Teaching In Socks

Animal rescue
October 19, 2009, 1:52 pm
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The Shi Shi; In better circumstances for dancing

The Shi Shi; In better circumstances for dancing

The Shi Shi–a mythical snarling lion–bobbed its head up and down in a series of fluent movements. Occasionally, it would stop and erratically shake its mane, shedding white strips on the floor. The men surrounding it shouted “yanyoi!”(give up?).   Suddenly, in a quick direct movement is thrust its head up, inches from me.  After a momentary pause, it tried to drop its head back towards the ground, but stopped abruptly midway down. The Shi Shi was caught on something. With the light above me shaking, I noticed the pull-chain from the overhead lamp was protruding from the lion’s mouth. The two men operating the suit attempted to shake free. I wanted to yell “stop” but in the panic I had forgotten how. Instead, I thrust my hand into the beast’s mouth yelling “matte, matte!” (wait, wait). It was quite tangled; however, with some clever maneuvering we were able to free the costume and avert electrocuting any mythical creatures for the evening.

Seconds from near tragedy. Don't try this at Home kids.

Seconds from near tragedy. Don't try this at Home kids.

In some sense,  every season is festival season in Japan. Autumn can make its claim to the title as shrines across Japan hold festivals to celebrate the rice harvest. This happens nearly every weekend–and sometimes weekdays–throughout October, as the celebrations are for each shrine or neighborhood and are staggered throughout the month. As they are for different shrines, each festival has it’s own unique imprint on traditions costume and dress, and the festivals depending on where they are located and the size of the shrine can be local affairs or events with national recognition. Last weekend I had the pleasure of  attending my girlfriend’s neighborhood’s festival, which was a small, intimate but extremely lively affair.

In the morning the portable shrine, called a Mikoshi, is carried out of the shrine in a parade like manner with many locals carrying the shrine or playing the role of a fabled character related ot the shrine. The Mikoshi can vary in size and number– some being about the same size as a typical litter (not the cat type) while other can be large, multi-story tall structures that have to be pushed on carts.  The Mikoshi–which houses the temple god– is then taken to a sacred spot in town. Presumably, this is like a day trip vacation for the temple god. Everyone gathers for the day and depending on the shrine, there are usually some sacraments performed involving children and then at night a bigger parade forms when the shrine is taken back to the temple.

At the particular festival I attended, the night parade involved traditional dances by men dressed as both the aforementioned Shi Shi–which is the rather iconic looking lion figure as well Tengu–a half-bird, half-human demon (although not necessarily evil). Both of these creatures are major characters in Japanese folklore– from what I have read, the Tengu was traditionally a conniving villan of sorts until about two centuries ago when it started appearing as an aid to monks or travelers in certain stories.   Either way, I wasn’t able to discern what their roles where in this particular story, nor their affiliation to the shrine, but I did like their moves.

With the roadside fires lit, I knew they would be dancing through the street on their way back to the shrine–a route which passed just in front of my girlfriend’s house. What I did not know was that they would be doing a dinner performance as well. I heard them in the distance  as we ate, I was a little surprised to suddenly find myself dodging the jaws of the Shi Shi–and then ultimately rescuing from the danger of modern life.

Apparently, it is local custom for children of one year of age to place their hand in the Shi Shi’s mouth to receive good luck. I’m about 25 years too late for that(although I may act that age at times), but as I am one year Japanese I’m hoping I deceive the gods into the same result.

Trick or Treat. Tengu and Shi Shi

Trick or Treat. Tengu and Shi Shi

October 29, 2008, 5:10 pm
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This Friday, it has been mandated by the powers that be (management) that I teach a complimentary, thirty minute, children’s Halloween class. Despite my initial resistance to the thought of doing extra work, I’m looking forward to this. Kids plus costumes is generally an equation for spirited fun, and when “gross-out tactics” are not only permissible but encouraged, the degree of difficulty goes down and the quotient for awesomeness increases exponentially.

That said, I’m trying to keep my expectations low. The aim of the class is to attract new students to the school (hence the “complimentary”) but my personal goal is to avoid a situation that lands my name or picture on the news, attached to the headline ” Massive Japan Halloween Folly!”.

This may sound a bit pessimistic, but when children are involved it’s imperative to consider every possible scenario and to think on your feet. In some corners of the planet kids have been known to eat a light bulbs with absolutely no warning or provocation.

This risk will no dissuade me form taking pleasure in being the the harbinger of Halloween awesomeness to Ako (I know, I used awesome twice already). Japan is still an emerging market in the Halloween economy. My older students say it gained popularity withing the last ten to fifteen years, but they still haven’t entirely embraced the holiday. Presumably, and by presumably I mean what the crooked scenario I created in my mind with no factual basis to it, it appears a portion of the country was looking for another  reason to wear costumes and arrange decorations. They looked around, much like the Pilgrims looked for America, and immediately started grabbing orange marigolds, black origami paper and silly bodysuits.

my other costume

my other costume

Surprisingly though, it appears the confectionery industry–really the pay off of the whole holiday–still hasn’t gotten their act together. Their delegation must be shivering in a deep sugar fix somewhere because they haveailed to seize this obvious opportunity. In America, Halloween in like candy’s Christmas. In Japan, while many stores are equipped with small displays totting Disney, Halloween themed treats, the selection is vastly underwhelming; especially when viewed proportionally to the costume and decorating options offered.

I believe this a result of the absence of trick or treating. For reasons unknown to me, and possibly having to do with a variety of Japanese social moires, the tradition of  going from house to house to collect free candy in exchange for a barrage of fabulously lame jokes hasn’t spread like wildfire. This saddens me. A world devoid of trick or treating robs these children of a valuable learning opportunity.

These children will never learn about MUNG or razorblades in apples. Proper retribution for people who give out dimes instead of candy. How do you expect a child to develop any appreciation for humor when they don’t know what a vampires favorite fruit is? (nectarine) What do you expect them to understand the deep metaphysical mechanisms of society when they don’t know what a ghost’s favorite fruit is? (boo berries!) or why mummies have trouble making friends? (They’re soooo wrapped up in themselves).

Thus, it is left to me to deliever this vital knowledge to the young and impressionable minds of Japan. Which ultimately, fufills the vision and dream that I had when I took this job–that one day, in ruraly Japan, I would change the world while dressed in a makeshift Harry Potter costume.

“dorkus facimus!”