The Taiko Festival

Shizuoka is Suddenly a Lot Closer

The Taiko Festival

Two weeks after the sports day was the two-day Taiko Festival. I’d been going to practices for one or two hours every weekday since the beginning of October, partly to memorize the songs I hadn’t been able to learn last year, and partly because my kids enjoyed abusing me to alleviate their boredom.


The festival was on the first Sunday and Monday of November. The Friday before I was going to Shizuoka to attend a Halloween party, and I had to make sure I was back in time to be at the local shrine by 7:30 Sunday morning. It’s sort of like Cinderella, I suppose, minus the glamour and the glass slipper. And I’m not holding my breath for any princes.


It was precisely two years ago that I met Grimm and his now-ex-girlfriend at a Halloween party in Shizuoka, and it was at Grimm’s invitation that I was going back. All three of us noted that were wearing the exact same costumes we’d worn when we met: I had my kung-fu suit, Grimm’s ex was a French maid, and Grimm was 7-foot Death. Grimm’s a big guy. And yes, that is why I call him Grimm.


There was a surprisingly large crowd at the party, including many JETs I hadn’t seen in ages and many more I’d never met. Just as I was getting up from the table I’d been sitting at, a small Japanese girl I hadn’t even noticed got my attention and initiated what quickly became the first truly interesting conversation I’d ever had in Japanese. Her name was A., she was 23, her birthday was December 5th, and she seemed really pleased that my blood type was a “compatible” B-something-or-other, which is something they care about in Japan.


By the time she mentioned that she really wanted to see Kill Bill, I was  hooked. Even though I was meeting St. Nick to see it on Saturday night, I immediately made plans to see it with her on Saturday afternoon. Even the Fates were uncharacteristically helpful: by the time we got outside, her bike had been stolen, so I got to walk her home.


She even remembered our date the next day.


Walking back to the station after the movie—which, to my surprise and relief, she thoroughly enjoyed—we made plans to see each other again the next weekend.


“Date?” she asked.


“Yeah,” I said.


She smiled back.


I returned to The Village with my world very much altered from what it had been on Friday afternoon.

Drums in the Dark

The taiko group
Yoshi, Animal, Taki-chan, and others

I woke up charged on Sunday morning, and ran up to the shrine on the hill to see the dragon-dance and drink ceremonial saké. Then we all pulled our black pagoda-trailer down the narrow roads as the flutes played, the drums pounded, and we all called out “So-reh” in time.


I hadn’t noticed before, but the organizers all wore ribbons denoting their eminent positions. I received one as well. It read, “Canadian.”


My friend Yoshi had one that said “Translation.”


We received a variety of sumptuous food at each of our four or five scheduled stops, and the refreshment truck followed us all day, full of booze paid for by the 3000-yen donation envelopes we were so assiduously collecting.


When we finally arrived back at our meeting hall, we had a few last rounds of drumming before everything closed down. The other guys stuck around to continue drinking late into the night, but I went home early, and arrived just in time to get a call from A. We would talk for nearly two hours, entirely in Japanese… and then do the same again two nights later.

Taki-chan’s name is not actually Taki—his name doesn’t even have the sound “Taki” in it. However, his house has a name, and is called “Takida.” Thus, he is “Taki-chan.” Similarly, Yoshi is sometimes called “Canada-ya” because his house garnered the name when his grandfather returned from living in Canada years ago. It means “Canada store.”

Our next day’s drumming took us into the adjacent town area, where even the nutters in my area said the people were “crazy.” To illustrate the point, their ringleader wore a big blonde wig and an anatomically enhanced she-leopard costume with the tail inappropriately swung around to the front. It wasn’t long before I was summoned over and handed a big plastic beer cup filled entirely with whisky. They wouldn’t hear any of my demurrals, so I downed the cup in two gulps and proceeded to pick up Mrs. Peel, the tea lady from one of my schools, and carry her back to our camp, where I was told to return her and come back with someone younger. Mrs. Peel is about 34, but when we met I thought she was in her late 20s.


I went back to my apartment in the hopes that the alcohol would wear off in time for me to go back for dinner and the remaining festivities. After very abstractly ushering out the two kids who’d followed me home, I lay down on my bed and fell asleep until 2:15 in the morning.


I was ribbed about this at the after-party the next night, where we all celebrated our successful completion of two days of drinking by, naturally, drinking.


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December 2003