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Great Balls of Fire

September 2, 2009

Apparently I look like Obama.  I’ve had several people come up to me and tell me that my face is the same as Obama’s.  I’ve also had people tell me I look Japanese.  Again, apparently it’s my face.  Does that mean Obama looks Japanese, too?

Every day I have little challenges to overcome, and they all end up with me feeling like I’ve improved.  I can handle phone calls with credit card companies.  I can make bank transfers.  I can pump my own gas and figure out how to put the money in the machine.  I can rent movies from the video store.  It’s the little victories that build up over time that really make you feel good.  I still make mistakes all the time (like accidentally telling someone I’ll be back in a week instead of an hour) but I’m surprised that I understand what’s going on almost all the time even if I can’t really show it.  Little by little.

I had my second radio interview earlier this week.  This time around I went with my Mongolian and Chinese counterparts and we chatted together with the DJ for about fifteen minutes.  We really only had time for the briefest of self-introductions, but I think these radio station visits will actually be a lot of fun.  They’re really relaxed and the program host makes you feel comfortable, as though you are talking to a friend.  That’s one thing I’ve noticed – I speak really good Japanese with my friends but I tend to start tripping up when I’m talking to superiors.  I’m beginning to become more comfortable talking to them too, so hopefully before long I’ll be smoothly explaining my ideas at meetings.

Here`s a question for you: Why is it that whenever someone gets into a friend`s car, they always want to play their own music?  Time and time again, whenever anyone rides in my car, they always say things like, `Oh, I brought my CD, can we listen to it?` or `Oh, too bad I didn`t bring my CD, we could have listened to it.`  Is this just me or does this happen to everyone?  Is my music really that bad?  It seems to me that, hey, if you`re riding in my car, you`re entering my world for a little bit, and you might as well enjoy the music that comes with entering that world.  But maybe that`s just me.

Last weekend I went out with a bunch of my foreign friends from Miyakonojo and we camped out on the beach south of Nichinan.  We caravaned out there and then pitched our tents on the beach.  A bunch of us went for a quick dip and the water was wonderful.  There weren’t any jellyfish at this beach, and the lack of their presence was indeed a bit unsettling.  I’m still waiting to see those sea snakes, too.  Anyway, the water is really shallow at this beach and you can walk out quite a ways into the waves before you have to start treading water.  We paddled around a bit and then a bunch of the guys worked together to tumble an old telephone pole off a pile of rocks into the sea so we could float it over to our campsite to make the world’s biggest bonfire.  It took a lot of work, and we all got scraped and beaten up in the process, but we eventually got the log into the sea and then rolled it up the beach.  A Japanese couple came by and offered their support, laughing and taking pictures as we grunted and groaned.  After camp was all set up, we took a quick trip over to Koujima – the infamous monkey island!  Well, you know me and monkeys – I can’t pass up a chance to hang out and shoot the breeze with a monkey.  We were going to ride a boat over to the island and then chill on the beach with the monkeys, but unfortunately, we missed the last boat by thirty minutes and there were not going to be any boats the next day because the waves were predicted to be too high.  So, we milled around a bit, trying to spot some swimming monkeys, and then we decided to head out early to Cape Toi.  Why were we going to Cape Toi?  Well, aside from the obvious reason that it`s a park where you can play around with wild horses, that night just happened to be the night of the annual fire festival (okay, it didn’t just happen to be that way, we planned this).  Anyway, we picked up some festival food and sat around for over two hours waiting for the show to begin.  Well, there were a bunch of pre-festivity events, but they were not really very exciting.  There was a children’s taiko performance (which was actually really cool) from a pre-school group, an enka (Japanese country music) performance, and some guy trying desperately to be a comedian (and failing horribly, it was so sad).  There was also a college girl who gave a fantastic diablo performance.  Juggling in front of people takes more than just skill and nerve, it also requires showmanship, and this girl really knew what she was doing.

So finally, night fell and the fire festival began!  First, a bunch of people dance around in two concentric circles, the men on the inside travelling one direction and the women on the outside travelling in the other.  The men have big drums strapped to their bellies like the Energizer bunny and are wearing backpacks with flags on the ends of spears sticking up over their heads.  As they bow and pivot around, the flags and spears swing around accentuating their movements.  The women beat little gongs and wear traditional hats that kind of act like blinders for a horse (really narrow and sticking out in front of their faces to block their vision).  They danced around for a really long time (kind of overdone, but I also appreciated it since I’d been waiting for so long) and then they left and it was time for the fire-throwers to enter and begin.  The fire-throwers are a bunch of men from the area and they take a ball on the end of a rope and swing it around several times before flinging it up in the air (very similar to the toy Foxtail, if you know what that is).  What is the point of flinging fire around?  Well, they’re aiming for the top of a really tall pole in the center of everything that has a Japanese national flag painted on a fan sitting on top.  There’s also a freshly cut branch from some tree (no doubt for some serious spiritual reason) and they’ve doused the top in lighter fluid.  The point is to light the top on fire.  There’s some myth about an ancient hero who saved the area from a huge serpent by throwing fire in it’s mouth and casting a spell on it.  Well, it took them about twenty-five minutes, and several fireballs went flying off into the audience, but they eventually hit it and there were also some fireworks hidden up there that went off as everyone was cheering.  Then, as the top of the pole burns, they release some of the ropes that are holding it up and topple it over onto the ground.  This sets off some more fireworks that explode right above everyone’s heads.  It was really amazing.  I’ve never been that close to fireworks and Japanese fireworks are really spectacular.

Anyway, the festival was really great.  After that, we drove back to our beach and lit our own bonfire.  We busted out the drinks and food and had a grand old time in the cool night breeze.  A couple Japanese surfers came down and joined us and they were some of the nicest people I have ever met.  I was totally spellbound by them (especially the girl, heh) and I had a wonderful time talking with them.  We all went swimming together (drunken swimming is not encouraged) and, as we kicked and paddled, the ocean sparkled around us.  There were some sort of bioluminescent creatures in the water and they twinkled as they flowed over our bodies.  It was really magical.

The next morning, I went for a swim again and the surfers from the night before came down from their campsite to join us.  The girl taught me how to surf!  Well, I only rode the board once, and it wasn’t really long enough for me so it sank pretty fast (heh), but it was awesome!  Anyway, I think I made some really good friends and I’m going to try to go camping and mountaineering with them during Silver Week near the end of September.  There’s a nice volcano around here that apparently has some nice events going on at the end of the month.  Please look forward to the chronicles of yet another adventure!

Work is going well and I actually spent the day writing the English version of the monthly newsletter.  I’m also having a great time communicating with my fellow CIRs around the prefecture and working on setting up some collaborations with them so we can do some international cooking classes.  I must do a TACO NIGHT!!!  I’ve actually made some proposals to the Miyakonojo International Association and it looks like I’ll be able to hold a taco night here in December.  I’ve also started planning a BBQ / Ultimate Frisbee tournament for next May.  Recently I’ve been busy with preparations for a Halloween party.  Miyakonojo has become known as the party city in the prefecture and we’re working on keeping that reputation.  We’ll probably have JETs and Japanese from all over Miyazaki (and possibly from Kagoshima prefecture as well).  The only problem is, we can’t throw a party on the weekend of Halloween because that’s when we’ve got our huge sister city anniversary event with the Chinese and Mongolian cities that have established a friendship exchange with Miyakonojo.  Looks like we’ll be having Halloween a week early!

Tonight, I will be taking a group of new foreign residents out to a shrine where we will meet a taiko group that we can practice with.  Woo, taiko!!!

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One comment

  1. Wait…Taco’s and Ultimate…I’m in the wrong country! Keep chronicling your journey bud and the best to ya.



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