Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tokyo KASA report 1

The KASA tour began on Friday night, but as everyone was jetlagged, they all turned in early. I was staying in Aoyama, the diplomatic center of town, so I met my friend Anna at a small nearby Indian place I knew. Walking back to my hotel, a curious urge took me past the Iraq embassy, very subtle and nondescript in a small converted apartment, the only symbol of it's status being a small flag out front. Surprisingly, security was non-existant.

The next day we all hung out together, going for lunch in Asakusa, then heading to a large taiko store nearby. I wasn't much interested in spending ridiculous amounts of money, so I went to check out the drum museum on the 4th floor. Amazing. There were various membranophones from basically every country on earth. I was happy to see a few drums which I'd bought on my travels, but didn't know what to call. It was like Xmas for me since you could play just about everything. For the next hour or so I did my own personal version of around the world. Finally coming out of my trance, I realized that everyone else from KASA had gone ( about 45 minutes before, I later found out). I met up with Chie downstairs. She's from the 'Nog, but since she now lives in NYC, we don't get much chance too hang out anymore. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Sensoji, bobbing to the Buddhas, and popping in and out of the shops carrying their magical array of art and antiques. I'd been around here before , but just off the night train, it had been far too early in the morning. All I remembered were an Ultraman statue, lots of porn posters, and shops which sold plastic food models. Here at midday, shitamachi was raging. Across the crowd, Chie recognized a friend who she knew in the States and hadn't seen for years. Quite the sight, two Japanese women in their thirties clutching hands, jumping up and down and squealing like sorority girls. Amida rolls his eyes.

That night we went to the National Theatre to watch various taiko and dance performances. The first half was a young taiko group from Osaka called Dadadadon. Their playing was technically very good, but they lacked power somewhat. Not once did I feel the drums resonate thru my chest like I do when I hear Yoshikazu (from Kodo) or Hayashi Eitetsu. Their show was spectacular but almost too much so. I felt like I was watching the boy band of taiko.
The second half started slow. A group of men of various ages entered the stage so slowly and lethargically I felt I was watching a scene from the film "Awakenings." They all wore blue pajamas and had cheesy paper cocks on their heads. (The birds, I mean.) The young men took their places in a smaller inner circle around a large drum, which they'd jump at and strike while making Bruce Lee sounds. The old men stood in the back in a half circle, moaning a dirge along to a single shrill somber flute. I caught a couple of the men off to the side looking around somewhat bored. God, I'm glad I wasn't watching this while jet-lagged.
Next up was Awa Odori, which I quite enjoy. The women came out in their usual white yukata and pitched hats, entering so gracefully that it was like they were moving across ice. (Actually, mere days after Katrina, New Orleans was very much in mind. I thought that the dancers looked like white water moving below the roof-shaped hats, their arms flailing like debris floating by.) At a certain point in the dance they fanned out and moved forward in a line, the near-identical faces somewhat scary. The men 's dance was more erratic, shuffling around like crustaceans. Even scarier. Safer to look at the women and their cloned beauty. I enjoyed this so much that I hope to go to Tokushima next year to see the real thing.
Last was the Neputa group from Aomori. They were wild, both in costume and movement. It was like watching a Native American mosh pit. I have to re-emphasize the costumes. They had sloppity tied yukata and wore big pinatas on their heads. But their energy was incredible. I suppose you need to dance exuberantly in order to stay warm up there. When their time was up, they all came off stage and danced up the aisles. When we the audience went outside, the group was still going, swirling and bouncing in the street out front. It was contagious, their Neputism.

Sunday, I had intended to take Leza's morning yoga class at Sun and Moon, but, rare for me, I overslept. Instead I walked with Mon Frere Eric and a couple others thru Aoyama Cemetary, down Omotesando, and into Yoyogi Park. In the cemetary, a huge crow on a headstead marked the past. But Yoyogi was all future, or at least post-modern. I was thrilled to find a huge hiphop event going on. The bands on stage were weak, parapara like metronome, lulling me into a bored daze. There was more life in the flea market tents and in the breakdance event under the overpass. Two groups would come to the center and "serve" each other, which in Japan seems to consist of flipping each other off and stealing each other's baseball caps, no simple feat considering that the brims are turned every which way. Most were clones but a few stood out. The one in the straw Huck Finn hat. The one with the fro and denim suit, looking like Matsuda Yusaku. There was one guy who was so bendy that I'm sure he must do yoga. Extremely well. Overall, all these guys had incredible moves. I wonder how many injuries they suffer before nailing down these dramatic acrobatic moves over concrete.
As I'd never been here on a Sunday before, I wandered around awhile. On the tree-lined walk toward Shibuya, the clone bands and wanna-be talento had their tables set up. Most clone bands had a few clone "fans" standing by and swaying slightly. The more gorgeous talento were surrounded by pervy old guys taking way too many pictures. A group of college students had some sort of comedy quiz going, where the loser would be blugeoned by a rubber mallet. (Takeshi meets Gallagher. Been there, done that.) There was one wild butoh dancer in shredded jeans who was the most interesting because she was the only one who wasn't formulaic. Behind her, across a parking lot, a kissing couple became brief entertainment for some b-boys sitting nearby. They got the biggest applause of the day.
I wandered some more. Bought a taco from a VW microbus. Walked into NHK studio to find a children's show in mid-taping, similar to the ones Ken-chan used to watch. Back near Harajuku station, hospital lolita goths sat splayed on the ground. A Chinese woman walked by muttering, "Sick, sick, sick," but I don't know if she was talking about the goths or the J-lesbians strolling by hand in hand. (Intolerance knows no borders.) A non-descript Hare Krisha gaijin (with hair) started a conversation with me, which I enjoyed and continued. This same thing happened to me almost exactly a year ago in Chicago. It's obviously the mala (juzu) on my wrist acts as Hare Krishna magnet. I could develop quite the book collection.

Sunday night, I met up with Tom from On Gaien Higashi Dori. (Link at left, as usual.) It's ironic since I was actually staying in a hotel on Gaien Higashi-dori. After a failed attempt at finding an open Irish pub, we settled for an izakaya. We regaled each other with our summer adventures, most of which we already knew since we're fans of each other's blogs. One thing I did learn was to never trust an Irishman when he says he wants a quiet night out. That usually means four pints. (Remind me never to drink with Tom on a Saturday.) It made me think of English Lee who'd complain that if an American said he wanted to go out for a beer, he would literally have one, then go home. (Come to think of it, last time I drank with Lee, I was the one who had four pints of Guinness. I'm a credit to my ancestors.) When Tom and I had satisfied our varying degrees of Irishness, our Catholic God anointed us with a biblical rain.

On the turntable: Peace Orchestra
On the nighttable: KM Sen, "Hinduism"

No comments: