Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Noh Feasting

It seems a long time since the Reading University Introduction to Noh workshop in the last two weeks of August. In a good way!

I am delighted that I am now a Toyko Noh Student. It went beyond my wildest dreams to hope that I'd be able to actually practice Noh - something so, well, Japanese (!) - here, in proper theatres. But, I am - twice a week, with all the proper kit, and learning new fascinating things about it every day.

I was taught the basics of how to use the kit at Reading, on a brand new portable Noh stage (just one of the many marvellous things Reading's new Theatre Studies building has inside it)

but it's a lot different here!

I also thought I'd never be able to afford to go and see much Noh, but thanks to the kindness of various people, I have now seen seven professional full length Noh plays, three Kyogen (fable-like funny plays used as interludes between the heavier, longer Noh), and a whole afternoon of 'greatest hits' bit and pieces. Here are some of the programmes

Soo lucky.

Professional Noh is quite a closed society - the actors are almost exclusively men, and, in Japan, exclusively from Japanese traditional acting families. There are five 'schools' of Noh acting - Komparu, Kanze, Kita, Hosho and Kongo. They all put on the same plays (there aren't THAT many to go around) but their techniques differ slightly. I'm told.

So far, I've been to see performanes by three different 'schools'. Most recently I was in Meguro, at the 'Kita' School theatre, where I saw three plays that aren't in my Penguin Noh Dramas translation, or particularly googlable. Luckily for me, my teacher gave me a bilingual edition of the second play, Hashitomi, to read along with during the show. I had to make do with synopses of the other two - Kogo (based on the Japanese traditional Tale of Heike, in which a beautiful lady koto player dances for a an emperor's messenger) and Kenjo, a no-holds barred spectacle of a piece, full of travel, ghosts and musical mastery.

Lucky for me, all three were relatively easy to follow - I can still only understand about one Japanese word in four. And that's when I'm feeling ambitious.

The first play I saw here in Tokyo was at the Kanze School Theatre in Shibuya - Kanze is apparently the most famous of all of the Noh Schools. They put on the very sombre Motomezuka (The Sought-for Grave) in which a woman who killed herself because she was loved by two men, gets lashed by demons in all different kinds of hells.

Stirring stuff. The flute music was so clear, sad and beautiful that I signed up for lessons straightaway.

A couple of days later I found myself at the Hosho School Noh Theatre, seeing another three plays: Iwafune (I have yet to find out ANYTHING about what it was about, but the demon at the end wore a huge red wig and that was enough for me to think it was at least interesting!), Tsunemasa, in which the ghost of a renowned lute player pines after the things he misses in the world of the living, and Momijigari, about an autumn foliage viewing party that takes a violent and supernatural turn.

I love the fact that you get to see lots of different plays in a Noh programme - it's normal for a programme to include at least three plays in one afternoon. The tickets look pretty complicated

but all becomes clear very quickly indeed.

I've already worn one pair of the new white Tabi I bought in Asakusa last week - the REALLY cheap pair. This Saturday, I get to wear the nicer pair to class. Lucky me!

More on Noh anon.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Someone to Watch over Me? Part 2

This guy, who according to the shrine instructions is called A-Zo (although perhaps I read it wrong - my kanji is as terrible as my spoken Japanese), looks pretty impressive, doesn't he?

But it's probably this guy who would actually get people to run away screaming


There are bugs this big everywhere in Tokyo at the moment. Today I saw a wasp so big it might as well have been a baby stag beetle. And an ant that could have been a cockraoch. Perhaps it was!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Wish! Fulfilment (part 3) Tamaplaza and a Tokyo Typhoon

Last week's adventures were overshadowed somewhat by Wednesday's Typhoon which hit Tokyo in the early afternoon and didn't let up until about 7 in the evening. Another new experience for me - but perhaps the first not entirely welcome one. It wasn't because I felt I was in any real danger - quite the opposite. I was tucked away (read 'stuck') on the Tokyo tube for 4 hours. Just after I got on and the train started moving, everything ground to a halt. All I had in my bag was my Japanese study book, a pen, and a notebook.

Let's just say I have now finally mastered Katakana. And a new grammatical structure. AND about 50 new vocabulary words. For all the good they have done me this week - those new things have been subsumed into the general 'awful Japanese spoken by Laura' club. Now I just have more choice of things to get wrong!

That afternoon the headmistress of Tamaplaza Nozomi (nursery) had very kindly told me to go home before 4pm because the Typhoon was causing mayhem on public transport. But I was sad - I was just starting to have LOADS of fun playing with super cute super sweet, super well-behaved kids. The ridiculous education department apron I had come to love over the previous 24 hours had to come off

the flowers I was making for the following week's festival had to be packed up

and off I had to go to a windy, rainy, packed train station to try to get home from about as far away from my house it's possible to get in Tokyo.

I got home at 10pm. I set off at 4. But, judging from the TV reports it could have been a lot worse. And I got to have cake for dinner.

The bright side showed itself the following day though, when, Typhoon over and transport resumed to its usual super efficient norm, I not only got to do fun storytelling to a very polite - if not technically rapt - audience, I also learned a Japanese song and made three new friends, who all decided to draw pictures of me.

Can't complain! 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Asakusa and White Tabi

During the week, I'm a kaisha-in (a Japanese company employee) of sorts...but in the weekend, I'm a student of Japanese language, Japanese Theatre, and a delighted and ambitious tourist!

Last saturday, after my inaugural Tokyo Noh Theatre class, I found myself if Asakusa looking for tabi boots - posh white socks which you have to wear to either practise or perform Noh. I'm delighted that I'll be doing both while I'm here, so I needed to suit up.

They don't look like much on the peg, but here they are on the heavenly maiden I'm going to (attempt to) dance next month:

When I got to Asakusa though, I passed Senso-Ji Temple, the biggest buddhist temple in the city, right outside the tube station. I forgot all about tabi and wandered in through the impressive, crowd-packed front gate

I passed under some of the biggest Japanese lanterns I've ever seen

before you begin the long walk down tourist tat street to the temple itself

I thought the view from outside was quite impressive

But the view from inside was more atmospheric, if you ignored the sounds of the olde worlde amusement park you could see out of the temple's biggest and most impressive door (!)

But what about those tabi? I needed some for practice the next morning and by the time I'd finished looking round the temple it was almost shop closing time. Luckily for me, this is the 'traditional crafts and culture' bit of Tokyo, so without even really looking for it, I found a shop selling white tabi for under a tenner. 

Now I have all the kit for my Noh Debut! 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Autumn Festivals: Ogikubo Okomoiyaki

It is Autumn Festival season this month in Tokyo. At Ogikubo Shrine last weekend, I was taught how to make a wish, and then persuaded to eat the biggest okonomiyaki I've ever seen. Here is me being impressed:

And here's the actual food. The amount of mayonnaise they put on this thing was shocking (and rather delicious)

For pudding, I won lollipops, made right then at a stall. Fruit wrapped in sticky caramel. Mmmm...

A very good day! Urp.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Fishing and the City

I saw it in a TV documentary in 2009 and never quite believed it. But it's true: they have fishing arcades in Tokyo. The way it works is you pay money at the door for a chunk of time sitting beside a man made pond that looks like a swimming pool surrounded by odd clumps of fern and other green stuff. You then do fishing, until you run out of money, or catch a fish (I'm told the latter is more usual: perhaps it's really addictive, this fishing. Either that or they put millions of fish in the pond). And then you have to throw it back.

Personally I can't see the appeal, but lots of people in Tokyo do, apparently. This is the Suidobashi Station fishing spot

?? Tokyoed again.

Books, Books, Glorious Books

You can take books away from a Laura...BUT

...but I always seem to stumble across them again before too long! 

Whether it's cheap bargain basement secondhand

slightly less cheap bargain basement secondhand

or completely amazing, completely out of my price range antiquarian

with optional Noh masks

I have a nose for them.

For those who don't, I'm happy to share: Tokyo Old Book Heaven is between Ochanomizu and Suidobashi JR stations, and Jimbocho Metro station. Ahhhhh.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Creepy Crawlies (Caterpillar Spotting)

Since I've read The Very Hungry Caterpillar in all variants of English / Japanese / bit of both more times in the past week than I thought possible, I'm afraid I now have caterpillars on the brain.

On the way to work I saw this wonderful specimen waiting for me as if it knew what I'd be doing that day

Later on, after lunch, it was slightly unfortunate that a pudding as lovely tasting as Mitarashi (rice balls with syrup) looked quite so much like my new friend from the morning

They look much more polite in the packet!

Mitarashi, not caterpillars (caterpillars look better in books)


My first trip to Shibuya last week was a tourist's (so, my) wet dream:

At night, everything that's blue (and that's a lot, where neon rules, as it does in Shibuya) just jumps out like the monster you always imagined was under your bed. Exhilarating!

A moment of homesickness passed when I also found the city's biggest H&M, also in Shibuya

I bought black leggings, as usual. Some things never change.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Wish! Fulfilment (Part 2)

The baptism of fire that started last week didn't let up this week. Oh no: I visited not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but SIX different kids' centres. That would be a lot even if my Japanese wasn't QUITE so, erm ahem (!) and it wasn't 32 degrees c and 90% humidity every day. Since both of these things are now facts of my life, a lie in on Saturday morning was perhaps the most wonderful experience of my life so far...

BUT I'm making it sound like the volume of stuff somehow made it all less fun - not the case at all. I had a blast! In this order:

Monday: Kamiochiai Jidookan (the return)
Sadly, the candy floss machines had been returned to their owners by monday morning, but I couldn't really complain since I realised another childhood dream instead. I felt like I was on a kids tv show as I filled the ball pool

and filled it some more

I was having a relatively good Japanese day (i.e. I wasn't completely struck dumb) and even managed a few only slightly stilted 'so what are you doing here then?' sorts of conversations. The kids enjoyed attempting to teach me the fiendishly fiddly dance they'd learned for the festival the week before, and my new japanese word of the day was 'jump'. The storytelling was more low key here than the previous week - they told me how to say the Japanese text in perfect chorus; I told them the English. I probably got the best deal, to be honest.

Tuesday: Appi Daiba (AM), Tagara Daini (PM)
A day with more travelling than face time with kids, but no less rewarding for that.It was a long but beautiful journey to Odaiba, out to the East, next to the sea. I have now been on the Tokyo Monorail

Appi Daiba was a tiny nursery right in the middle of Odaiba's main shopping centre! My caterpillar was more energetic than monday's, but less Japanese! None of the one year olds watching seemed to mind, though. They were much more interested in the songs I sang them. Without ukulele accompaniment this time, but who knows what the future will hold?

From Odaiba, Nerima-Ku is just about as far away as you can get in Tokyo. But that's where the super organisedTagara Daini after school club was, so that's where we went. School was long over by the time I arrived, and everyone was there dying to meet 'foreign long-nose girl'. Again I got a free Japanese lesson off some of the kids, who were actually better teachers than some of the adults I've had before! here is one of them in a pile of tyres

Outside later, I rode a unicycle and hung myself upside down on some monkey bars. All in a days work.
It is true what they say about Japanese school kids. Their manners were impeccable. Even after school was over.

Wednesday: Shouka Nursery and Momozono Gakudo
Another day, another Tokyo suburb - Tsunashima was first on the list, for a meeting at and tour of Shouka Nursery School, the biggest nursery in Tokyo with 300 kids from the ages of 0 to 7 years old. It was impressive. I surprised myself by talking for about a solid minute or two in relatively sensible Japanese at a staff meeting, and despite the heat things were going ok...I felt this pleased with myself

...and things carried on going ok into the afternoon when I found myself at ANOTHER after school club in Momozono, near Nakano. Again, no dramatised re-enactment but a quiz on 'what do you know about England (in Japanese)?' It could have worked better to be honest, if anyone had asked me to prepare some questions and answers beforehand. As it was, though, the kids who DID ask me questions asked some great ones. The best were:

What is your star sign (cue frantic dictionary shuffling and open mouthed surprise - I didn't even know they HAD star signs in Japan)?

What pronoun do English people use to talk about themselves other than 'I' (this from a 7 year old)?

On the way home that night, I was beginning to flag and everything started to look a bit neon -

but I was just about ok.

Thursday and Friday: Kita Shinjuku Jidookan
Thursday got off to a shaky start when I went into the office by mistake and then had to rush back past where I live in the other direction to get to Kita Shinjuku Jidookan, my last location of the week, on time. It was 9.30am. It was already 30 degrees. I was knackered. But not for long - the welcome I got when I arrived was so warm that I forgot everything....

Including the little Japanese I now know. Oh dear.

Not that that stopped me - here's me in action telling a story:

quite enthusiastically

And singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (before being taught it again in Japanese)

I'm only slightly alarmed about that facial expression...

That wasn't all. Just becuase I was tired didn't mean I couldn't play a legendary game of Twister

start decorating the place for the festival happening the following week

and get taught how to do tea ceremony

with six-year-olds

who were WAY better at it than I was

And also, my fifth rendition (entirely in English, with actions) of Caterpillar.

All in a day's work / play/! I slept ominously well on Friday night.