Look west. Look faaaaaaar west; past the setting sun, possibly over 1/3 of the planet’s surface. Past that big ocean… that’s me. Sitting up in a school office in the middle of all those mountains. See me? Call my name and I’ll smile and wave; don’t worry about that. Not too many “tonii”s here. Not to mention I have all the key words hammered into my memory from repetition alone if someone looks my way and recognizes me. The most obvious and common reaction is shock! “Oh! Toni desu!” Then giggles and possibly quick walking away as I’m probably on to them at this point and I might *gasp* try to talk with them ;) Some students are up to the challenge; others look around their group and point out whoever has the highest English marks I presume to do the group’s translations.
Me “How’s it going?”
GL (group leader) “ehhh… eh?” group chuckles.
Me “How… are… you?”
GL “ah so ka! I am fine. Thank you. And you?” (everyone knows this one)
Sometimes it gets more interesting, depending on how successful that last transaction was. I may say how the snow is pretty and unfortunately many of the answers I get will be of the “Yes” or “No” variety even when the question doesn’t call for one. It’s like a multiple-choice question with two possible answers and many times both answers are correct.
One time a student was showing me a Christmas card that everyone in the class made
Me “Oh for me? Thank you ☺” yes I speak with smiley faces :D
There is a picture of a Christmas tree in the card “Is this a Christmas tree?” “yes”
Me “Do you have one at home?” Student: “yes”
Me “Did you decorate it?” Student: “yes”
Me “What decorations did you use?” Student: “yes”
Me “No ☺”
Usually there is a crowd that laughs at this point. This scenario has happened so many times and it’s so disappointing. I think I’m having a half conversation but oh well. Then we backtrack for a while to find out which path down the rabbit hole we got separated at. Turns out the student didn’t have a Christmas tree. Conversation over.
ANYWAYS enough of that, it’s too easy to get carried away talking about my students, they are so fun. If they look happy to see me chances are they go to one of my schools so it never hurts to smile and wave. I’m am starting to recognize them more and more though and it’s common for JETs to ask each other “are they yours or mine?” haha. So yes, let’s stop talking about students and now let’s talk about… school! Students play a supporting role in this story, but first a prelude!
February third. Some people call it the first day of spring, some setsubun, others like me don’t know when the first day of spring is. To others… like the Japanese people… it is known as the legendary mamimaki. Oni are trying to invade the houses of good working folk. The kind, every day people of this fine country are in danger! It is up to you to grab beans or peanuts and throw them at the demons. Are you a bad enough dude to throw peanuts at oni? (oni = demons/ogers, mamimaki = bean scattering, setsubun = new season, usually for spring)
Ok so it was February 7th and I was at the handicap school for the 3rd time. The day started off good by sleeping in and waiting an hour for a bus to come to take me to the school. I got there just in time for a tasty lunch but first I needed to be escorted to my room. My caretaker found me as well as some students and one student grabbed me by the arm and started leading me down the hallway. I’ve heard about this before; younger people love climbing on your, grabbing you and taking you places so I wasn’t too bothered. She kept pulling hard even though I was talking to my caretaker, reaching for my goatee and being all excited. Then came the time when my escort and I had to go separate ways. She reached up excitedly, opened her hand, the viciously hand-palmed my eye.
The smack was loud and I winced more in shock than pain. “ow” I confusingly muster. My caretaker got her to apologize and my eye hurt for the next couple hours but ah well, I’m a trooper with a good attitude; no harm done. Good way to start the day eh? After the tasty ramen meal (again after dressing up like for surgery to prepare the food) we got out our oni masks and prepared to ravage classrooms. I guess the onis dress in all red or all blue; I didn’t have red pants so I was a blue oni that day bust most people just used masks without the matching clothes. Before long people were calling me To-Oni! Haha… puns are so much fun… :S
So there I was, in my mask the kids made and running around with the crowd disrupting classes and having them throw peanuts at us. We started off at the elementary rooms and worked our way up. Some onis would pick up other students and carry them off like good little ogres; others would pick up peanuts and throw them back. What we were supposed to do is make growling and other menacing noises while they threw peanuts at us. We would then say “itai” (ouch) for a bit then run away screaming “tasukete!” (help). They would scream “oni soto, fuku uchi!” (demon out, luck in)
We made our rounds and even ended up at the office! There the busy workers halted their on goings, picked up a handy bag of peanuts nearby and pelted us as well ;) I noticed through a window the Kocho (principal) had a business meeting going on as they were both dressed up in suits. I figured we were done here but before I knew it we busted into the meeting! And wouldn’t you know it, the principal and company, in their suits, got up and ran around the room throwing peanuts at us as well.
I’ve never seen anything like it, a couple of suits running around a very professional looking room (leather chairs, paintings, the full meal deal) pelting school children in devil masks with peanuts while calling them demons. (A parent’s dream come true?) It was so cool, and as we left they were on their knees picking up the peanuts! Yes in their suits. Amazing.
It was hard to top that so the rest of the day seemed kind of tame. One teacher ran around with a billboard with a demon picture on it while students would punch and drop kick it (yes, flying kicks at teachers), another student would wrestle non onis. One class had everyone dressed up like that bad guy in the movie scream, in that same room a student was playing piano while peanuts flew from all directions all around her and while she was wearing that mask. I picked up several kids at their request and posed for many pictures.
Why don’t we have something this cool back home? Crazy world…
So after it was all said and done we cleaned up. I guess the next part of the tradition was picking up the peanuts on the floor, shelling them, then eating the exact number that is your age. I read somewhere you only eat the number of mamimaki that you have attended. So for me that would be 1 peanut, but I went with the age one and ate 24. (25 in 2 weeks!) Also you are not allowed to eat over that number or else your nose will start bleeding ☺ So ya I sat there with the students and enjoyed exactly 24 salty peanuts while my bad cholesterol level enjoyed chest pains; good times.
There was this super cute teacher doing the demon stuff with us. I kept and eye out for her a couple times while we were doing our bit but she seemed kinda cold and rather uninterested so I kept to myself. Later in the day when it was time to go though and the students were gone, she came to talk to me and was very pleasant. I had two teachers beside me helping me so that was awkward, plus I had just finished saying goodbye for the day, that and there was a rather large language barrier there. I wanted to say more or at least get her name but instead I had to run to my bus (as I was already ½ hour late) and ended up kicking myself for the rest of the day. It sucks this seems to happen more than not, like that student who’s older sister wanted to be my anime buddy but now I don’t even know which student it was that told me this.
Kicking myself aside, Friday night Neal was hosting a rather large feast at a new Chinese restaurant in Ina. I drove Jake down and we all enjoyed a nice feast of tasty Chinese. We met up with people we hadn’t seen in a while like Junko. At one point Junko and Jake’s friend got a hold of my Japanese mini-dictionary and took turns telling me to kiss them thanks to the naughty section in there ☺. I knew they were joking though and I was still kind hurt from earlier when they called me a liar when I tried saying I was 24. ;) All in good fun.
Saturday Pete from New Zealand was in town along with Charity and Jake and I helped out with the students going to New Zealand. They were surprised to see so many foreigners come out and apparently it was the last class so we all got food to celebrate and stayed rather late just chatting. This causes us to be a little late for going far up North to Iiyama for a snow festival they were having.
The festival and the town were really cool. There were snowmen and sculptures all over town and at the center was where most of the action was. They had 13 exhibits set up and they all looked great, especially considering it was all made from snow. They had a jump for snowboarders to show off tricks, they had carnival for food and games, they had a stage and chairs for contests and they even had a wrestling ring made out of snow! We were late and didn’t see any wrestling but I saw pictures of it later, which explained the large square snow structure in the middle that children were now playing king-of-the-hill on.
So we ate some food and checked out the carnival. Japan has creepy carnies just like back home, not to mention rigged games too but oh well. This one was a standard shoot-corks-knock-over-your-prize game and they had the standard prizes like candy, action figures, Nintendo DS units and games, shirts, porn, whiskey…
Wait, what what what? Ya, like 2 prizes down from a Nintendo Wii they had porn DVDs with rather revealing covers. I look at the DVDs, I look down at the numerous children from ages maybe 4-8 all playing the game. I look back at the porn... and 60 of whiskey. Well, hells yes I’d like to give it a try!
So I put down my 500 yen for 5 shots and line it up. I was nervous at first smelling a scam but wanted to play anyways. “I like how you’re always up for anything Tony” Jake says in the background. I suppose that could mean a fool and his money are soon parted but I’m sure there were good intentions behind it ☺ We all made sure to get pictures of me aiming at the porn, I released the trigger and pow! The cork bounced extremely easily off the lovely lady’s sweet caboose that graced the cover. Ya that’s right, I hit it ☺
Too bad the game was a scam though; you had to knock things over to win them. I hit the promiscuous lady again, hit some candy, hit some money (cash prize) and probably something else but then I was out of shots. All things I hit hardly moved, but I still think it was worth it just for the experience.
After we went to a house party at Jo’s. Before that though we all went for Onsen (public bath/spa) at this absolutely beautiful outdoor location. It was snowing big snowflakes and they slowly fell on us as we sat in the large outdoor hot-tub naked. I still remember the early days of Onsen when I thought it was crazy to get naked in front of strangers and soak but after being here for a while I'd hate to go back; we even got in an in depth discussion on what we would have to do to open one back home. Anyways it was absolutely beautiful. A frozen waterfall nearby, big snowflakes, lanterns lit everywhere, steam rising high in the air while snowflakes fell on your tongue... I never wanted to get out...
But we did eventually and went to the party. I recently discovered I am starting to tire of the house party scene in Japan, where too many people crowd around a small room drinking. Then when we all find floor room to spend the night it gets rather cold lately. I’m sure it’s all in my head; just need a break from it for a bit. I was really tired but I stuck it through and we all had a good time. Since we were in the kitchen lots of props came out and people dressed up. A particularly momentous cos-play involved two ladles and everyone finding different uses for them. They ranged from makeshift bras to earphones to my bulging biceps. You could hear Jo in the background “I use those for eating!” bwahaha
The next day everyone and their mothers went out to ski or snowboard. I went up to Iiyama with the full intention of doing the winter festival then maybe relaxing at home. When I found out about the ski trip I reluctantly decided to just do it and rough it out. Later on though I started flirting with the idea of just catching a train home, even if it took like 3 hours. I could believe how excited I was getting at the idea of just having me time, not to mention time to play my DS.
I recall explaining my “crazy” decision to not hit the slopes with everyone else as “I get 4 months of this at home every year, time to hibernate” to “I get giddy just seeing snow melt. You see that road? Yea, no ice on that bad boy!” Everyday here feels like the first day of spring. Sure every 4th day we seem to get another 10 cm of fresh snow on a daylong snowfall but it always seems to melt right away. Not melt completely but at least it knows to get the hell off my roads when I’m trying to drive ☺ Also Iiyama had some really weird anti-ice measures. Every road had water pipes running through them spraying the roads at all times with fresh water, not unlike the driveway cleaners at Nozawa Onsen. Rather elaborate set up; pretty cool too.
Maybe I’m just fatigued of my crazy lifestyle, maybe I’m glad I got to catch up on some game time or maybe I’m just glad I jumped out of a moving vehicle and did my own thing for a while; it’s hard to say. So yes, the train ticket was $16 to get home and the tube/flat screen I have set up in my house dominated the rest of my long weekend. Neal was busy with his girlfriend who came into town, Jake has a new lady friend, and I … well I was at home with my kitty I guess… she’s cute…
Don’t worry folks I didn’t forget about my cliffhanger. Yes, I signed on for another year in Japan; so get ready for another year of crazy stories and excessive reading at my expense. I felt I have too many goals left incomplete to get out of here and I shy away from failure; doesn’t quite suit me.
"Life is always walking up to us and saying, "Come on in, the living's fine," and what do we do? Back off and take its picture." -Russell Baker