It’s Not a Festival Until You Cry *WARNING: LOTS OF PICTURES!*

The Takushin Junior High School ‘festival’ took place over the weekend, and it’s certainly unlike anything I ever experienced in my long years as a schoolkid. Designed to showcase the school’s ability to produce young and upstanding members of society, as well as ultimately showing the kids’ parents what they’ve been up to while at school, the festival to my mind would be a brief talent show followed by some speech by the headmaster, and then some tea at the end. How wrong I was.

The School Hall/Gym

The day starts with some skits and shows put on and produced entirely by the students themselves, unbeknownst to their teachers. The first graders showed some rather odd dance sequences set to some strange local Japanese show. Something about bees and world peace, I think. The second graders were a bit more varied, ranging from gymnastics to a rather amazing solo performance by two girls who could easily have a career in opera someday. Seeing such small girls emitting such loud and harmonious voices was startling to say the least! Likewise a boy who is normally quiet as a mouse in the English class did a solo piano/vocal routine which was seriously impressive for someone who is just 14 years old. Third graders then did a whole range of things, ending in an eight-piece rock band number. Considering students are at school from 7am until 6pm, I’m truly amazed they find the time to develop these talents so fully!

First grader Yuto displaying his innate Shinobi stealth picture-avoidance technique. Unluckily for him, I was faster!

The families of course all rock up to watch their darlings doing their thing. What was interesting was the array of recording equipment. Vast wathes of electronic gadgetry all designed to capture their offspring’s every move in high definition video. No pressure! Following the skits, the choir does their thing, singing songs I doubt I’ll ever understand, but done on a level the choir teacher at my senior primary certainly could never achieve!

The Japanese Paparazzi. There were more cameras on the balcony above and behind this lot

What I found truly moving was the revealing of a mosaic the school had been working on for weeks. Every year each person of school, students and staff alike, complete an A3-sized grid of coloured paper squares, which then form a larger picture. This year, much to my surprise, the picture was of 3 African elephants on the savannah, doing their thing behind a giant moon/earthscape. Considering the likelyhood of this having something to do with ME being from Africa and all, I was really impressed! My square of blocks is the front elephant’s right foot. Yes. That’s all me! In all seriousness though, I really did appreciate the sentiment, and it all just made me feel even more welcome in the village.

The Mosaic. You need to look at it from quite a distance to fully appreciate it. But you get the picture…

Then came the plays through each grade. I had written before about the props used in these, but I could never have had any idea. The first graders depicted a story about a human possessed by a demon who is then taught the importance of compassion and love… and then promptly dies in a sword fight with another demon. Happy ending? Hah!

The second graders did a play on a young son leaving his family to go fight in the war. Of course, him and his comrades are presumed dead in combat, and his mother, after a few scenes of heart-broken misery, collapses and succumbs to her sorrow. Of course, to add to the misery, and to further rend your heart, the young son returns, on a crutch nogal, only to discover his dead parent on the ground. Happy ending? Hah!

Japanese officer, lamenting the loss of his brave troops…

The third graders did something involving a helluva lot of dialogue in Japanese and not much scene changing, so I honestly have no idea what the story was. It did however include, in this order: Terrorists, schoolkids and fairies. All of them die, of course, except for the terrorists. I’m not exactly sure what the moral of the whole thing was either. Utterly confusing! Still, it seemed dramatic, and nobody laughed, so I’m sure it wasn’t a comedy…

Fairies and 1 x school kid. Before the end, all would be dead!

The next day sees the really solemn stuff. Mostly choir songs, but really sorrowful ones. At the end there was a tribute to the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, replete with rather graphic shots of the victims. Very interesting to note that, when the 6th of June passed this year, most Americans remembered more about Paris Hilton’s court debacle than the Normandy Landing anniversary, whereas the Japanese have a moment of silence on the anniversary, throughout Japan, in almost every office and school. And even in a school festival, a moment of reflection is acceptable. A stark reflection between cultures if nothing else.

WW2 Atomic Bombings Reflection

And then the waterworks start! The class president says his speech and is thankful for all the effort everyone put in. And this, being his last act of office before the end of the year approaches, makes for an emotional moment. A quick pause to make sure the tears are coming and then it’s just a waterfall. Students, parents, teachers. All are struck by this heartfelt gesture and respond in kind. From my perspective, I just can’t understand why on earth everyone is crying! Sure the festival was impressive, but tear-jerkingly impressive? I guess I just don’t have a heart or something.

The choir head student then gave his address, and of course this is his last act of office before the end of the year, so he breaks into sobs, swiftly followed again by grades 1-3 and the rest of the hall, all the while having this erstwhile moment recorded by a million video cameras.

 So the lesson? Festivals in Japan are festive for the first half, and then it’s only a good festival if you cry. Anything less is just unacceptable.

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We Needed to Win it!

It might have been 4am and storming outside, but last night I was seated firmly in front of my computer, watching the Rugby on streaming video. And thus, at around 6am, when South Africa finally won the Rugby World Cup for the second time, this tiny apartment erupted in a solitary, but not discouraged, cheer.

For a few days now South Africans can return to those heady days of post-freedom unity. A brief and welcome breath of fresh air amidst the gloom that is fast approaching. Here’s to hoping the World Cup will herald more than a temporary feeling of what our country is capable of if we just work together.

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The Things the Japanese do.

An early post, but one in anticipation of a relatively sedate weekend ahead. My precious car is in the garage for it’s compulsory ‘Shakken’ inspection, and I may only get it back on Monday. Alas I yearn for the open road and the breakneck 60km/h speed limits Japanese highways afford!

One of the more interesting things I have noticed when sitting in the school’s staff room is just how downright focused the people around here are on food. Not necessarily the simple consumption thereof, but more on the planning, contemplation and borderline philosophical musings on the different qualities of the forthcoming meal. Organising lunch for the school’s festival, for example, sees the distribution of a brown envelope for each teacher’s money, together with a full A4 page listing the many things one can choose to eat. From scrambled egg and pork sandwiches (I’ll pass thanks), buttercream puffballs and the like to the more noramlised fare of bento lunch box sets, ice cream and various noodle dishes. Upon selection and insertion of payment, the envelopes are gathered by the school’s bureaucrat guy, who then proceeds to inspect said collection of lunch preferences and discuss just what each person is eating with the vice principal. I may not understand Japanese, but when my name crops up combined with ‘bento’, followed on by much emphatic nodding and murmurs of approval, I realize I have chosen correctly in my culinary destiny. I wonder what their reaction would have been if I’d chosen the sandwiches…

But it doesn’t end there. Where one must have the food delivered, and at what time are all valid and integral questions in the process. I would honest not be surprised if the most efficient route for the delivery of said food was a check mark on the list of things to do to ensure maximum mastacatory pleasure. Phone calls to the caterers, complete with minor addendums and additions to the menu are constantly checked off to boot. No wonder Japan has such wonderful food. There’s just so much effort invested into the experience. Somehow ordering the refried remains of some long-forgotten cage-bred chicken at KFC will just not really compare anymore…

I could be mistaken for thinking this was restricted to my little portion of Hokkaido, but a quick five minute channel surf will show that food, and the enjoyment thereof, is as much a part of Japanese society as nuclear bombs and anime.

Then, there are the school plays. The little drama skits each class prepares for the school festival. Perhaps a humourous ditty about their teachers, or a remake of Hamlet? Certainly not. I was greeted early on this week by a giant sack full of what appeared to be automatic assault rifles, complete with attached optics and extended magazines. Even a sawn-off shotgun is sitting in the corner as I write this…

They’re toys, of course, but the play the second graders have chosen is a remake of some part of WW2. I noticed a dvd of the battle for Iwo Jima, and I thank my stars I’m not American. Explaining all that would have been… interesting. The first graders have a sack full of toy Katanas, and the one student even brought his own dulled practice sword which he seems quite confident with. Bear in mind that this lad is twelve years old. For a country whose formal military exists only as a domestic ‘self-defence’ force, the world’s most passive nation has a truly interesting take on theatre.

In all it should make for a grand festival. Stay tuned for pictures.

In other news, no more snow has fallen, but the temperature still remained at a firm level of bloody cold, so I can hope that the countryside will soon be all fluffy white!

Also, there is now a brand new South African consulate in Sapporo. Should SA finally stop the act and announce their true aggression towards Japan, I should be able to be evacuated most quickly. Also, it’s great for lost passports and things to boot, but I think the former is far more likely!

The first graders just came into the office and requisitioned the armoury of Katanas, giant grins all around. Only in Japan methinks!

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