Bullet Proof

Once upon a time, this blog had a highly customized interface using a third party WordPress template that had lots and lots of customization options. Plus, I think I went a little under the hood to further customize it. I even had some Yahoo! specific plugins to “help” me. Over the years, WordPress software upgrades happened, and the template updates lagged. At some point an upgrade basically compromised access to this blog and killed every link. All I could do was sneak onto it and do a search to find something I remembered. It was very disappointing as I put a lot of effort in documenting my time in Japan and this blog was a nice diary for me. After all, I can relive my swine flu contact tracing experience from this blog.

I finally made the decision to rehost my domain as I was paying way too much for the service I was using and the host’s interface became a nightmare. I manually transferred the site, blog, and database to the new host. One interaction with support got the database hooked up again, and one obscure four step instruction buried in a discussion board got my WordPress panel working. After a few, “Let’s see what this does” experiments, all my links started working again. I’m pretty sure my .htaccess file was destroyed in some upgrade and just selecting a permalink recreated that. Anyway …

Now I’ll go with a mutt instead of a greyhound and use a WordPress basic theme that will hopefully be minimally impacted by WordPress updates. After all, this blog is really just for me. I don’t need people to be impressed, I just want to ready my diary. If you happened to stumble across this blog, I can’t guarantee all the links will work. Some of them are over 11 years old. Atahualpa theme, you served me well. For more blogging adventures, especially the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (fingers crossed), go to jonathanfish.com.

Back in the US

Yes, it is a new post. Another post just to say I will be posting more later, there are a few more things I want to say before I bring this blog to its natural end. I just haven’t made the time to do it yet.

I’m re-integrating back into my LA home, and that is taking some time. Combining two households isn’t easy, but I’m slowly wading through everything. And then I’ll start writing about the last few months. So sit tight, more to come.

Don’t give up on me!

Time is running out here in Japan, and it seems that I’ve been doing a lot and not writing about it. Right now I am looking at “memory books” from a couple of different going away parties, a Facebook page people used to organize one of my parties, packing, sorting, reducing, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, and trying to go to work every day. So I’m a little distracted.

I will get some updates here, including some stories I’ve been sitting on, before I call an end to this blog. And I can’t imagine I will stop blogging. I’ve finally gotten a start to my jonathanfish.com domain, and the My Blogs page will definitely have a link to all my blogs. So please come back for a visit, I’ll tell you when it is closed, and I’ll tell you where to look for future entries. In the meantime, just know that I am collecting stories.

It’s a tie

As part of my exit panic, I decided I wanted to see a baseball game. I’m not usually one who will go to an event by myself. I won’t go to a concert alone, I won’t go to a movie alone I won’t go to a sporting even alone. I always thought I would be too lonely because a big part of those events for me are the social interaction. I invited one friend to go together and never heard back, so I took that as a “no” (I actually did hear from him during the game …). I posted on Twitter to see if any of my Twitter friends wanted to go. Nope. It seems people had plans. I was resolute – I was going to go. So I went.

The game started out will with my hometown Chunichi Dragons jumping to a 1 – 0 lead. The Hiroshima Carp (I’ve GOT to get a jersey) tied it up in the 5th I believe. It became a real pitchers dual. Well, not really, a lot of hits were squandered. The hits were high but the score low. The kept the game long but without scoring.

The Nagoya Dome and Japanese baseball are pretty well document here, so I won’t go into detail. The game was interesting and went into extra innings. I was sitting intently, watching the game, the 10 inning ended scoreless and then … everyone walked off the field and the stands started emptying.

SAY WHAT?!?! A TIE?

Tied game

Actually, I knew this would happen. This year, games are limited to 3.5 hours to conserve electricity post 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. So I was watching the clock along with the scoreboard, the pitching strategy, etc. I personally think Hiroshima was playing for a tie. I’m not sure what is going to happen in the Japan Series, but last year after 15 innings, one of the games was declared a tie. Apparently there is a different rule about regular season games going only 12 innings, where the Series probably has a different rule.

Anyway, that was fine. I needed to get home. I decided to take a different route to the subway to be “clever.” I was not clever and it cost me about 1 hour. Ooops.

In spite of my slightly negative commentary here, I did have a good time and going alone was easy.

Dance the night away

Shortly after Fuji Rock, Kanamori-san suggested to everyone to go to Gujo-odori in Gujo Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture. Gujo odori is a dance festival that runs from mid-July to September, but goes all night during a few nights in August around Obon. According to the Gujo Odori website,

THE GUJO ODORI dance festival is one of the three most important traditional dance festivals in Japan, but it is also one of the most accessible. Designated a Significant Intangible Cultural Folk Asset by the Japanese government, Gujo Odori should not be missed!

Naturally, trying to fit everything I haven’t done into the next few months, I was eager to go. I was afraid that I was too eager to go. Others soon expressed interest and a plan was formulated.


View Larger Map

Luckily for us, one of the Fuji Rock crew’s company has an office in Gujo, so we even had a place to park. A total of 8 people went to Gujo to experience the fun festival.

I thought that traditional Japanese clothing would be appropriate, but I’m usually taken aback when I see white folks trying to wear traditional Japanese clothing. It just never seems to work for me. There are two traditional summer clothes you can wear, 甚平 (jinbei) or 浴衣 (yukata).

甚平 are basically shorts and a 3/4 sleeve shirt with a tie. The sleeves are stitched with a very wide stitch, almost looking like the sleeve is tied on instead of sewn on. The armpits are open as well, all designed to give very good ventilation during hot summer days.

jinbei

浴衣 Are the summer version of a kimono. They are long, require an 帯 (obi – belt), but are made of cotton and hemp, with armpit cutouts also.

yukata

Tomo thought that jinbei would look a little strange on me. My proportions don’t really match Japanese, as my legs and arms are too long and my torso is too short. But if I put on a long dress, I would look かっこいい (cool).

In addition, most dancers wear 下駄 (geta), wooden sandles. Traditional geta are like a plank with two legs. They can get pretty tall as well. The are useful in the dance though because of the sound they make.

geta

I figured, what the heck, I’ll go for the traditional look, a goofy gaijin trying to be Japanese and failing. My next challenge was to find yukata and geta, figure out the size, how to put it on, and how to feel comfortable in it. I knew that all department stores have a section where they sell traditional Japanese articles, like kimonos, yukata, and so on. My first stop was at Mitsukoshi, and there the yukata alone ranged from 16000 yen to over 20000 yen. That’s a price tag over $200. A little pricey. I went to Matsuzakaya, and the price was even more. Forget the geta. A couple of friends recommended that I go to AEON, which is kind of like Target in the US. My snobbery had kicked in and I thought I wanted something “authentic” and not “cheap” and then I realized I was being stupid. So after my initial sticker shock, I was off to AEON, found a really helpful sales person, and got out of there with a yukata, belt, obi, and geta for under 14000 yen. Still a lot of money to pay, but it is an interesting souvenir.

I was concerned about the geta, so I bought some “flats” instead of the tall ones. I practiced walking in them around the neighborhood and quickly determined that I’d never last all night in them. Too bad, actually, but I wasn’t going to tear up my feet and be unable to dance just because my sandles didn’t match my yukata.

Tomo was down the weekend before the Gujo odori, so we did a practice run with my yukata. Especially tying the obi. We had instructions that were impossible to understand, so Tomo said, “Let’s check YouTube.” I was heading for the encyclopedia, some would suggest Wikipedia, but everyone 30 and younger goes to YouTube. Good call.

I LOVE the accent on the Japanese guy in the video. He’s not saying “taa daa” like a magic act, but it sure sounds that way. Very clear though, and after that demonstration, and a few practices, I was an expert. I did some modeling in the apartment and this is the basic look of my yukata.

Modeling yukata

Modeling yukata

Of the 8 people that went together to Gujo Dori, we had various clothing combinations. Three yukata, one jinbei, two geta, and a variety of other combinations. It turns out it didn’t really matter. I actually enjoyed wearing the yukata, had I had on regular geta I would have been even taller, but a tall guy looks good in a yukata. Tomo was right. I got a few looks, and I noticed a couple looking at my obi knot. I was assured it was correct so I was a little proud. Hopefully they weren’t making fun of me.

Gujo is in the mountains, so while the temperature was warm, it wasn’t so hot. We got there around 8:30 pm, and went for some festival food and drink of course.

Arrival

Where's the party?

Not much food left

I did not eat the fish.

Fish holding a fish on a stick

I did wander around a bit and get some pictures of the festival and the town.

Festivalgoers

Gujo

Gujo

Hi-chan and I goofing around in a plastic food shop.

Food on the walls

A fuzzy picture of me in my yukata.

Yukata in action

Kanamori-san, Sacchan, her husband, and I jumped in to the dance line and away we went. I knew nothing of the dance, just copied the people around me. Luckily, we picked a point in the continuous dance line where there were some experienced dancers. I copied the upper body motions first, and then tried to get the footwork down. Of course, in a dance, they should work together. But I’m not a dancer, so I did my best. It was FUN! The dance basically goes in a pattern around a stage, think of the dance area as a cross, and the stage at the intersection of the two pieces of the cross. The distances are long as well, there were a lot of people there. My guess is they shorten up the ends of the cross as the crowd thins out.

One end of the dance line

There are 10 dances, I think I participated in about 5 of them. I’ve linked from YouTube (of course, YouTube) at the end of this entry so you can see them.

I was not as crisp as the people on the video, I clapped at the wrong time, I bumped in to Kanamori-san a few times, someone stepped on my foot. No one cared, no one was offended, everyone just had a good time.

We took a break for more refreshment, went down to the river, and then Hi-chan joined us for another round of dancing. After our second round of dancing, where we were able to complete almost the entire circuit, it was around 2:00 am.

Heading out

Hirox (Hirotaka-san) suggested we go visit the castle, which was still completely lit up. We drove up a very circuitous and narrow street to get to the castle, and found the white walls covered in insects. Ick, a little scary. After the castle visit I thought we’d had back for more dancing, but instead starting heading back to Nagoya. Oh? So I didn’t get all the pictures I was planning since I was too busy dancing. I did get some though.

Gujo Castle

Hi-chan, Hirox, and Kanamori-san in front of Gujo Castle.

In front of Gujo Castle

Kanamori-san suggested that we visit 大丸ラーメン (daimaru ramen) once we got back to Nagoya. It is an all night “underground ramen shop.” There was a line of about 15 people ahead of us, very much a local underground crowd. People were holding their stomachs and looking a little green when they came out. Why? Because the portions were ENORMOUS! Somehow, Kanamori-san was a bottomless pit and ate his mound of bean sprouts, all the meat and noodles, and even had room for more noodles. As the foreigner, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t even make it through the bean sprouts. Luckily Hi-chan and Hirox failed as well.

Daimaru Ramen

Daimaru Ramen

Daimaru Ramen

It was a good time, and I went to bed at 7:00 am. I was a complete waste the next day, but I had scheduled absolutely nothing, so it was fine. Thanks to Hi-chan for some of the pictures used here.

Here are the dances I did, and the descriptions are quoted from the Gujo odori website.

三百 – San byakku. “San byakku literally means three hundred and refers to three hundred mon, a unit of currency in the Edo period. About 250 years ago, Gujo Hachiman had a farmers revolution and the lord of the town was changed. When the new lord arrived, he gave the poor and starving farmers 300 mon. This made the farmers extremely happy and the dance san byakku, was written to say thank-you. The movements are simple depections of farmers walking in the muddy rice fields and throwing harvested rice bundles up to be dried.”


春駒 – Harukoma. “In Edo times, Gujo Hachiman was home to many famous horse farms that supplied horses to the Samurai. The movements of this dance mimic those of a samurai riding a spirited and energetic young horse.”


かわさき – Kawasaki. “The most famous and well known of the 10 Gujo Odori songs! The movements of this dance incorporate representations of the scenery of Gujo Hachiman (rivers and mountains) and viewing the moon on a warm summer evening.”


やっちく – Yacchiku. “Gujo Hachiman is a castle town and because of that there used to be many drifting performers who passed through the town. One of these drifting performers created yacchiku. Like gen gen bala bala this song is only singing and drums and you may notice a similarity between native north-american people’s dance and music.”


げんげんばらばら – Gengen Balaba (which I hate because it went the opposite direction). “Unlike most other dances of Gujo Odori, which are danced in a clockwise circle, Gengen Balabala is danced in a counter-clockwise circle. Only a drum and the singer’s voice are used. The elegant dance movements depict folding the long sleeves of a young girl’s kimono over her arm to play a children’s ball game.”