Saturday, May 06, 2006

Digging Jozuu

The week of april 29 through may 5th is a national holiday here in Japan. Why, I have no idea, but I certainly enjoy a good week off. Its called "Golden Week." If I can dig up some comedy, I'll report back on the origins of the holiday. If someone died, was born, or invented anything less humourous than the precursor to "kung-fu grip", expect the origins to remain shrouded in mystery.

My original plan had been to join my good pal Geoff in Kyoto for some of the week, but that didn’t happen to work out so well. I found out that a female friend of his wasgoing… and while I am not so sure of the status between those folks… well… I’m not dumb enough to toss myself into that dynamic for less than $382 and a hefty bag full of cutting edge electronics. Throw in the fact that I decided to be a a money saving tightass and add a few invitations to interesting local cultural events, and … well.. I decided to save the chance to visit the temple on the back of the 10 yen coin for another weekend.

So, I spent the weekend here in Tokyo and the Kanagawa area. This led to a few very fun adventures, ranging from digging to park visiting to some sort of drag adventure (more on that soon).

Anyway, the digging adventure was a very interesting chance to get completely immersed in Japanese culture. And not just the hard-drinking-slang-spouting-more-drinking world that most teachers enjoy within a few weeks of their arrival, but the real Japanese life of some folks that live here.

You see, I happen to be fortunate enough to have befriended a few very cheerful nihoongeen folk since my arrival. One fellow, Atsushi, has the absolute best disjoint between his actual age and his apperance/behavior. In terms of years, he is what you would call "middle aged". But if you meet him.... you would swear that he’s in his late twenties. See for yourself.

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Now, I’m not about to reveal his real age, since he is a good enough man to read this blog, but suffice to say that he has a bunch of friends that are in their forties.

So... Atsushi invited my good friend Nick and I, along with a few other J-folk, to join of one of his ex-coworkers plus their friends and family for some sort of “digging party”. While this confused me, (the best explaination I managed to get was that we would have digging that involved some sort of bamboo sticks), it seemed like a fun time.

So, I snagged a gift and headed out there. Remember: being invited to someone's home is an even bigger deal here in Japan than it is in North America. For future reference, bringing something from your country is a big hit, but I have long since exhasted my supply of moose keychains and maple cookies. So... I went with that safest of gifts, a bottle of decent red wine. I firmly believe that wine is a safe gift anywhere except Utah and Daycare. (Its my understanding that Daycares prefer jello shooters.)

Ok. Back to the bamboo. For those of you that decided to skip grade 10 science, Bamboo is a kind of super grass; it grows at manic speed, only to disappear into the eager gullets of so many pandas. (I’m sure that a lot of bamboo also goes to make bo staffs for Bruce Lee and a lot of aspiring samurai / grade school star wars kids, too.) Bamboo grows so fast by skipping the whole “seed” thing, and just growing buds out of its roots. As I discovered, we would be digging for these bamboo root shoots, or “takenoko” as they are called.

Let me tell you… this day turned out to be one of the best cultural experiences – at least in terms of how the average Japanese person lives their life – that I have had since getting here. We spent a good hour sitting around a one foot high table swapping jokes, enjoying some finger food and a few drinks. Best of all for my language immersion experience, Nick and I were the sole native English speakers out of the twelve people there, so most of the jokes were in Japanese.

After a bit, we ventured out into the forest for the day’s fun. Said 'fun' actually happened in the forest behind our hosts’ apartment.

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The takenoko are actually rather easy to find. (they stick about two or three inches through the underbrush when they are ready to eat). They are even easier to find when you are armed with a pair of 12 year old Japanese kids to run manically through the woods screaming whenever they find one.

Please see exhibit A. ("Hail Xenu, Jr.")
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And Exhibit B. ("English Teacher Nightmare Inducer")

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I'm joking. He and his sister were actually super cool kids. We even played hide and seek in the woods. (I called on my svelte figure and earthy tan to defeat all comers, of course)

After a few hours of wandering and digging, we managed to unearth about twelve or fifteen nice sized bamboo roots.

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They're tasty.

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We carried our prizes back to the house, where our host’s wife took them behind the counter and included them in a few of the 10 odd courses that we enjoyed over the next six hours. We laughed, drank, enjoyed tasty food and generally had a great time. I learned some new Japanese words, and the ladies took turns sending their husbands over to “practice their English”. Trying to communicate in two different languages at once is a very interesting (and often fun) experience. I have a VERY few basic words and basic verbs, but most of the others had a solid working knowledge of English. This ensured that we didn’t just stare at each other and say things like “funny is!” and “yummy yummy food” – these phrases are, of course, my standard dialogue when I speak to Japanese people who DON’T have a working knowledge of English.

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Of course, you can always try to exchange helpful facial expressions with the locals.

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In any case, we made lots of jokes, especially with dear old Takuya, who is a a standup chap. I happen to know him by virtue of his being my fellow teacher’s girlfriend’s older brother.

Of course, in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” terms, he would be “my father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate… or NOTHING, which is what you are about to become!!!

Alas, the poor chap turns bright red after about four to six beers. He had to lie on the floor with a wet towel on his head for a bit while I taught the entire room a great English idiom: (point at Takuya: “He can’t hold his beer”. Point at Atsushi: “He CAN hold his beer”). This is much better than the usual 'Engrish' phrase: "Atsushi is strong at drink. "

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It was grand fun.

I even got to keep some Takenoko and take them home, for later use in a delicious pasta sauce!

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I suppose the best way to leave this is my personal idea of how I felt digging up those Takenoko.

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/"Jozuu" is Japapense for "good" or "expert". "Great English" is "Eigo Jozuu!"

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