Shamisen and chance encounters

This was a strange and strangely sluggish week, but it’s over (and the gnat bite has almost completely healed, yay!)–not that that means that I get a chance to rest, because our huge sayounara party takes place this weekend at a beach on the opposite end of the prefecture. It’s strange, knowing that these are some of the last conversations I’m going to have with a lot of these people, either for a while or ever. I know that there are quite a few I won’t keep in touch with, but there are quite a few that I fully intend to stay in touch with–so many wonderful people are leaving this year, unfortunately. But it’s also cool to know that a very large percentage of the prefecture’s ALTs seem to be coming out for this, including people who usually don’t come out, so I foresee having some good conversations and fun times this weekend.

Today’s Tanabata Matsuri, or the Star Festival, commemorating the one day of the year where, according to ancient lore, two stars are allowed to meet. I’d wondered what all the bamboo and colored paper hanging on Ikeda’s Ginza-Dori and outside random houses and buildings was about, but I kept forgetting to ask. One of my eikaiwa students today invited me to come out to see some Tanabata festivities on the Ginza-dori tonight…it actually ended up not being a full-fledged matsuri, but a 45-minute-long shamisen concert with a bit of Awa Odori thrown in (as always–a tradition that I love), and with proper tea ceremony tea and sweets being served. Terumi invited me to come for free, which was really kind of her.

I got there a few minutes late–the concert had just started, but I was by no means the last one there; it’s just one of those small-town things, where it’s okay to wander in during the middle and nobody really thinks the worse of you for it. (The performance was across the narrow street from where we were sitting–but it wasn’t so narrow that cars still didn’t drive in between us occasionally.) The person sitting down next to me made friendly conversation (“atsui desu ne!” is a sure-fire conversation starter here) as she was getting up, and a moment later, a woman sat down in her place with her back to me, and her husband pulled up a folding chair next to her. A few minutes, she turned around, saw me, and let out a surprised exclamation, and I turned to look at her and was caught by surprise myself–it was the woman I’ve run into all over town.

It’s so strange how we keep meeting up by sheer chance like this! And we always end up meeting in situations where we have a few minutes to talk as well. She loves linking her arm with mine or putting her hand over mine, and she has such a warm disposition, and she remembers everything I’ve told her about myself and my life from our previous encounters–she and her husband (who I haven’t talked to much, but who’s always quite friendly) are two people I always enjoy running into. And yet again, we never got to ask each other’s names…she offered to get me some more tea, and I told her that it was okay, I would get it myself and come back. When I stood up, only to have the ladies in kimono take my things from me since the performance had finished, I started to head back to my seat, only to see that she and her husband had gotten up and left.

On a slightly more exasperating and funny note, as soon as I noticed them leaving, I turned around to inquire whether the concert had finished, just to make sure, and saw Crazy Lady From The Restaurant Across The Street making a beeline for my vicinity (yes, Mom and Dad, that lady–and you know what, I asked my eikaiwa students today while we were talking about Japanese/western etiquette, and they said that my taking the pit with my fingers was not at all a big deal, and there was no reason for her to gasp!), and cringed–but she ended up going to talk to other people nearby, which let me slip out, hopefully unnoticed. I’m sure she means well, but she’s so batty and uptight and it’s impossible to figure her out…she ran into Hannah yesterday and offered her a ticket to today’s concert, but Hannah’s base high school was holding her farewell enkai tonight, so she couldn’t make it. The woman immediately became very cold, as if Hannah had deliberately affronted her, which was totally not the case, and when Hannah tried “waving the olive branch around,” as she put it, and made polite conversation, the woman just refused to go along with it. Even when she apologized for not coming and said, “Maybe next time!”, the woman snapped, “There is no next time!”

It turns out, as I found out tonight, that one of the reasons she was So Affronted by Hannah declining her invitation was that she was one of the shamisen performers. She was perched there, radiating this air of sheer pomp and not allowing herself at all to relax, and even when she and two other shamisen players abandoned their instruments to dance Awa Odori in the street while the others played, she still didn’t smile! Awa Odori is one of those things where you can’t not smile–every night I hear the taiko drumming from one of the dance groups practicing on the hill behind my house, and without fail it makes me smile. Plus, as traditional as Awa Odori has become, it’s just ironic that she displays such sheer pomp over “the dance of the drunken fool,” a dance which actually started out as something a bunch of drunk people threw together on a whim many, many years ago. The juxtaposition of those origins with her expression and stiff posture make me snicker–I can’t help it.

Speaking of pomp, on Monday I was running late and sprinted most of the way to the train station, and just barely made the train to my elementary school…I was sweating and took several minutes to catch my breath once I got on the train, and I looked around and saw this older woman sitting across from me with her nose literally in the air, staring coldly and disdainfully at me. How dare I sweat in July! How dare I actually have the energy to run for my train, instead of wanting to shell out ¥2000 for a taxi or go beg my boss for a ride! How could I dream of being so unwomanly as to not look immaculate? I nearly started laughing; the look on her face has really stuck with me, and makes me grin every time I think of it. It was preposterous how haughty she looked–an utterly priceless moment.

Well, anyway…after the concert, I decided to walk down to Sunshine to buy myself junk for dinner (mmm, pizza and ice cream), and the hazy, moisture-filled air combined with the clouds and sunset to cover the town in this truly magnificent array of colors. I snapped a bunch of pictures during my walk–it’s always nice to have these opportunities to see these mountains and this sky, now such a familiar and constant sight, in a new and refreshing light.

Huh…I have no idea how it is I keep writing long entries like this without even meaning to. I have a few more musical DVDs to burn and food to make and a ride to square away for tomorrow’s party, so I should get to it. I also should finish up with the LookBook–three full-color pages of info on Tokushima AJET for the incoming ALTs to peruse while at Tokyo Orientation. I’ve slaved away on them the past couple of days, and looking at them makes me feel really good, like a truly professional designer; I’m glad AJET’s giving me the opportunity to expand my portfolio. But anyway–have a good weekend, guys!

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