Fear and Loving in Japan
I have seen the dark abyss of a child’s mind and it takes form as a Japanese holiday. To put in to words the fear in the eyes of a child who is put through this torture is indescribable. This truly is the darkest festival I have witnessed and participated in to this day, the Tengu Matsuri. I think back to my first horror movie and the fear that it lay in to my poor virgin soul. Fortunately at the time I could console myself with the knowledge that these terrifying characters on screen had no presence here in the real world. Sadly for these Japanese children, Tengu creatures are not virtual images on a screen, they appear in the night to reap havoc and physical harm upon children. This is a reality that I cannot imagine experiencing as a defenceless juvenile. Every tear shed by the innocence that night was justified.
Allow me to foreshadow the events of a Tengu Matsuri. Essentially, it’s a festival, a day for celebration, which should connote festive feelings right? You would think so. And I certainly thought the same as I walked up to the temple in the late of evening. Food stalls and happy families filled the streets. The atmosphere was brimming with fervent laughter and cheerful faces. Many of my students were present and in the prime of their happiness, perhaps doing their best to hide the anxiety welling up inside them. Then it began with the beating of a ceremonial drum (insert yet another Lord of the Rings reference). The ephemeral cheerfulness on the kids’ faces collapsed completely. Like a flame to an ant hill, they scattered in a wave with enough force to knock down a small elephant. I was drawn up hill toward the sounds of muffled screams under the deep bass of the drum. There at the temple doors under the lantern light stood a dozen men in but white dressing around their waste and groin, brimming with inebriated smiles. A beautifully crafted hand-mechanized dragon with lustful hunger in its movements swayed on the veranda, inciting terror and apprehension in to the white-faced children doing their best to hide in the ruffles of their parents’ clothing. And then came the Tengu... Okay I need to be as clear as I can about this. Tengu are Japanese goblin-like creatures with long noses and hyper-aggravated expressions on their faces. And the men that dress up as these characters: temple monks – oh yeah how intimidating can a monk be? Well as it were… Extremely. All the temple workers congregate prior to the event and drink together until they are swaying with intoxication. Then when the time comes, they don the costume of a demonic creature before running in to the crowd of visitors with bamboo sticks, smacking anyone they can get to. I’m serious. Drunk monks run around in a terrifying costume and beat upon people’s heads. It is said that being hit by a Tengu should bring good luck to the victim, hence the reason to celebrate such barbarity. I’d never seen anything more brutally old-fashioned in my life! I was hit five times to a point where I was bleeding from the skull, literally. The expression on my student’s faces upon seeing me wounded by these drunken creatures was priceless. If they weren’t already terrified, they were then petrified. It was so much fun! And yes I feel luckier.
So The Tengu Matsuri takes the cake for the highlight of the month. But then there was the Eikaiwa session where I volunteered to give English lessons to older citizens here in Minoh. Here I was told wonderful stories of yesteryear from the voices of wisdomed men. On the topic of sport, I learnt a lot from these men. One of them was a table tennis champion here in Osaka which of course is no small feat when this is the second largest city of Japan. Then I met a man who is now a professor in the study of martial arts. His stories could bring the dead back to life. Then I met a man who grew up in a mountain village where they would ski to school everyday. He showed me photos of the place and this village was seriously the manifestation of a fairy tale. There was so much experience at this one table and it was so fascinating that I quickly forgot that I was a volunteer worker and not a cross-legged child listening to folk stories. I listened to these tales of Japanese heros like I listen to Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter, in complete mesmerisation.
On the topic of music, when I first brought up that I was very fond of small-venue gigs I was told by the locals that they scarcely exist. This is not true. We found a café that has live music every weekend and it is fantastic. The performers of the night were so enthusiastic, so passionate; they were clearly riding the ambition of becoming the next Radwimps, rising up from the smalls of Osaka pub-venues. Their energy and creativity reminded me of the fervent expressionism back home in Wellington. It was beautiful. The following weekend, we went to yet another small-venue music event in what felt like an apartment more than a venue, with just the addition of a bar and complete turntable setup. A Steve Zissou lookalike manned the tables for a period of the evening, and getting to know him I discovered there is actually a very present, though esoteric scene here for such events. He had moved to Osaka as an English teacher only to become an events manager of electronica/drum n bass events. There were a lot of these types here actually, visitors turned resident. It’s a reality that many come face-to-face with when the beauty of Japan engulfs them. Perhaps I will empathise with these figures one day.
So following this ephemeral apartment intrigue, I managed to crane myself out of bed early next morning to attend my first ever American Football game. I felt a sense of irony attending an American Football game in Japan as a kiwi who knew only rugby before this day but it was hugely thrilling.
I loved every moment of it. I now have a new passion for a new sport. Some of the plays made by this particular team were so advanced that I couldn’t help but feel awe at the level of profession. It’s an experience I heartily recommend to anyone who should so find the opportunity. A friend and I were escorted to this game by a pair of local girls which leads me to my concluding point. I implore that should you ever visit Japan, be it for a week or a year, go and meet the locals! You will never see the real Japan as a tourist. All the best places I have visited here have been recommendations by the locals. From the video game bars to the unique clothing stores, to the secret serene areas void from hordes of tourists and locals alike, you must exert yourself and really engage the residents here in order to experience Japan at a truly authentic level. You won’t regret it. I have never met a Japanese person who is uninterested in having a conversation, and you never know where it will go. Chaos theory, though chaotic, will lead you to the most beautiful ends.