Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Thoughts on being Samurai and on Locking Your Door

Today I discovered that there are ways for even crazy white people to become more of the centre of attention than we otherwise are here. I made this leap of scientific understanding on a nice little day trip to Odawara this week. Odawara is a nice little town/city at the non-Toyko end of the train line I live on, about an hour and twenty minutes by regular subway. Of course, my good man Geoff Sensei was good enough to come along too (or, well, I was good enough to go with him, because the trip was his idea…) Anyway, we caught one of about six different weird express trains and made it in 45 min.

Odawara is cool, mainly because it has an ‘ancient’ castle that samurai lords bitch slapped each other over for about 800 years during the Edo period. The Edo period might well be called the ‘Japan was the coolest place in the world*” period. This was when all that cool stuff was happening with honour, ass kicking and ripping out your own guts if you happened to do something silly like trip on your sword and fart when you landed.

*: for men, that is. Rich men who were good with samurai swords, and especially those who could put titles like Shogun or Emperor of Japan on their resumes. (In fact, during this period, the former title was the better of the two!) Women and commoners were shit out of luck. That is, in what I imagine to be the parlance of their times – “katana-target-practice”

Anyway, the ‘ancient’ castle (‘ancient’ because earthquakes and fires have leveled this thing about every hundred years or so, and they keep rebuilding it. The last rebuild was about 1920, so on the inside it’s rather swankily built with a large gift shop on the top floor.) ….

OK…the ANCIENT castle was full of katanas, wakazashis and tantous, along with a legion of arms, armour and tonnes of other super cool stuff. The bad engrish was out in force, of course, with great lines like “this is Usijui Wakanatabe, the fifth lord of the Donjo, until he was unfortunately removed through skill and trickery. His sword gift was Mr. Kobayashi, and school Odawara sword-make.”

Now for the good part….

For 200 yen (about $2), you could rent a samurai costume and dress up. The booth, aptly named “Lets try to be a samurai! Lets us have fun with us!”

Heh. If you think being a minority might get you some stares, you have no idea. This booth was also happily situated in the middle of the garden, which also happens to be a zoo, complete with birds, monkeys, an elephant, raccoons… you know, the works and the usual whack of Japanese tourists.

A good chunk of said whack of tourists (including some of those slick neon buddhists) found us to be among the funniest things ever. Two large white dudes squeezed into authentic samurai outfits by a guy whose only English seemed to be “ahh…very funny… you large. These are Japanese Sizes! Japanese Sizes!!”…. well… suffice to say that we became the centre of attention.
Strangers wanted their pictures taken with us, people stared, suddenly something was more interesting than the resident poo-flinging monkeys in the castle zoo, and that something was us.

Freak-show doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Of course, I learned much later that samurai traditionally only draw a weapon to kill someone else or to kill themselves. This might have been why everyone’s mouths dropped a little further when I mockingly drew my sword and threatened Geoff with it. Oops. Cultural faux pas… I think so.

On another note, the gas guy was supposed to come today. He came once before, but I thought he was the phone or cable guy (which apparently you have to pay for, even if you don’t have a TV or a Phone…but only if you actually talk to them, so traditional teacher practice is to not open the door for strangers. If they can’t find you, they can’t bill you!!!) In any case, I decided that, well, I wasn’t about to cancel my trip over this.

One thing you have to understand about Japan is that it makes Canada look like 1990s Harlem for crime. Thus, a logical step for me, given the low crime rate, is to hide my valuables (eg passport and a few hundred bucks of cash) lock up my computer (I opted for under the sink, as this is both out of the way and features a nice drain to lock things to), then leave my door unlocked, with a note to the gas guy to come in and check the number.

Heh. Sure enough, not only was nothing gone, but he’d clearly gone to the landlord and had him lock my door for me!!!

Ok, it was risky, I know, but I really wanted to go to Odawara. And if you really want to see why, fire me off a message and I’ll send you the video of me being accosted by locals who wanted photos.


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