On With the Show

While I was waiting for the bus on my way out to Shizuoka on Saturday, I was approached by an old woman who seemed to want to talk. However, she seemed convinced I was speaking English, because every time I said something in Japanese like, “Is this the bus to Shuzenji?” she just told me she was sorry that she couldn’t remember any English words.

 

I was pretty happy when the bus arrived.

 

Three hours later, Grimm and I met up and headed out to Sumpu Park (the park inside the castle) to join in Shizuoka’s “hanami” festivities. While “hanami” literally means “flower-viewing,” it refers pretty much exclusively to the act of sitting in a park looking at cherry blossoms while getting completely hammered with all your friends.

 

We joined the group from the local bar-cum-English-school and spent much of the evening irritating everyone by trying to recite our lines simultaneously to see if we could make each other screw up. Then we went off to watch the first kabuki performance. There were three kabuki performances with three different groups of gaijin, and ours was the first of two on Sunday afternoon.

 

I’d been without a television in The Village, but Grimm informed me that the piece on our performance had already been aired on NHK TV. Apparently, it had become a focus on “V-chan,” a JET who was in the Saturday group. Of the rest of us, only the other girl in the group actually appeared in focus on camera—“Because she’s pretty,” opined Grimm, whose 6’6” frame somehow managed to evade detection.

 

By the time the first performance began, my entire group had somehow independently managed to assemble in the same location to watch. Much to our relief, it went really, really well. The audience was quite responsive, and everyone looked great onstage. Those of us who were to perform in 18 hours’ time took heart.

 

Then, of course, it started to drizzle. We gave 90% odds that it would last just long enough to rain out the 12:30 Sunday performance.

Game Day

The next morning, Grimm and I got going a little late due to some interference from PlayStation 2, and given that he wasn’t planning on being in any shape to drive after the performance, we took off in his car to overtake the bus. It makes sense. Really.

 

When we arrived at… well… something approximating 10:30, the first order of business was to have all our visible skin coloured chalk white, so we stripped down to our skivvies and got to it. We also got eye and lip make-up, kimonos, wooden two-slat stilt shoes (“geta”), umbrellas, little fake katana, and classic samurai wigs.

 

The performance itself was a scene from “Shiranami no gonin otoko,” or “The Five Men of the White Wave,” all of whom were Robin Hood-like bandits on the run from the police. In this particular scene we were introducing ourselves to the audience one by one before fighting off our would-be captors. We concluded each of our parts by giving our character names with a carefully rehearsed flourish of our umbrellas, after which we gave our real names in full kabuki style.

 

Thus, I became: “KAH-nah-toh! MaiIIIIIkehRUUuuuuuuuh!”

 

We practiced one last time together—the first and only time in costume—and I decided that I would be irreconcilably disappointed if I didn’t make use of my little katana, so I added a spinning flourish of the blade as I said my own name.

In Kabuki Mode
In Kabuki Mode (Photo by Akiko Ito)

Then up we went: five nervous gaijin balancing on tiny stilt shoes going onstage to deliver a performance in Old Japanese that we could only hope was so abstruse that nobody would be able to tell if we flubbed half our lines.

 

Aside from a minor lack of unison in our initial advance downstage (my bad), it went off without a hitch. Nobody flubbed or froze. I didn’t even drop my sword when I spun it in my hand. It was amazing. And not a single drop of rain fell.

 

Afterwards, everyone wanted photos and we were more than happy to oblige. I didn’t want to get out of costume; it was such fun to walk around and watch how excited people got at the sight of us.

 

Once we changed, we wandered the festival en masse, partaking in delectable food and drinks of all sorts, delighting most notably in 500 yen worth of well-spiced beef-on-a-stick. We eventually decided to go to an izakaya, but since none of them would be open until 4:00, we idled on a downtown street and watched the various parades go by to pass the time.

 

I couldn’t go along to the izakaya, though. I had to go to my old apartment and pick up the odds and ends—including my kendo armour—that I hadn’t been able to take with me the week before. It took twenty minutes to walk to my apartment, and I was determined to get to the station by 5:00 because there was no way I could afford to pay for the Shinkansen again.

 

So I had to say goodbye.

 

Grimm was trying to convince me to come just for a few minutes, but I knew I couldn’t risk it, even disregarding my neurotic need to allow thirty minutes of leeway for every uncertainty. So that was the last I saw of those guys.

 

The Australian met me at the apartment and helped carry my remaining things to the station. He’d wanted to come along for a visit, but I honestly didn’t have time to do anything with him since I needed to sift through the last ALT’s papers and come up with a plan for my students on Monday. I told him he could come by some other weekend once I got settled.

 

And in the end, I was early enough to catch the second-last bus to The Village. Perhaps I could have gone along to the izakaya for twenty minutes after all.

 

So that was it for travelling, visitors, kabuki and Shizuoka in general. Chapter 1 had come to a close, and before me lay the schools of The Village, of which I would get my first taste on Monday.

 

Now, as for Monday… Monday got me wondering if I shouldn’t have just cut my losses and come home when I’d had the chance.

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April 2002