The post name translates to “A Chu (Kiss) in the rain”.
It is rainy season. The last few days there had been intermittent rain, but at the time of writing, it hasn’t stopped raining for two days. The area around my tent is like a swamp, and I found a small pool of water inside my tent. I’m not sure where it seeped in from, but it’s localized to a corner near my head, and nothing was made wet, so no problem. I just have to tough it out for a week or so, and then it will blistering sunshine. Not sure which I prefer..
I had planned to spend the day focusing on working on my PC. I won’t go into what work I’m doing at this juncture (I want to have visible results), but for now just trust me, when I say I’m working on my computer, i’m not playing games or messing about on facebook (it’s WORKING ON FACEBOOK!).
I was sat in the phone charging area when Chu-chan walked past. He was featured at the end of a previous post, holding some corn and looking kind of epic.
He asked me if I was going to the festival which was happening today.
I hadn’t planned on going, as I was busy and also had no way to get there. He urged me to come, so I went against my better judgement and agreed to go with him.
I will take this opportunity to talk a bit about the people who are here.
There are all types of people here. Young and old. Fat and thin. Sane and Insane. Some are people who have quit their jobs and here volunteering, living off their savings. Some take vacation days to come up here. Some are on summer vacation from school, and spending their time productively up here. I met one boy (20yrs old) who is unemployed, and got dumped up here by his grandfather, so that he could do something productive instead of just playing around every day.
Everyone is here to help, and you bond through that very strong common ground you share. But there are some very “interesting” characters here.
The best category to file Chu under would probably be “Insane”. At times he is very serious, and then the next minute he will be dancing around and singing. Very interesting.
He doesn’t have a car, but he has access to a “small truck”, so we would be going in that.
On the way to the truck, we ran into someone two people we know, and Chu invited them to come along.
The small truck really was a small truck. I had assumed it had rear seats too, but nope, it just had the drivers seat and the passengers seat.
I told Chu that under no circumstances would I ride in the back, and he knew I meant business. But the other guys didn’t care.
It’s one thing to ride a bulldozer (OH YEAH) or to jump in the back of the truck to travel to a job 3 minutes down the road, but this was a bit different, so I had to put my foot down.
We went through 女川 (Onagawa), a very hard hit area, and arrived at a school. It wasn’t a functioning school, but rather, the whole place served as an evacuation center. And for good reason, the buildings in the area were for the most part destroyed.
The rain had turned the ground into somewhat of a muddy mess, but there were many very typical Japanese style stalls set up, serving all manner of festival food, like Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Yakitori, Burgers, candy floss etc.
Of the more unusual stalls, there were:
- many different stalls where you could play games and win prizes (like snacks),
- a stall with toys which children could choose
- a stall with lots of clothes you could take. Some new, some donated.
- a stall where you could collect a carepackage of different snacks
- drinks (no alcohol)
- a stall where you could print your photos from a data card
- a coffee shop
- a place you could get massaged
- foot onsen, with water that had been driven in from some natural spring somewhere
- a place where you could receive a free Yukata or Kimono, and have help putting it AND have someone do your hair.
There was really so much there. It was, of course, all free.
It really was a miserable wet day, and the mud made it seem even worse, but many people had turned out, and kept coming and going throughout the time I was there.
There were several big things that were going on.
One big draw was a karaoke contest, where you could win various prizes. It wasn’t a contest in the traditional sense , as there was no judges. But people would sing, and then throw darts at a spinning target. Depending on where they hit (if they hit at all), they would win stuff. It was fun, and kind of entertaining, as everyone would choose very different songs to sing. There was some traditional Enka but some older people, and some ridiculous J-rock by the younger guys.
I actually took a picture of this particular fellow because he was so bad. I’m an awful singer, but at least I know it. But then again, if there was a chance to win a car, I would probably join in too.
Oh, didn’t I mention? The grand prize for the karaoke contest was a car. I think it had been slightly used, but it was a decent sized Toyota in good condition, not bad at all for 3 minutes of embarrassment.
I hadn’t paid too much attention to the contest, I watched him sing until the end. Mostly with a look of horror on my face.
Someone handed him a dart and they spun the spinny thing. It was kind of flower-esque, in that it had lots of petal like things. His dart his the only one which was red, and the announcer made a big noise.
If there’s anything the tsunami has taught us, sometimes things happen to people who don’t deserve it. Soooooooooooo lucky.
While I was walking around with the two guys (not Chu-chan, he had gone somewhere else), I was stopped by these two girls.
They told me I would definitely look good in a Yukata, so I should put one on! I told them that I don’t think I should, but they insisted and dragged us to the fitting room. While we were there, we were all talking and they asked why we were all speaking Osaka-ben (Osaka dialect, all three of us live in the same city in Japan).
“Because we are from Osaka!”“Oh, you moved here?”“No, we are volunteers! We aren’t tsunami victims!”“OMG! This isn’t for you guys!!!”“I know! That’s why I said that we shouldn’t. And that’s why we have these stickers saying we are volunteers! But you made us come!”“You’re so bad!”“NO WAY! YOU GUYS ARE THE BAD ONES!!”
After being made to feel like we were trying to steal from the needy, we continued walking around.
Ishinomaki is famous for a manga (comic book) museum. I assume it was this connection which prompted the appearance of the Masked Riders, who were doing photo ops with little kids..
..and some big kids too!
The queue was ridiculously long (Like 50 people long) so we had gone away, but when came by later there were only about 6 people in the line, so Chu quickly ran to the back.
As you can see, Chu has a Ukulele. He’s actually a very good singer and can play it well, but it was broken (I don’t know how that happened). He had managed to somehow mend it, if only temporarily, and many kids wanted to try and play it too.
It was broken, so he had to hold the neck of the ukulele so that it didn’t fall apart, but it made for a very tender image. They would strum it with the lighter and we would sing random Japanese songs, much to the amusement of everyone around us.
Chu is a Japanese born Korean. He can speak Japanese, English and I think Korean, I don’t actually know to what extent he speaks it. He loves to confuse people by speaking to them in Korean or English, and tells everyone that he is from North Korea.
He often tells “lies”, which I understand are jokes, but other people think are truths.
This is an interesting culture difference. People in Japan don’t generally tell outrageous stories, expecting you to be able to understand that they are probably lying. So when he tells people that he used to be a famous football player in Korea, and played for the national team, they all go “Wow!”.
To be honest, they might just be faking the reaction, but they give a reaction nonetheless.
One time Chu told this particular lie to the wrong person. He was showing off and doing kick-ups (not letting a football touch the ground by using your head, feet, knees etc), and then gave the ball to someone else, to see what he could do.
That person happened to be Nam the Man, current European football freestyle champion, who was volunteering in Ishinomaki too, and sleeping in a tent near Chu.
Rather than a lesson in not lying, Chu considers it a funny story to tell people. And it is.
Probably the best part of the festival (at least for me) was the 神輿を担ぐ.
It’s kind of hard to explain what it is. A Japanese friend said this:
“Basically, it’s really traditional. No-one really knows what the point is, but it’s fun and makes everyone really excited.”
And it did.
Two of these portable shrines entered the ground, being carried by many people (one shrine was predominantly women). They did a lap around the ground, then there was lots of jumping and shouting and singing and merryment in front of the area where they would eventually place it.
The music was provided by some Taiko drummers.
I lost track of Chu during all of this. But I found him eventually. No prizes for guessing where he probably wanted to be.
The onlookers mostly stood under this tent, but there was only x amount of room, so many were in the rain. They still enjoyed it all, and everyone was yelling and throwing their hands up in the air the like. Very good fun.
You can see two flags in this picture. One says “On the road”, which is the name of the NPO who organised this event (although other groups had a presence too, in the form of their own stalls). The other flag just says “元気”. It can be translated various ways, but it basically means “Energy”.
The point of the festival had been to energize people.
And I think that despite the rain and mud, it did. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, smiles on faces, food in hand.
The food was a big draw, I think. It must have been nice to have food which was maybe not so easily available to them. Bare in mind that there is little or no public transport in this area, and many cars were destroyed when the Tsunami came in.
Chu had had a great time. He loves anything which is noisy and energetic, and had made friends with the guy who had been holding the 元気 flag.
It had been very interesting to spend time with him.
He is definitely someone who does not fit into mainstream Japanese society. I would go so far as to say many people would look down on him for the way he looks and acts.
But he, like so many other people, is doing his best to help people. He has been here for several months, and has no plans to return to Kobe anytime soon. Being from Kobe, he also knows what these people are going through, having experienced the same type of loss after the great Hanshin Earthquake.
His crazy demeanour keeps people smiling. The rain has created lots of big puddles everywhere. Outside the Ofuro we saw an old lady with her grandchildren looking perplexed, and wondering how to cross the puddle.
“How about I carry you all across?!?”
They all laughed and declined, and started to edge their way around the puddle.
Chu picked up a plastic pole which was lying on the side and laid it through the middle of the puddle and said “OK, use this bridge when you are coming back, OK?!?”
One little girl pointed out that it was very dangerous, and that they would definitely fall down, but Chu just said “OK GREAT USE IT OK? BYE BYE!” .
Sometimes it’s the thought that counts.
I’ll leave you with a final photo of Chu, taken a few days ago. Lunch was finished, and it was time to get back to work. Chu had a lot of stuff to carry, but didn’t want to take it all the way down the road and then come back for his bike.
When he rode around the corner, I heard an female English voice shout “Oh wow! What’s that? It looks so dangerous!”
Next came Chu’s voice:
“Not dangerous, SIDECAR!“
- INJMでの長期ボランティア – 拓也 根本 [GB]
- Kyushu – 21st – 26th of August – Bye Kyushu
- Kyushu update – 14th – 19th of August
- Kyushu update – 8th – 12th of August
- Because not everyone uses Facebook…
- June recap
- Happy birthday
- (Almost) One year on
- A volunteer’s perspective (GB – 2 of 2)
- A volunteer’s perspective (GB – 1 of 2)