With the heat of summer come a number of different festivals that are celebrated throughout the country. From July 13-15, there is the Bonmatsuri, or Bonodori (the festival of lanterns), a time for consoling the spirits of the dead with dance and music. During this celebration, hundreds upon hundreds of simple white, or beautifully hand-painted lanterns are lit throughout the towns.
Along the streets.
Down to the river.
Into the cemeteries and shrines.
Effusing with light this lively celebration of both gaiety and solemnity, the lanterns are lit so that ancestors may find their way back from the dead in order to bless the living.
Ancestors are highly honored here in Japan. They’re remembered not only during this celebration, but throughout the year through prayer and offerings of food, flowers, incense and tea.
Each night of the Bonmatsuri, tea is poured every hour for the visiting spirits. On the third night of the festival, hundreds of lanterns are floated down the local river. Each lantern sent in memory of an ancestor. Those which tip and extinguish, it’s said, represents a prayer that will go unheard.
In Shintomi, family and friends gathered in homes throughout the town to eat and drink and honor their deceased relatives. The first night was a perfect summer evening, as a cool breeze blew down the tiny streets of my town.
Through the farms and across our faces.
Carrying the sweet scent of life which, united with the laughter and the music, created an atmosphere that was comfortable and inviting.
Like a loved one’s long embrace.
Moving from house to house that night, performing a lively, uplifting dance for the dead, was a group of young men and women, many of whom were my students, dressed in the traditional summer yukata.
Splendid in their colors.
In their youth.
In their joy.
This would be the first of many nights of dancing and singing, fireworks and food, games and parades. All of which are a sheer delight to the eyes.
And succor to the senses.
There were countless occasions during the celebrations when I sat back with a friend or student by my side, or a fat baby on my lap, when I felt the urge to cry.
So happy to be a part of it all.
Last week, I spent four days in the mountains of Takaharu as a camp counsellor for some thirty senior high school students from around Miyazaki. It was all part of an International Relations project that gave these chosen students the opportunity to spend a few days, “Studying Abroad” in Miyazaki.
Takaharu, or more specifically, Ojibaru, is a beautiful camp site in the mountains, scattered with lovely, little cabins and a main event hall. Waterfalls and small rivers traverse the hilly scenery and at the center of it all stands a shrine built to honor the first Emperor of Japan, said to have been born in this very spot.
There were about a dozen other AETs and CIRs who took part in the event and we planned a number of games and activities, meals, talent shows, etc., to give the students a taste of our various cultures. Sam and I were put in charge of the opening day activities and decided to organize a scavenger hunt. Instead of simply having various items planted throughout the grounds, we decided to have the camp leaders dress up in various costumes. Upon finding them, the students would have to do as they ask. For instance, we had a sleeping princess in need of a kiss (Having her plastic tiara at the ready, Sam eagerly volunteered.); there were sailors you had to dance the hornpipe dance with; a pirate you had to have a sword fight with, a clown you had to juggle for, and so on. Everyone really got into the act and a good time was had by all.
Each cabin leader had six students Much to their glee, I nicknamed mine as soon as I got a feel for their personalities. There was Me-oh-my, Bashful, Cat, Plato, Confucius and Romeo.
Each leader also had a partner for the four day camp. My partner was James. Nice enough.
When not gripped by a catatonic stupor.
I managed to handle things well enough (including cooking three meals a day for eight people), while James – the poor thing (“Are things moving too fast for ya, son?”) stood by.
Taciturn, listless and useless.
There were many activities planned throughout the weekend, such as a tie-dye party, a dance, a casino, the English Language Olympics and a talent show during which all the cabins had to present an act. My cabin, which we called Shangri-la-de-dah, did one of the worst renditions of “All You Need is Love” imaginable, but had a great time despite our lack of talent.
By the end of the camp, I was exhausted, but happy that none of my campers (even the quiet one I called “Cat”, who hardly spoke a word the entire four days) wanted to go home. They even suggested that the camp next year should be an entire month.
Despite former oaths that I would never – EVER – appear on television again, I found a microphone being shoved under my nose and a T.V. camera closing in on my face on the last day of camp. The television crew caught me completely off guard while trying to cook the umpteenth meal for my crew in a small and steamy kitchen, during a 107 degree day.
As poor, pointless James stood by.
Saliva dribbling from the corner of his open mouth.(Okay, I made up the saliva part.)
I was very hot, very, very sweaty and frankly unnerved by the ambush. I tried to be patient and congenial as the reporter attempted speaking English. Apparently a student of the rote method. Watching the conversation reach new lows linguistically, I soon found myself begging him to speak Japanese just so we could wrap things before I became severely dehydrated from the profuse sweat pouring from my being.
It was a truly awful experience.One made even more ghastly when I was unfortunate enough to be given a tape of the televised event.This tape will never see the light of day and, if I can help it, be the very last of its kind. This time I mean it!
To celebrate the success of the camp, a few of us went to a disco in Miyazaki on Saturday.
That night, I was told I was a dead ringer for both Audrey Hepburn and Julia Roberts. Add these to recent comparisons to Jodie Foster and John Lennon and it all adds up.
All us Westerners DO look alike.
Greg, the AET from Saskatchewan I told you about previously, was part of the camp and joined us. In fact, he’s become a regular part of our happy, little entourage and has become a good friend to both Sam and I. He’s not only a lot of fun to hang out with and very, very humorous, but one whom I’m confident I could rely on in times of need.
For my part, it’s a rather confusing relationship. Perhaps this is because I have a bit of a crush on Greg.
And why not?
A man who can make me laugh as much as he does has always been a turn on. Add this to a great smile, sweet disposition, and abundant creative talents (he is a fantastically funny cartoonist)… how can I help it? But the signs are confusing. I don’t know whether he sees me more as the “sister” type and admittedly, I often feel the same sort of “brotherly” love.
There are times, however, when I feel there might be a spark of attraction coming from him, but neither he (nor I, for that matter) has ever “stepped into the breach,” so to speak. Which is fine, really, because I’d rather just hang out and enjoy his company and friendship rather than mess with things. I’m guessing he feels the same way.
Anyway, our happy, little band of brothers and sisters ended up dancing in Miyazaki until 4 in the morning and then, after downing some burgers, arrived back in Shintomi at the crack of dawn where the entire group crashed in my apartment.
As for any other activities worth reporting, well… I can’t say this is newsworthy, but certainly noteworthy.
Now all of you well know of my uncanny ability to attract lewd behavior across the globe.
There was my first encounter: the penis rubbed against my leg in a crowd in Italy. The masturbating man with the raincoat in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York. The flaccid drunk on the Tube in London. The under-the-table-masturbator at the Brat Stop in Wisconsin. The early morning, open door, front seat jack-off in Chicago.
Well, I’m sorry to report that it’s happened again. I can now add Japan – and of all places, Shintomi – to my list of lewd encounters. At least this time, no actual sighting of a penis was involved.
I went to the beach last Saturday and, as usual, it was completely deserted. It was a beautiful, sunny day and so I stretched out my beach towel, turned on some music and began to soak in the sun. I was singing along with Bonnie Raitt when the tape ended and I sat up to turn the cassette over.
It was then I discovered a strange, old man pacing back and forth just a few feet in front of me. Doing my best to ignore him, with the hope he would simply go away, I turned to lay on my stomach, closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on the music. But even with my eyes closed, the music blaring in my headphones and the waves crashing on the shore, I sensed his presence.
I opened my eyes to find that the old letch was now laying behind me, about four feet to my right.
“Konichiwa,” he grinned, revealing what few teeth remained.
I made no reply, but offered only a dirty look in response to his invasion of my personal space and turned away. A few minutes passed and opening my eyes to peak beneath my folded arm, I looked to the spot I had last seen the old perv and sighed with relief that I no longer saw him there.
Yet something still didn’t feel right.
I immediately rose from my stomach and turned over to find this dirty, decrepit, little, old man laying directly behind me.
I’m talking inches.
Staring up my ass.
I leapt up and started screaming.
I really don’t know any dirty language in Japanese, but I screamed that he was very rude, that this was a big beach and that he should go elsewhere, or I would scream for the police.
It was then I also realized that the doddering deviant was now wearing only his underwear.
Well, that’s when every fowl word I knew in my native tongue erupted from my mouth and I grabbed the nearest piece of driftwood with which to beat the lecherous smirk off his face.
This finally sent him on his way. No doubt to jerk off behind a dune somewhere.
Oddly enough, I didn’t feel the least bit frightened. I’m confident that with the adrenaline rush I was experiencing I could’ve snapped the decaying degenerate in half without much effort. However, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so damn pissed off that this had happened to me YET AGAIN!
For God’s Sake! Why me?
And what’s even worse is that my sanctuary – my miles of desolate beach where I could be away from the ever-curious people of my village – no longer felt like a safe haven.
All I Can Say Is…
- Typhoon season is once again upon us. All I can say is… the humidity and heat here make me feel like a moldy, unrecognizable leftover wrapped in Saran wrap that someone tossed from a speeding car, two months prior.
- Now that my Japanese has improved most people around me are speaking at their normal speed. All I can say is… What the hell are they talking about?
- Sam is getting back from a three week trip to England tonight and she’s planning on coming down to hang out at the beach here. Maybe that’s not such a good idea anymore. Anyway, not having her here for the past several weeks, I’m now certain that she’s been an absolutely vital part of my experience here. Without having Sam as a constant sounding board, shoulder to cry on, confidant, etc., I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have renewed for a second year, or for that matter, enjoyed my first year as much as I did. She’s been there to talk to me about everything. And nothing. On innumerable occasions, she’s helped me get things off my chest so that I can face the next day with a brighter outlook. All I can say is… Thank the Gods for good friends.
My love to all. I miss you and think of you often – except when in the presence of a man so good-looking that I find every cell of my body trying desperately to find a way to make him believe that I’m the woman of his dreams and that he is my love slave. That is, until I find him all too passé and dump him for the guy with all the money who’ll jet me around the world, taking me to places like Rio and Monte Carlo, where I’ll ditch him for a Duke who believes I am the Venus de Milo personified and whisks me away to his castle where I meet and decide to run away with his poor, but charming valet, Francesco, who ends up dumping me for some big-breasted bimbo named, Wanda, because of a little trick she can do with a maraschino cherry and a g-string.