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Feel the Love – Beat the World

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 03/11/2007)

The sign was supposed to read “Feel the Beat – Love the World” but it got split in half when the doors of the stage opened up and that was the result.

On Thursday, I became a mountain singer.  I skipped out of school early to go to Kobe to visit Jen.  After some confusion at Osaka station I figured out that there were two separate platforms heading to Kobe and the reason no trains were coming was because they were all stopping at the other platform.  Surprisingly, the countryside changes drastically on the way to Kobe from Osaka – going from flat plains to steep mountains rather suddenly.  I sat down next to a Japanese father who was discussing trains with his young boy. More...They were happily pointing at trains and discussing the shinkansen (bullet trains) and other related issues.  They were so cute.  Japanese fathers have a reputation of being rather tough and strict – some to the point of violence at home – but I think this is a completely undeserved stereotype promulgated by the media.  The fathers, at least the younger ones, are just plain cute.  It’s very inspiring to see them interacting with their children.  They behave the way I hope to when I have children someday, just having a good time with their children and able to exist in the world of children once again.  I stared out the window at the countryside rapidly passing by under the bleak, gray skies and watched a bug splatter on the window racing along like a jet skirting the tops of apartment complexes.  I felt a nervous twinge in my stomach as the train passed through Amagasaki as I realized it was probably on this track that the rail disaster happened a couple of years ago where nearly a hundred people died.

I arrived in Sannomiya (part of Kobe) around lunchtime and went to Vie de France with Jen and her roommate.  After stocking up on bread, Jen and I struck out for Venus Bridge.  Venus Bridge is a crazy, loopy pedestrian bridge on top of one of the mountains that sandwich Kobe next to the ocean.  From the bridge one can see all of Kobe and it is a very different city from the rest of Japan.  This is probably partly due to the Kobe earthquake of 1995 which completely destroyed most of the city.  There are many large buildings under construction and at first I thought they were still in a reconstruction process from the quake but Jen told me there were buildings there before that have been torn down and are being replaced with larger, fancier buildings.  Ships chugged in and out of the port and trucks moved freely along the expressway that towers above part of the city.  Kobe has always been famous for having a larger foreigner population than anywhere else in Japan and today most of the foreigners live on a big island out in the port next to the airport.  There are still many important historical houses in neighborhoods around Kobe that have become museums of Danish or French or other European settlers.

Anyway, Jen had planned to send me on an adventure by pointing somewhere in Kobe and telling me to go there.  However, neither one of us really felt like going back down into the city so we continued on into the mountains.  We hiked along past several of the important symbols that have been carved into the mountainsides around Kobe.  One is an anchor and the other is a sort of interlocked () which apparently is the symbol of Kobe.  As we were coming out onto a small mountain road we heard some eerie singing coming from around the bend.  It sounded like a Buddhist monk and for a moment I thought we might come across a yamabushi (a travelling warrior Buddhist monk who lives in the mountains).  The crows and other birds were going crazy making a ruckus around whatever this noise was.  We continud on up the trail and soon we came upon an old man who was coming towards us singing at the top of his lungs.  He had a closed umbrella locked behind his shoulders and was singing for all he was worth.  He became a little self-concious when he saw us and stopped.  “Konnichiwa!” I said as we passed and he grunted sheepishly and replied, “Konnichiwa.”  Once out of sight, he began singing again.  We were so impressed with this man who could sing so loud and so long without taking a breath while walking high up in the mountains that a little further on we thought we’d try it too.  We wailed and howled for about a minute and the birds went crazy again.  It was so nice to finally be in nature in Japan.  The path wove on and on, treacherously narrow and unstable for most of the way.  It often looked ready to collapse down the steep bank, sending us sliding hundreds of meters, but luckily it held out despite the dangerously damp condition of the soil.  I kept getting facefulls of spiderwebs as we ducked under dense overgrowth.  Any time stairways were cut into the steep trail they were always crooked, uneven, and slanting dangerously off either side of the trail.  Moreover, many of the sticks used as supports in the stairs wobbled or came free when stepped on.  We made it all the way to Mt. Rokko, the largest and most famous mountain in the area, and followed a canyon down to the bottom.  On the way, we passed under the ropeway (aerial tram) and crossed Monkey Bridge.  Unfortunately, we did not encounter any monkeys.  If we had turned left after the bridge, we could have gone to a mountain lake, but we turned right and found several waterfalls.  At one waterfall there was a shrine where three people were performing some sort of ceremony.  There were lots of lit candles and one person was chanting sutras while another frantically beat a gong and the other waved ribbons around in the air.  Incense filled the canyon and followed us all the way to the bottom when we came out directly at Shin-Kobe station.  It was a very sudden transition to downtown Kobe.

I often hear that Kansai people (Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto) are sekkachi (impatient) and I really noticed this for the first time on my trip to Kobe.  Many people ran through the train stations and dashed up the escalator to the train platform, cutting in front of all sorts of people to try to be nearer the front of the line of people getting on the train so that they could possibly have a seat.  Usually people are running even if the train hasn’t even arrived yet.  Several times while walking along I almost stepped on someone who randomly appeared directly in front of me and then disappeared just as fast.  Kansai people are also known to be pushy and skillful business people.  I watched one girl persistently trying to shove a questionnaire upon an office lady who ignored her for over a block as the saleswoman kept trying to get her to stop and fill out the form.  One nice thing about Kobe is that nobody gives you a second look because you’re a gaijin.  There are so many gaijin in Kobe that nobody cares.  In fact, people in Kobe don’t seem to look at anyone and their eyes were always downcast as they pushed along resolutely from one place to the other.

In other news, the school festival happened on Friday and Saturday.  The best parts were the koto (Japanese harp) performances, the taiko drum performances at the opening and closing ceremonies, and the awesome girl rock band that played during the middle of the day out amongst all the food booths.  I really don’t know how to describe this school festival.  It was totally overwhelming.  There were so many people and everyone was trying to get you to come to their booth and buy their products to support their clubs.  There were many creative ways of trying to get more money out of people.  Many, many clubs used girls dressed in skimpy outfits to try to attract boys to their booths.  It worked, and they were able to charge more money for their food than booths that offered only food.  Another club had a guy in a horse mask playing guitar frantically out in front of their booth.  There were cafes, a maze, a world dance show, brass bands, wind ensembles, cheerleaders, and rock band shows.  It was exhausting but pretty fun.

The weather’s getting colder here now (finally, it’s already November!) and they issued us blankets to go with our sheets the last time we had the linens changed.  That’s about all I’ve got to report right now.

Amusing news of the day: “And that was the performance of the traditional Japanese bon dance.  Let’s all give them a big crap.”

Frustrating news of the day: My new camera is broken.  I’ve had it less than a month.  I didn’t do anything to it but I pulled it out of my pocket earlier today during the festival and the LCD screen is broken.  This is the second Pentax camera I’ve owned that has broken within the first month of use.  I don’t think I treat these cameras roughly and I think Pentax should build products that won’t break with normal use.  Augh!  Now I’ve got to go to Yodobashi Camera again and try to get it exchanged.

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