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Don da kei!

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 17/09/2007)

Apparently homosexuality is funny business in Japan.  There are many comedians who make their livelihoods out of pretending to be gay.  The first one that caught my attention was Razor “Hard Gay” Ramon.  He’s a guy who made his living by going around humping random things (including blue-haired old ladies) and shouting out “Whoo!” randomly.  He was probably the most popular tv personality in Japan for several months last year.  Just recently I’ve learned of another comedian who pretends to be gay by shouting out Don da kei (“I’m turned on!”) every time he brushes up against a man.  I’ve heard from two Japanese people within the last two days that this is a hilarious comment to use randomly with my Japanese friends. More...Also, I don’t remember the context, but I was talking about gay people with my speaking partner and he said that he was surprised that I could talk so freely about it because there aren’t very many gay people in Japan and those who are don’t openly talk about it or let other people know.  I wonder if this is really true.  At first I thought the Japanese were much more open about sexual issues because I’ve seen countless volumes of manga that deal with transgender and hermaphrodite issues and there are a myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle references to homosexuality.  In fact, there is a whole genre (Boy’s Love) devoted to homosexual relationships between men.  This manga is extremely popular with women right now.  Perhaps I was looking at it wrong before and the reason there is so much material regarding these issues is because the Japanese are afraid to discuss it openly.  I watched a movie called Gohakko (Taboo) in my cinema class the other day.  It was about homosexual relationships between the men and boys who worked for the Shinsengumi (the police force in Kyoto who protected the shogunate).  I have heard of these relationships between older and younger warriors in Japan but when I asked my speaking partner about it he said he had never heard such a thing and that it was probably untrue.  It would be very interesting to take the Gender and Sexuality in Japan class and find out what the real story is.

Bathrooms in Japan are interesting places.  The toilets in the Seminar House are crazy.  I’m scared by how many different things they can do.  When you sit down on them, a motor somewhere in the depths of the urn turns on and the seat begins to warm up.  Also, there is a flashing light that says “Warm Water.”  There is a button that says “STOP!”  Stop what?  There is a button that says BIDET with an interesting picture of a water fountain.  Right next to that is おしり SPRAY with a different picture of a fountain.  I don’t know what the difference is between these sprays but I don’t want to find out.  Moreover, there is a button for “FLUSHING SOUND” and the volume can be adjusted.  The only reason I can see for this is that if one were embarassed by the sounds coming from his stall he could turn on the flushing sound to mask other less pleasant noises.  Most public bathrooms have a mixture of about 50% pit toilets (“Japanese-style”, if you will) and 50% normal toilets.  Most public restrooms in Japan do not have toilet paper or soap (BYOTP).  In the Hirakata mall there is a men’s bathroom where the row of urinals is right next to the open door so anyone walking by can look in and see a line of men standing doing their thing.  All sinks are automatic and the blow driers are almost painfully powerful and efficient.  Moreover, I’ve seen Japanese businessmen relieving themselves on a wall on the way home late at night.  Just thought you ought to know.

So, I was going to complain about the washers and dryers here at the Seminar House until I passed a coin laundry near campus last night and went inside to see what their rates are.  At the Seminar House it costs 200yen to wash a load and 100yen to dry it.  At the coin laundry it costs 1200 yen for 60 minutes of washing and 100yen per 10 minutes of drying.  This means you could easily spend over $20 doing a load of laundry.  Crazy.

On Friday night I went to Yawatashi with a few of my friends for the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Jinja Matsuri.  Hachimangu is the Shinto god of war and this is one of the three great shrines that were highly-influenced in some way by Oda Nobunaga (one of the three most important shoguns).  Japan likes to group things into categories of three this or that and this is one of Oda Nobunaga’s three shrines.  We arrived about 10:30PM and walked along the road by the river which had been blocked off and filled with booths selling food and offering carnival games like catching goldfish with a paper spoon.  I was surprised to see several stores selling toy guns and a couple of booths selling inflated plastic implements that some rowdy teens were using to beat each other by the river.  Like all carnivals, there was garbage all over the street and along the banks of the river.  All the booths were shut down by 11:00 and we decided to walk up the mountain and wait at the top for the festival to begin.  For me, Otokoyama loses some of its magic when I walk up it with a group of people.  I think my connection with the mountain is a solitary one.  Anyway, we reached the top and sat down between a couple of policemen with glowing lightsabres and waited for the festival to begin.  I asked a passing policemen (they were all over the place) when the festival started and he said it didn’t start until 2:00AM but we were welcome to go wait slightly down the hill at a building which was sort of a visitor center/cafeteria.  We sat there awhile and I discovered the Thomas Edison memorial and then I wandered off on my own.  I followed a path along a side of the mountain I had never been on and found myself at the cable car station again.  A steep, stone stairway disappeared above me in the darkness and I decided to climb it.  It was actually quite frightening to be all alone in the dark forest but I found it exhilarating.  I reached the top and stumbled around until I found the most amazing viewpoint looking out over Kyoto.  I returned and joined Willy and Abby but they weren’t feeling well and decided to head home.  Lee and I took them to the station and then I called Ryosuke to see where he was.  He was already at the top of the mountain so we hiked back up again and met him at the cable car station.  The festival finally began a few minutes before 2:00AM.  The funny thing about this festival is that there were more people involved in the parade then there were watching it.  There were several hundred people involved and maybe only a hundred people watching.  A bunch of people dressed in white, flowing robes with funny hats walked by carrying lit paper lanterns and burning bundles of bamboo poles.  Some people walked by with spears and then there were some fancier lantern bearers.  A small group of archers walked by dressed in warrior’s clothing.  A couple of long, heavy-looking poles were carried by and then came the band.  They were playing traditional Japanese instruments that I don’t know the name of.  There were some kazoo-like drones, a couple of nose flutes, and a big drum.  It was haunting music.  After them came a couple of live trees carried in big pots and then finally the travelling shrines appeared.  These shrines must weigh hundreds of pounds and there were fourteen men under each one determinedly marching forward with stoic resolve.  The shrines were made from old, heavy-looking wood and were ornately carved with Shinto imagery.  Paper lightning bolts waved in the breeze and I became a little nervous with all the flaming things around and long, dragging outfits.  The procession passed by and disappeared down the road and the audience took the main path down the mountain and watched them come by again at the bottom.  There were more flaming baskets at the bottom and I became even more nervous as robes dragged over hot embers lying in the path.  The procession halted and a miko (Japanese shrine maiden) got up and performed a dance with a tambourine and a paper fan.  After that, an archer got up and performed but I’m not sure if he actually shot anything or not because it was dark and I couldn’t see very well from my position in the crowd.  After that the procession started up again and disappeared into the walls of the lower shrine and that was the end.  We caught the first train home a little after 5:00AM and got back to the Seminar House about 5:30.  It was nice to watch the sunrise from the train.

On Wednesday night I went to the first meeting of the Japanese Sign Language (JSL, or shuwa) club.  It was so much fun!  I’m really excited and I’ve checked out a book from the library to help me learn.  My classes are going well and I like my teachers.  A couple of reporters from the Yomiuri Shinbun came to my Popular Media and Culture class on Thursday and took pictures and asked a few students why Japanese popular media was so interesting for them.  We’re watching interesting films in my cinema class and my ceramics class is going well but is pretty difficult.  I feel like a slow learner and make only a few pots every time.  My Japanese classes are going well too but I have to work pretty hard to keep up with all the new material.  I’ve got some papers due later this week and some tests so I’d better get to work!

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