My friend Noba recently invited me to a Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater), performance in the nearby town of Takahashi. Although I feel that I have a responsibility to experience as much of Japanese culture as I can, I must admit that I had mixed feelings about attending. I suppose I thought it would be a bit slow and “mannered”. I mistaken: It was brilliant!
When we met to take the bus to Takahashi, I was surprised to find that Noba’s mother would be coming with us. Noba did not let me know in advance and it stuck me as quite touching that he felt no need to explain. Although she speaks no English, his mother was very charming and friendly. There were no more than five men on the bus and very few of the women (many of whom were wearing kimonos), were younger than myself. As is true everywhere else I suppose, the “younger generation” seems disinclined to experience their historical culture. Their loss!
The venue was a beautiful modern hall and the performers were among the best in Japan. With white-painted faces, black wigs and elaborate traditional costumes, the acting was nuanced and displayed remarkable, and often surprising athleticism. From behind trap doors built into the elaborate sets, actors would suddenly leap out onto the stage. I have never seen anything like it before: It was colorful, kinetic and the accompanying shamisen (a stringed Japanese instrument) music was great. It was brilliant and, to my “western eyes”, totally alien. I loved it!
It is expected that ALTs will volunteer and participate in various cultural and teaching related events in the community. Last year I attended and helped teach English classes for the Niimi International Exchange Association, gave a couple of Power-Point presentations, helped out at the annual Halloween Party for younger children and assisted Andrew with his weekly evening English class. This year I’m looking forward to next week’s Halloween party on the eleventh and am honored to have been invited to actually participate in the annual Samurai Parade (Daimiyou Gyouretsu) on the 15th of October. It’s a great event steeped in tradition. Dressed in traditional garb, I’ll be in the Mikoshi, in which a fairly large and heavy shrine is borne on the shoulders of marchers along the parade route and culminating in the ascent of a fairly steep hill. Although I was worried it might put too much of a strain on my damaged left knee, I’ve been assured that I can at least partially “fake it”, with the other bearers shouldering most of the weight. Traditionally, participants drink great lashings of sake, made at a temple specifically for the occasion, along the route. Should be fun; I’ll try to get some photos to post on the blog, as I did last year.
I must admit though, that I was a little less enthusiastic about another “volunteering” opportunity last Thursday. A few ALTs including myself attended a meeting a a large plastic manufacturing plant here in Niimi. As an expanding company they want their employees to have a grasp of English in order to explain technical aspects of the manufacturing process to English-speaking fellow employees and, to that end, asked for our help. I’d have been ok with that I suppose, but they also expected us to sign a confidentiality agreement AND provide photo copies of our passports. Given that this is a volunteer position (ie: non-paying), and that this is after all, a successful profit-making corporation, I felt it was a bit intrusive. Although I’m not sure what the other ALTs intend to do, I’ve declined, with some regret, to participate.