Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Festivals and Fireflowers

Hello everyone,
It's been awhile since our last update. So much has happened since March, but as is its frequent habit, life got in the way of me writing it all down. Between herding kids at the elementary school (tasers would be useful), keeping up with the girls, teaching english and planning a huge Fiesta party for the hospital, something had to give. This spring, it was linear thought.

Goodness. I really wish that I had written down all that I have experienced in the last 5 months...Cherry blossom viewing, summer noodles at my friends' houses, our first Japanese BBQ, the Hospital Fiesta (and the befuddled Japanese kids staring at the wanton violence as American children gleefully beat down a papier-mache donkey filled with treats...), our trip to Nikko with our pal Steph. Alas, five months of memories can disappear as quickly as the sakura blossoms...One minute they are there, so amazingly beautiful and alive, and the next thing you know, they are fluttering to the ground...

I have plans to start a blog so that I can be more disciplined and regular in my writing. Plus, I can add pictures. I really wish I had snapped one of the two signs I saw recently: "Schnauzerland" (for all your schnauzer needs) and "Goo World" (for ???). Unfortunately, those were seen from the car on our way somewhere. But I think I can access the "Noodles and Gruel" picture we took in the airport in Taiwan last year. Geez, I know you think I am doing so, but it's really humanly impossible to make this stuff up.

Well, rainy season finally left a few weeks ago and we are finally in full-on summer. T.'s parents came to visit a few weeks ago and we had a lovely time visiting Kyoto, except for the incredible heat and humidity. All my Japanese friends warned me. Each and every one of them looked pitiful when I told them (all excitedly) that we were going to Kyoto to see the Gion Festival, the oldest festival in Japan. "Ahhhh, it's very HOT." I thought they were just being Tokyo Weenies. But, Oh. My. God. It. Was. So. Freakin. Hot.

Kyoto is in a valley, thus no breeze in the summer. The temples and shrines are magnificent--Kyoto is an ancient home of the Emperor and former capital of Japan as well as being the birthplace of Japanese Buddhism. There are over 1500 temples and shrines in the area. One day, we visited 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sights in about 6 hours and were lucky enough to see a Maiko, an apprentice geisha, on her way to an appointment in the old town. She looked exquisite. We, on the other hand, looked like we had been "rode hard and put up wet", which is literally what had happened after touring all day in the sticky heat (minus the horse). Our guide took a liking to us and wanted to take our picture at the end of the day to put on his website. I am not sure that snapshot will drum up much business for him.

Tim's parents were troopers...they ate everything we introduced them to except the Barbequed Squid-on-a-stick at the Gion Festival. (Yes, the little blackened tentacles veer off in wild directions from the stick...) They tried yakitori, octopus balls, pancake thingies on a stick, fried spaghetti, sweet potato fries and Japanese shaved ice at the night fair. The festival itself centers around a large parade of 26 "floats", which are actually portable shrines and very tall wagons decorated with elaborate tapestries and paintings, many of which are National Treasures, telling various Japanese folk stories. They do not actually "float" but are pulled laboriously with rope by about thirty young men in the insane heat. Oh, and they don't have brakes or axles. Turning corners is quite hairy, as the musicians perched on top of these things look like they are going to toppel off at any minute, while a billion little guys are running around trying to coax the structures around the turns on bamboo slats. One wrong move, and the whole thing goes over. I know you can't picture this scene in your mind. I am having a hard time believing I saw it.

Unlike American parades, tens of thousands of people are all orderly and pretty quiet except for some restrained clapping when something exciting happens, like the insane turns. BIZARRE. Instead of throwing candy, some of the dudes accompanying the floats gave out fans. Very useful since I don't think people had any saliva left to suck on candy. In any case, there are no shriners in mini cars, no shrill horns, no marching bands, no Bozo the Clown bouncing down the sidelines. I didn't hear one person whistle through his fingers. Like most things Japanese, it was sublimely, strangely sedate.

All in all, it was a wonderful and unforgettable trip. We hope to go back in the cooler weather to see the 1489 temples we didn't get to see the first time.

The rest of the summer has been filled with fireworks, which the Japanese call Hanabi, or Fireflowers. Isn't that a poetic name? We caught a display in Zushi with our friend Hirano-san and his wife. They were the best Fireflowers I have seen since the Statue of Liberty Celebration in 1986. The Grand Finale filled up the entire sky over the ocean with falling gold sparks and a relentless drumbeat of explosions...I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest.

And then it was over. I am learning from my Japanese Experience, that the best things in life are fleeting. The present moment is the best time to experience life's joys, because just moments later, the Fireflowers wilt and dissapate and the cherry blossoms let go and blow away in the breeze, to God knows where.

I hope that you enjoy the remaining, fleeting days of summer, no matter where you are in the world. Life is good.

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