A Gaijin is short for Gaikakojin and is the Japanese word for foreigner. It also sort of means outsider, and I know exactly how this feels. Yesterday Minami’s mum took us both to lunch. The restaurant was a rather posh establishment. As I walked through the place, I was fascinated by all the little private dining rooms, and as I passed one I peered through the open sliding-door to see what I could see and walked straight into a flower wall-hanging, knocking all the berries off the plant onto the floor… I was very embarassed, but of course there was no look of blame and the whole ordeal was treated with the upmost politeness. I sometimes feel clumsy here, a bit scruffy and out of place. I think it’s natural though when you step into a different world where placement is so important and attention to detail is paramount, a culture that was all but isolated for 400-odd years, where it developed such complexities and intricacies that are still a mystery to all those that are not Japanese.
I have now been in Tokyo for just over 3 weeks now. I have been staying in a youth hostel just outside of Tokyo for half the time and the other half I have been staying at Minami’s sister, Saya’s house.
It has been really great to see Minami again and to catch up with her family and friends. We have been quite busy over the past 3 weeks and here are some photos of what’s been occurring…
First thing’s first, the hair had to go. I did it while I was in China and because I never could get hold of two mirrors, I had no idea what it looked like… But seeing the just before photo, I quite like it actually… nevermind…
It was Minami’s friend Sachi’s birthday so we made a Mexican feast.
I have been distributing gifts from China along the way… Some well received, others not so successful. Pei-jen – I need your help with this one. I bought these berries from the doctor in the school back in Zhengzhou. I was in there buying some massage oil and noticed this box on the shelf. When I asked what they were, he opened a box and gave one to me and Norbert to try. I thought they were quite nice, but I still have no idea what they were. They didn’t go down too well at Minami’s cousin’s house though… Dom (Saya’s husband… yes they have just got married! Congratulations!) being another tough Englishman was happy to try one, but all the Japanese were too scared. We were able to ascertain that you should’t have more than 3 at a time, but that’s about it… Pei-jen, what do you make of them? Are they a miracle constipation cure or just some Chi rejuvenation magic berry? Let me know asap, before I offer them around again…
The Tamagawa family have had a new addition to the family… oh, I mean two. Dom and this ittle chappie here aptly named – Laban… original name, if a little geeky, who is already a good friend with their older dog, Duke, a big white hair-ball of a Russian Samoyed.
While I was on Tianamen Square in Beijing, I saw these wonderful eagle kites. This is kite weather on Tamagawa river just near Minami’s house.
Whenever you go out to eat in Japan, a lot of the restaurants have these amazing plastic dispays of the various dishes on offer in their windows. It may sound strange, but they are so life like they make your mouth water. We found the street to go to if you’re setting up your own restaurant. Looks deeelish!
There is an old Japanese story of a monster called Kappa that lives near rivers. It is a dangerous creature that likes to eat human beings. The only food it likes more than man-flesh is cucumbers. So if you’re walking walking in the Japanese Alps one day and happen to stumble upon a Kappa by the riverside and you haven’t got a couple of cucumbers handy you might be in trouble. But fear not my friends, there is a solution to your situation… Most Japanese are very respectful and honourable including the Kappa. So if you meet one and you’re all out of cucumbers then all you need to do is bow to it as is customary in Japanese greetings. The Kappa is so polite that it will bow straight back and therefore spill the magic liquid that is kept on top of its head containing the source of all its powers and so will be rendered harmless to you and you can make your getaway.
If you have time, do a Google Image search for ‘Japanese Kappa’ – there are some brilliant pictures.
I did actually meet a Kappa, but it must have been vegetarian as he was practising yoga!…
While here, I have been doing a bit of teaching too. I have tought a couple of dance classes at the Tamagawa university where Saya and Mayako-san (Minami and Saya’s mum) work, and a few yoga classes to Minami’s friends – Minami doing a very good job of translating. We did actually charge a bit of money for the yoga classes and so saved up enough money to go to Disneyland. Yes, they got one of those here too!! Some funny sights here: Big boys with Winnie the Pooh ears (Classic! A very funny moment when we spotted this one) and Cinderella’s castle closed for renovation (you can imagine how grumpy Minami… er, I mean Grumpy was!).
More freaky bananas here too…
Minami, Dom and I had the fortune to be in Tokyo for one of the 3 Sumo tournaments per year held in Tokyo, at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium. So we decided to go to a day’s matches in the 15 day tournament. It is a truly fascinating phenomina and I don’t think you get many things like this in the world. The Rikishis (Sumo wrestlers) are almost a different breed of man. It was such an interesting day to get to see this art that is gladly very much alive and still a very prominant part of Japan’s fantastic culture and history.
The day was filled with rituals and tradition that goes back centuries from the Sumo diet – chunko that Minami is happily tucking into, to the Sumo dance with Kyudo (Japanese archery) bow at the end of the day’s matches.
Tokyo is the new and the future and the space-age, but it is also the old too. That’s what makes it so exciting. Take the festival on Sunday for example. Set in the right in the middle of the skyscrapers of the city was a festival in which crowds of men dressed in old-fashioned clothes (basically a shirt and loin-cloth, which is a very funny sight indeed, lots of men who have had perhaps a little too much Asahi beer at lunchtime with bare legs and very bare bottoms swarming the place) carrying massive, portable shrines through the streets, being spurred on by a heavily tattoed topless man, who may very well be part of the Japanese Yakuza (mafia). It was all very Japanese: full of eccentricities, but full of warmth and a culture that is still very much alive and finding a way to co-exist with the contemporary.