Sunday, October 1, 2017

Scarecrows and Firelight

Friday I made a decision: I would swap out my summer clothes for the ones in what I thought of as my autumn suitcase.  This was predicated by the fact that I had just ripped a hole in one of my linen (ie, summer) pants, and wanted to be sure the rest made it as least as far as the beginning of summer.  It might not truly be cool (yet.  Most of the time), but my standard cords will stand up to my demanding teacher lifestyle a lot better.
Yesterday started a helluva lot earlier than I would have liked.  The school has an annual picnic in September, and this year we held it at Kishine Park.  It's not that far away, but have I mentioned Yokohama's hills?  I could have met everyone at the school and gotten a ride over, but I decided it would be much more after my own idiom to find my own way there, and that went well enough, but to make sure I caught the right bus I was out the door at 7, where I found this friend waiting for me. 

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that the week had finally reached terminal velocity, and this week I found that at least some of the people around me didn't suck (probably none of them suck, but you know me and my antisocial tendencies).  Monday I found myself chatting with three of the people I miss the most from Mongolia, feeling like the world was at an end, but by the time work was over the following day, I felt much better.  The expat life is kind of like that - rollercoasterish, with its ups and downs.  Still, when the clock ran out on the "family picnic" I was ready to get the heck out of Yomaha.

Last weekend I stumbled onto Tokyo Cheapo's events page, and found out this weekend there would be a firelight Noh performance at Zojo-Ji.  Putting it on the Cheapo site may have been slightly inaccurate, since the cheapest seats were still 2,000 yen, but since we got paid on Thursday I was flush with cash, and so that was my plan.  And then I found out there was a local street festival "next door" at Higashi Azabu, and I figured between the two it would make up for working on a Saturday.
After finding Zojo-Ji and figuring out if tickets were available and how to buy them (if you're reading this around the end of September 2018, they'll set up a table at the bottom of the stairs near the main entrance around 3:30 or 4), I had two hours to kill, so I wandered past Tokyo Tower and found the area of the festival.  It was...interesting.  It's called the Kakashi Festival, which means scarecrow but also happens to be the name of my favorite character from Naruto (which may have influenced me to go check it out, cause, you know...nerd).  Apparently it was an import from Tohoku, where some of the residents of Higashi Azabu originally came from.
So scarecrows are the main part of the festival, although this being Japan, there were plenty with their own cute twists.  A tent was set up with several on display - entered by local businesses and maybe schools?  I kind of wanted to find out if anyone could enter one, because it would amuse me to no end to participate next year by entering a huge version of my Kakashi-sensei plushie. 
There were tons of street food stalls, and games, of course.  I decided I needed one last shaved ice, only to discover it is not nearly as tasty on the last day of September as it is in mid-August.  For some reason that I still haven't been able to fathom, no matter how hard I rattle my brains, there were hula dancers, as well as a kind of cheesy magician.  I thought his tricks (ILLUSIONS, MICHAEL) were fairly transparent, but the kids seemed to be enjoying the show, and I had to admit he was still better than the magician who performed at ASU's TEDx last year.
Finally, I headed back to Zojo-Ji.  When I first got there, I was so busy trying to figure out about the performance that I didn't fully appreciate it (that and the incense.  I'd been trying to fend off a headache all day and the incense wasn't helping.)  There is a nice prayer hall, and apparently the treasure house is currently open.  But I didn't really pay that much attention.
See, the reason I knew the name Zojo-Ji is because I'm an art nerd, and once upon a time the Joslyn had a copy of Hasui Kawase's "Zojo-Ji Temple in Snow" on display, and it made enough of an impression to remember.  While I don't intend to visit all of the famous ukiyo-e scenes of old Edo...probably......I mean, really, there's just too many of them...this was too good a chance to pass up.

So I got back from visiting the scarecrows and entered the crowd, finding my seat and reading while waiting for things to get started.  The special thing about the Takigi Noh - which is what it's called - is that it's performed by firelight, with a little help from some electric lights.  When they finally lit them, I was pretty stoked.  They got the stage set up, and finally, the performance started.  And once it started, it didn't take me long to figure it out.  Noh is not really my cup of tea.
Japanese aesthetics can be a bit...subtle.  In a print, or painted on a paper screen, that comes off very elegantly.  As I sat and watched the first of the three performances - a number of priests sitting still while the two main characters declaimed at each other (calmly and thoughtfully, I thought, although I had no idea what they were saying) I had the entirely inappropriate urge to burst into a rendition of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."  While the wailing of the flutes was poignant and the hits of the drums called out into the night, the stillness of the actors failed to move me.  So maybe I can't be called a weeaboo in the truest sense of the word, because I left after the first play.  This might have been unfair - the second was supposed to be kyogen, which I've read is comedic, and the third was about a woman who turned out to be a demon, and maybe on a normal Saturday I could have appreciated them, but after the picnic, I was just done.

As I walked away from Zojo-Ji, down a street lit by lanterns and lined with restaurants, I realized there is a good chance I've been unfair to Tokyo.  True, it doesn't have the same magic as Kyoto, but there is something about walking down its streets that feels entirely right to me.  It reminds me of how Seoul used to feel like it was my own personal amusement park, except more.  Walking through Tokyo feels like the whole city is just part of my home.  After all, there was a reason why Hokusai and Hiroshige's most famous prints were of Edo, not Kyoto.

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