Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Kind of People

I'm not sure if you've ever had the chance to suddenly realize that you finally fit in.  I felt that for the first time in college, when I switched from attempting to be a music major to being an art major.  I never actually made it into the conservatory at UMKC - for whatever reason, their flute professor weighed me and found me wanting - but I took a lot of the basic music courses my first year, anticipating that I'd get in on my second try.  When I took my first art course, I was thankful that I didn't - I understood the art students.  They were relaxed and genuine in a way that the music students I knew never were.  They got me.

I kind of feel that way now in Japan.  I get the Japanese.  They are quirky and kinky and silent.  They love cartoons and cute things and crazy stuff like sitting outside and watching the moon.  And today I got to go check out two events that had me thinking I should have been born Japanese - a doll memorial and a cat parade.
Probably I should have saved the doll market for this blog, but honestly when I wrote last week's post I had forgotten the Ningyou Kanshasai was happening today at Meiji Jingu until I was looking through my Google calendar.  I've been to Meiji Jingu before, back in 2014, and even though it was kind of neat being able to recognize it when it showed up in an anime, I hadn't been that impressed.  Back then it was sunny and there were more people strolling the paths of Yoyogi Park, where the temple is located, than standing around in the temple.
Not so today...it was packed, and it was raining.  Maybe that will start to give you an idea of how important this ceremony is in Japan.  Last week I kind of briefly mentioned that dolls are culturally important here.  And by dolls, I mean everything from puppets to plushies - if you look at the first photo you might begin to get an idea of the variety of toys that were presented at the temple today.  Conspicuous for their absence, though, were anime figures, presumably because regardless of what they look like and the use to which you put them, they are collector's items and worth money, so no genteel retirement for them.
Now, if you are the kind of person who didn't cry at the end of Toy Story 3, you might not understand why anyone would feel the need to say thank you to the toys they played with as a child.  If you did, I doubt you need any sort of explanation about dolls having souls.  For me personally, the idea of losing my "cat" Peppermint is so scary that I don't take her out much anymore.  So I found it really sweet to see everyone lined up in the rain, holding their bags of dolls, writing notes of thanks.
Now, let's say I did regale you with the history of the doll, and explain about their souls and the way they absorb a child's misfortunes, and you were not convinced.  Let me tell you a little story.  When we were kids, my great-grandmother had a room full of dolls in her house.  I don't remember the stories of most of them - I think my parents gave her at least a couple - but I remember how much I loved that room.  Each doll was different and special.  On the other hand, most of the cousins found the doll room creepy.  Before you scoff at the sentimentality that would lead a country to create a ceremony to properly send off their dolls' souls, ask yourself if you've ever had a doll give you the heebie jeebies.  And then see if you find the idea so far fetched. 

As for me, one corner of the display had a very kawaii miniature set of Hina Matsuri dolls that were all bunnies, and I was tempted to help them find a new lease on life at Babysis' house, but I was afraid one or both of us would end up with cursed-doll karma, so I left them to their fate and went on to Kagurazaka.

Another fun childhood story for you - one time my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I told her I wanted to be a cat.  My mom very kindly explained that it didn't work that way, and I couldn't be a cat when I grew up...but my mother had never been to Japan, or she might have said differently.  Unlike almost every other place I've lived in Asia, the Japanese actually like cats.  And since they like cats, and they like pretty people (male, female, and everything in between), it makes TOTAL SENSE to put the two together (unlike, you know, monkeys and ponies, for those of you who've been to Skullcrusher Mountain).
So I definitely had to check out the Bakeneko Parade, since it was basically the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.  When I stepped out of the train station, I wasn't totally sure if I was in the right spot.  I'd checked to be sure it would still happen if it was raining before I left the house, but I didn't see anything to indicate that the area was saturated with cat people.  And then I heard the strains of music piping from up the hill, so I headed in that direction, and was delighted to find the Pipe and Tabor Society of Japan all in their nyanniest cat gear.*

Across the street there were several booths set up - one selling some tasty mini-cupcakes with cat decorations, others doing facepaint.  At that point, there weren't a lot of people, and I wondered if it was worth sticking around.  I wandered up the street a little, finding a shrine, where a wedding was being held (they were not, unfortunately, dressed like cats), and generally enjoying the neighborhood.  Apparently the cat in the Natsume Soseki (one of Japan's greatest novelists) book is from Kagurazaka, and that's why the parade takes place here.  I haven't read any of his works - yet...let's hope that Barnes and Noble doesn't fail me - but if it was up to me I'd pick a place from Haruki Murakami's novels, since they pretty much all feature cats.

Another famous resident of the former geisha district is Kobo-chan, a manga character from the 80's.  A couple of years back they put a statue of him up, and the locals dress him up for the season, which means he was wearing cat ears today, too.
I headed back to where the pipe and tabors had been playing, and was happy to see that there were even more people (and bagpipes.  I can't remember the last time I heard "Scotland the Brave," and I found myself wishing I knew the words - I've been in a singing mood lately).  One of the things that I loved the most about today was that everyone participated - foreigners, Japanese, old, young...real cats.  I seriously have no idea how this guys trained his cat to be so chill, but she didn't mind riding around the crowds on his shoulder.
I didn't stay for the whole thing in the end - my feet were already making their protest known, and I didn't really want to be home late, so I started walking back toward the station around 2.  On the ride back to Yomaha the trains caterwauled and I planned out what I'll do for my vacation in a week.  While I didn't mind the rain on my parade today in the least (particularly because it meant that Sports day got sort of cancelled again yesterday), I kind of hope it'll lay off around the inland sea next week.  If not, I guess my shoes will smell even worse by the time I get back, and that will be okay, too.

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