.  That's me! Singing "A Whole New World" with my students, in front of the entire school.
Another "hip-hop" dance performance.  A lot of the dances my students did were really racy, and it reminded me of how in high school there was always the ongoing debate about how sexy girls should be in dances.  At the time I couldn't really care either way, as long as our rights as individuals weren't being repressed... but seeing my high school students, who look like they are junior high age do these really provocative dances was somehow really alarming... Am I getting old?

These mushrooms in my local grocery store cost 18,800 yen, which is about $188.  What? Apparently these are the truffles of Japan... I will never find out what they taste like.

Toast, jam, and coffee have become really important to me to start the school day.  I found this really great bread with all kinds of nuts and raisins in it that I think about eating at least five times a day.
The Japanese people seem to have an unfortunate all encompassing and blinding love for white bread. Thick slices of the fluffiest, most nutritionally deficient bread in the world.  The third-grader in me who was deprived of white bread rejoices at this treat, but the realistic, every day-me knows that there must be whole grains in my bread! There must be texture! Finding whole grain bread is quite a feat in this country, but due to a great stroke of luck, I happen to live right down the street from a quaint, pseudo-German bakery featuring my much desired bread!
Yes, German words.  That means "authentic."
I am taking a picture of the front window!
Oh, but their treats are quite tasty, albeit with distinctly Japanese twists.

My apartment is rather devoid of color and character.  What it has are a lot of drab walls.  Japan is heartbreakingly lacking in gaudy gilt-gold framed landscapes and portraits from 1962 that I normally rely heavily upon to decorate my living spaces with, so I decided to be productive and make a wall hanging of my own.
I wanted it to somehow relate to Japan, so I decided upon the gingko leaf.  The gingko, or ichiyo is everywhere here, and though it may be a little cliche, I do love it.

In my free time at school I drew and painted many, many leaves.
Then convinced students to help me cut them out. "This is really fun...." They just want to be near me in our free time, so they will do anything I tell them.

I made small piles of them on my floor and tried to pretend that this Fall that I am having is a Fall where there are large piles of sycamore leaves to jump in (when have I ever had that Fall? Not in Ojai, CA) and not the Fall where any leaf that falls on a city street is carefully swept, or that falls in the countryside is soon burnt in a huge pile.

In conclusion, my students are so great!  They do cute things! All I want to do is shower love upon them and help them understand that they are all wonderful and special and I love them (only the nice ones).  I'm serious...


Julia Fredenburg said...

Oh Kelly, my sweet flowery island baby!

vanessa said...

you wall hanging has impressed me so! i want one of my own, little leaf child. your students do seem quite amazing, i wish i could shower my love upon them as well. do they know you blog? thank you for the japanese halloween info. it is much appreciated. your costume is a delight, no matter what you say about it.