Monday, August 10, 2009

"Cultural Experiences"

This Saturday I got to attend a Bon-Odori 盆踊り at Shimoai Elementary School. There is a Buddhist tradition called the Obon 御盆 which is kind of like a day for the dead. People believe that the spirits of those departed from us return to family alters on this day. The Bon-odori is a dance for this festival. A singer calls out a song telling an ancient story, and people dance slowly in a large circle around him. It is believed that spirits of the dead join in the dance as well. (For a better explanation click this Wiki article: Obon) I was glad to go because this really is something unique to Japan and very embedded in their history- not some Anime convention or Hot Dog eating contest.
The man in the Yukata next to the huge drum was the main singer. I told him afterwards I really liked his song and he corrected me: It's not really a song, it's a story. Ooops. That other guy on the stage helps sing when the main caller's voice gets tired, and he rythmically pounds the huge drum throughout the dance.
The cute, tiny lady in the middle is Fukuda-san, my supervisor and general gaijin wrangler. She's been so kind to me- bringing me more rice and eggplant than I can eat and fussing about things I would never think to lift a finger for. The lady on the left used to be the JET supervisor- she was the best dancer- and the two guys are the other JETS Litha and Ian.

Here is a section of video from the dance. Our town danced around in a circle until we ended up generally where we began and then had a rest for a bit. We did four revolutions throughout the night. You can almost make out Fukuda-san on the left in the beginning of the dance. It really warmed my heart to see all ages- from tiny girls in cool summer Yukata to ninety plus year old men and women in their traditional blue jinbei still a-dancin' the night away.
The festival really ended too early.

Today we went to the Yokota Community center to join in the Tea Club's Tea Ceremony performance. The tea ceremony- sadou or 茶道 is epically Japanese. It's beautiful, understated, steeped in tradition, and there's an anally retentive way of doing every single motion. Here I am learning how to fold the cloth. Yes, there is a certain and complicated way of folding even the cloth.

We all took turns making the tea- even I got to have a chance!

I would have to say that every minute every day here is a cultural experience. You can really get through the overlay of a culture by seeing what happens during times usually considered mundane or boring. However the Bon-Odori and the Sadou really stand out it my mind as what would be considered traditionally Japanese.

I fear in the future I will have much less time to blog and much more interesting things to blog about. Ironic.

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