Intestinal Fortitude – 68

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 07/10/2007)

Those are the words that were printed boldly on a t-shirt a little girl on the train this morning was wearing.  With the number of people in Japan who understand at least some English, it really surprises me just how much Engrish I find here.  It’s a joke how much English is used but how many mistakes slip through.  With six years of English education mandatory for all children who complete high school, I find it highly unlikely that there is not at least somebody important in that company who realizes what that means.  Another thing that really surprises me is how alien I am treated by so many people in Japan.  I’m always being stared at or talked about behind my back and some people even shrink away from me in fright, saying “Kowai!  Kowai!” (“Scary!  Scary!) and running away.  Am I really that scary?  I see gaijin all over the place.  It’s like a bad parody of The Sixth Sense:

“I see gaijin.”
“How often do you see them?”
“All the time…”More...
I could understand it in places that are really inaka (countryside) but in downtown Osaka where there are gaijin passing through everyday it shouldn’t be a big deal anymore.

Oh well, not a big deal.  Anyway, on Saturday I went to Umeda to meet Ryosuke.  He helped me get a digital camera, a cell phone, and get the battery switched out in my watch.  It was a long, tiring experience and I was exhausted when we’d completed everything.  I can barely understand all the loopholes and gimmicks of cell phones when the plans are discussed in English, let alone Japanese.  Through in the fact that our salesperson was using keigo (super-ultra humble/honorific language) and I barely understood what was going on.  I’ve got a pretty cool phone but I have no idea what I can do with it because all the instructions are in kanji that I don’t know.  I’m going to have to sit down and do some serious studying sometime just so I can figure out how to use my phone.  I’ve tried sending a few emails to Ryosuke and I either delete them halfway through or send them mid-word.  Little by little, I’ll get it figured out.  I’m really happy with my camera too and excited that I can share some sights of Japan with you.

After we finished up in Umeda we took a long train ride out to Kawachi Nagano, Ryosuke’s hometown.  It really is out in the country!  I was so happy when we arrived because it’s a very mountainous region and there are trees everywhere and the town was so quiet!  I loved walking down the narrow streets and being the only people out.  We walked around town a bit and tried to find out where the festival would be happening.  Stopping at an old sakery (a place where sake is produced), we went inside and Ryosuke ordered a bottle of sake and a bottle of umeshu (plum wine) for later.  It was really fun to talk with the old man and woman who ran the shop.  There were a bunch of big brown spiky balls hanging from the ceiling that were quite large (perhaps beach-ball sized) and they appeared to be plants or made out of vegetative material.  I couldn’t figure everything out but I think they are used at some point to figure out when the sake is ready.  There’s going to be a sake festival in the town in a couple of weeks and I might go back to check it out.  Ryosuke wanted to show me a traditional Japanese sweets and candy shop but when we checked it out it was closed and apparently the owner had already left to watch the festival.  We stopped at the Lotteria for awhile (a McDonald’s-esque fast-food joint) and I plugged my camera battery charger in while we waited for the festival to start.  After about twenty minutes a worker came over and asked us if we were going to order anything so we ordered some fries and were able to sit there another forty-five minutes while we talked and tried to figure out my phone.

After that, we found the first two of the danjiri.  A danjiri is a portable shrine that is built out of intricately carved wood and weighs about three tons.  It is covered with lanterns and pushed/pulled around by lots of young men.  There are usually several of them that come from all the surrounding neighborhoods and it is a team-building and morale-inspiring effort.  Everyone was totally drunk and it was incredibly loud.  Inside the danjir, one guy beats away busily at a gong with a hammer while a couple of other guys play drums.  A couple of guys stand on top of the danjiri and wave flags or try to keep branches and powerlines away from the danjiri.  There is a generator on top that powers all the lanterns and strobe lights underneath the danjiri.  The wheels are made out of wood also.  There are usually dozens of people pulling with ropes or pushing from behind.  Everyone dresses up in those cool vests called “happi” and each team wears different colors.  Most of the guys moving the danjiri were young men, probably high school age, and the majority of them had crazy hairstyles.  Ryosuke explained that these were probably bad boys who didn’t go to school anymore and just hung out all day smoking and getting into trouble.  Everyone chants and yells and screams and then the danjiri reaches the middle of the intersection downtown and suddenly the pace picks up and the drums and gong go crazy while everyone pushes and pulls as fast as they can as they spin the cart around in place.  After they wear themselves out, they straighten it out and pull it off back to the neighborhood where they came from where they can all rest and celebrate and drink more beer.  I’ve got lots of pictures and some videos that I’ll add soon.

After the danjiri we went to Ryosuke’s house and I got to meet his family.  We had to climb up a long hill and the higher we got the more amazing the view was.  There were signs in the woods that said to beware of the vipers.  Ryosuke lives on top of the hill and we checked out the viewpoint before entering his house.  This was my first time really inside a Japanese house and I had a good time except I kept bumping my head on the ceiling whenever I would leave a room and enter the hallway.  I got to meet Ryosuke’s sister and we all had a good time talking together and drinking the sake Ryosuke had purchased earlier.  I had my first experience of eating oden and it was great!  Oden is a pot full of boiled stuff.  That’s about the best explanation I can give.  There are boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, boiled daikon, boiled eggs, boiled purple triangle thingies, and boiled things that look like biscuits.  Whatever it all was, it was fantastic.  On Sunday morning I had french toast and it also was scrumptuous.  I drank my coffee black and this really surprised everyone because in Japan “American Coffee” is the weakest coffee one can purchase at a cafe.  Ryosuke’s mom came home from bowling with some friends and I had such a great time talking with her.  She doesn’t speak much English but she seems to be able to understand whatever I say no matter what language I speak in.  I got to meet Ryosuke’s father too when he came home really late from work and we all sat around watching dubbed American television programs such as CSI: Miami and Project Runway.  There was also a Japanese show about some people who were swimming around with whales.  At one point they showed the audience a picture of a whale that was drawn during the Edo period and asked what was anatomically wrong with the picture.  I could easily tell that the whale had the vertical tail of a fish rather than the horizontal tail of a whale.  However, one of the panel of people who sits around laughing and talking durin all tv shows said that she thought the whale was supposed to have horns.  Unfortunately, I think she was being serious.  I got to experience a real Japanese bath and that was really fun too.  It felt so good just to soak for awhile after a long day.  The only problem with staying at Ryosuke’s house is that all four of them smoke a lot.  My eyes still sting.

The next day Ryosuke had to leave early for his part-time job so I hung out with his mom for awhile and then she drove me in to a different town where Ryosuke’s father works at a jyuku (cram school).  As we were driving to Ryosuke’s father’s work I saw a huge twisted white tower off to one side.  I asked Ryosuke’s mom about it and she said that it belonged to some religious cult.  Japanese religious cults are totally crazy but totally cool.  Anyway, apparently they own a nearby hospital and she works there as a nurse sometimes.  The tower looked like a daikon radish that’s been twisted and melted and had holes punched out of it like swiss cheese.  We got to the school and I helped out in some of the classes for a about an hour and a half.  Ryosuke’s father teaches English to a bunch of middle school girls and I got to help by being a native English speaker and role-playing with them.  It was pretty fun.  We took a break for lunch and Ryosuke’s father handed one of the girls ichi-man en (10000yen or about $100) and told them to go get lunch and bring something back for us.  I was amazed.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone give a hundred dollars to a child in America and told them to go get lunch.  Anyway, they returned and brought me a cheeseburger set from McDonald’s.  It was, as I expected, as tasteless as the American McDonald’s but it was fun to sit around and talk with them in Japanese for awhile.  Anyway, when my part was done, Ryosuke’s father took me to the train station a couple of blocks away and just left the kids alone in the school.  I was amazed but I was even more amazed when he handed me a 2000yen coupon to use on the Keihan, Kintetsu, or Hanshin lines in the Osaka area.  Wow!  Everyone in Ryosuke’s family is so nice.  I forgot to mention that they gave me a kabuto!  A kabuto is a samurai helmet.  This one is ceramic and is pretty heavy and not quite big enough for a human to wear but it makes a great display piece.  It’s so cool and I’m so honored to get something like that.  I wonder how I’ll get it safely back to the US when the time comes.  Ryosuke also loaned me the first Harry Potter book in Japanese and I’m really excited about that!  I just want to go sit somewhere and try to read it and forget about classes until I’m done.  This weekend has been great for me and I really think my conversational skills improved but I haven’t done any of my homework yet.  Eeks!

Anyway, I hopped on the JR line and rode until I got to Kyobashi.  Before transferring to the Keihan line I decided to walk around a little bit and I’m really glad I did because I discovered the HUGE park that surrounds Osaka Castle!  There are trees, open grassy lawns, and paths everywhere and there were so many people just hanging out and having a good time.  One sidewalk was really crowded with all sorts of bands.  There was a beat boxer right next to a punk band which was right next to a Jazz combo.  All the sounds mixed together made for a very interesting auditory experience.  I’m always amazed with how fashionable people are in Japan.  It’s really important to look good, no matter what sex or age you are.  Anyway, I walked around and took some pictures of Osaka Jou (Osaka Castle) as well as some other interesting things nearby.  Check out some of the pictures below!

I saw this sign earlier today and cracked up.  I had to explain to Ryosuke’s mom why it was so funny.  Explaining the word “barf” in any language is always interesting. (^_^)b

Cafe and Barf

A couple of rusty bikes just lying around:

Rusty Bike

Rusty Bike #2

A lady feeding about a dozen cats in the park:

Cat Lady

Stairways in Japan are crazy crooked:


I caught this train on the fly at Tenmabashi Station:

Densha de Quill



Osaka Castle:

Osaka Castle

Kyobashi (check out the airplane and the seabus):



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