Friday, August 28, 2009

Let Me Get Back to the Sea III

It was raining the next morning, so we didn't set out until 9:30. I lingered out front, looking at at plaque stating that this school, which had opened in 1885, had graduated its last class back in the spring. I was struck by the far -reaching effects of the country's population decline. Each school closure means more kids are educated further away, and therefore become that much more removed from their own local identity. These final pupils had laid their hands in concrete to commemorate the closure. There set in stone were the marks of 10 little hands.

We walked down the valley, rich with spirituality, including Jinguji where we saw the Omizu-okuri last March. I'd stop at every temple and shrine, then hurry to catch up with the group. After Wakasahiko Jinja with its 1000 year old cedar and wonderful Noh stage, the road forked and I lost everybody. The frequent jizo assured me that I was on the right path, but it eventually became highway. I pushed on trying to make it to Obama's Izumi market for the scheduled 12:30 final event. I just made, but the kids took some time to arrive. There were speeches and high fives, then we all sat down to mackerel soup. Afterward, we walked the last 10 minutes to the sea. I, like Gary before me, had made it. The photograph ritual began, so I said a quick goodbye. As I moved away, I overheard a few muttering voices. Most of kids never got my name, and I remained "The American," like some character in a Graham Greene novel.

I found a hotel near the waterfront and dropped my bags. This place was gripping tightly to its former bubblicious glory. Apparently, the Emperor stayed here once, a year before he took the job. I wonder if he partook in any of the services available, including (from the English translation) a geisha girl (12000 yen), and companion (15000 yen, limit of three please.)

My feet continued to ache as I walked the town. Tourist sights were well kept and the signs pointing to them prevalent. This is obviously a town that has respect for its past, but it also has an disturbing interest in my own nation's present. The face of my president is simply EVERYWHERE, to the point that it becomes surreal. I really don't know what to make of the President Obama vending machine. Prior to last year's election, this town was known for its temples. I strolled the outskirts, passing many temples and shrines. I saw an Atago jinja, and another for Kumano, but my feet vetoed the idea of climbing those high steps. I walked over to Hosshinji, the famous zen dojo of the great Harada Roshi. The valley around it was in veiled in clouds. There were quite a few monks about, cleaning and preparing for Obon. A few gassho'ed me, and it hit me that I was dressed somewhat like them, a brother monk. Moving on, I got a one handed gassho from a European monk on a bike, his zafu as bicycle seat. He wheeled around to chat awhile, then rushed off. I followed to his temple, Bukkokuji, another well-established training site. A different European foreigner was sweeping the tatami. I thought it must be tough to be a non-American foreigner in Obama these days. Every local person you'd meet would feel a little let down.

I walked the covered streets, nearly everything closed on the Sunday. Obsequious boy band music was piped in, making me ponder if it is played at the White House too. A shower took such stupid thoughts from my brain, then it was dinner time. I found a small sushi shop that offered mackerel on the menu out front. I went in and ordered, but quickly got vibed out. The sushi chef seemed content to hide behind stereotypes, rather than understand my perfectly good Japanese, which his wife had to 'translate.' The woman next to me asked me if I could eat fish, seconds after she watched me shovel two pieces into my maw. This in a town which is currently basking in the association with an internationally famous name. Next time I'm in Harlem, I'm going to start asking the locals if they only eat fried chicken. We'll see how long the blood stays in my body.

And why is this bothering me? I was perfectly happy to play the role of adopted mascot the night before. And the main reason I ate out tonight was to chat up the locals. And they would only have started that conversation due to my skin color. After all, I've never seen two Japanese strangers strike up a conversation here. Why does this not offend me? I, like every other foreigner in Japan, is happy to play the race card when it benefits them. Why do we think we can have it both ways?

After quickly chugging my beer, I'm gone in minutes. The grilled mackerel and draft beer I'd been seeking is found up the street. Here, I wind up talking to no one since everyone's attention is riveted to the Japanese woman's volleyball team on TV. I go back to my hotel and treat my knees to the bath they've been craving. Coming back to my room, I nearly fall over in laughter. When I'd checked in, I'd requested a bed, so as to give my poor knees some soft respite, a point I'd mentioned to the staff. All the Western Rooms were full, so I took this one. And now, I find that the maid had set out on the tatami four futons, piled half a meter high. I'm really going to miss this silly country. I pass a restful night in my cotton tower, trying and failing to figure out where the pea is......

On the turntable: David Grisman, "Acousticity"

1 comment:

Project Hyakumeizan said...

The futon anecdote and your riff on being asked if you can eat fish - both very droll. And I'm glad you managed to see the countryside before, as you say, the central government completely f***ks it up ....