So this Saturday I participated in a yagaigeki (big outdoor show) celebrating Hakodate’s heritage and history. Although I had brought up my concerns with my Otoosan about the fact that within this show’s contents were Commodore Perry’s forcing open of the ports and WW2, he said I didn’t need to worry about it being awkward, and although after being tricked by Okaasan with regard to the Kimono pageant, I decided to go ahead and take Otoosan up on his suggestion.
That morning, despite being a little under the weather, I decided to go for a nice long 12 miler into the countryside. Being the super deep self-reflective guy that I am, and as any runner will tell you, sometimes when you need to clear up your head, a long run alone with one’s thoughts and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (if you haven’t checked them out yet, I recently discovered “Fragment’s of Time” and “Doing it Right”) is 最高. As I eventually found myself in an entirely different city without my passport and really no way of recalling my host family’s address, realizing another run-in with my good 警察官 buddies might mean deportation, I headed back for home, but not before snapping some super artsy pics.
So I come back, feeling like a boss when the map my Okaasan asks me to show her my route on doesn’t cover the area I ran to. Of course after which I promptly began to pass out during お昼ご飯 then pseudo napped for like 3 hours, leading Okaasan to worry over me like an absolute baby, so not so boss as initially thought. Anyways, after being roused by a few squawking “BEN CHAN” ‘s, I blearily made my way downstairs and out the door to the Yagaigeki!
Arriving to the prep tent, I’m met with a few mildly interested looks, a few more when I say that I’m there to participate. After sizing up my stature and appearance, the organizer determines that I would make a fine Ainu native! Although for some reason I did feel that I might be better suited for the part of one of the Westerners being played by Japanese, I made no complaint and made my way to the prep tent with Natsumi and her two friends (if I had been alone, I may have never made it to the stage).
As I was standing in the dressing tent while a pair of おばあさん’s tried to locate a kimono long enough for my preposterously tall height, I noticed two other white people, a very rare phenomenon in my experience, who were, you guessed it, playing the parts of Commodore Perry and Westerner 2, but more on that later. Questioning my casting as a native Japanese islander, the little old lady dressing me in the kimono (I actually had to squat so she could get to my shoulders) assured me that it was entirely normal for foreigners to play Ainu. My fears assuaged, we made our way to the practice circle for the Ainu, but low and behold, it was already finished! The leader told us not to worry, and that she’d run us through what we were doing when we were by the stage.
So that’s how I soon found myself in a circle of 4 people, listening to this kindly old おばあさん run through instructions in a language that for the large part I really didn’t understand, after which a couple people had the nerve to ask me about parts of the instructions. Like I’d understand bub. It was an 8 part dance, done to express the life of the Ainu (sprinkling grains of rice in the field, taking our personal belongings and moving as our lands were taken, clapping, just normal Ainu stuff), and to my credit I doubt anyone noticed anything amiss with my actions. We formed into a great big circle, starting our dance after shouting ようこそ！(welcome!) to the samurai, who after 6 minutes of dancing were chasing us off stage with their Katanas. Reminded me a lot of America’s own Native American story.
Afterwards, we took off our outer Kimono and the stylish bandana that was apparently in during the Ainu days and ran back out on stage to watch as our Christian leader was put to death for heresy, and after a few やめて！’s and だめよ！’s, we headed backstage once again. Taking off the second layer Kimono, we were down to our final Kimonos for our part as Han era villagers. The costume also included donning a bit of headgear (I swear they MADE me put the thing on, I fully respect Asian heritage).
This was perhaps the funniest scene of the night, if I told you to read this article and you were all like, “Um no, Saundawg I got mad respect for yo Japanese speaking self, but this piece is just a bit too long.”
START READING HERE
So we go out and just sort of amble around the stage as Han-era villagers are wont to do, greeting each other 5 or 6 times before out of nowhere come the foreigners! Stepping down from the top of the stage where some ships with American, English, and Russian flags had been erected, was none other than the foreigner from earlier with the other white guy in tow along with 4 or 5 Japanese dressed in Western garb. I soon learned that the foreigner in the lead was in fact Commodore Perry, and he proceeded to give a speech to the people of Hakodate, in perhaps THE most broken Japanese I had ever heard in my life.
KOH NEE CHEE WAW HAW KOH DAY TEY, WAH TAW SHI WA KAH MAH DAWR PEY RE I. I was literally dying. Also, since it was really low level Japanese, I actually understood what he was saying! After this rousing speech, they came down to the front and spoke with what I can only assume was our prefecture’s governor, then returned up the stairs shaking hands with all of us Han villagers. The not-Perry white guy passed my way and we shook hands while exchanging a silent look conveying a message quite essentially consisting of: “This is Fushigz as fuck dawg,” or something to that extent.
After we finished the scene and returned back stage, this guy found me and asked as to what a 白人 such as myself was doing in Hakodate, and after explaining I was an exchange student studying at HIF, I was surprised to hear that he knew of the program by its english name. Almost as surprised as when I found out this Netherlander was none other than 新保さん’s husband!! :O :O :O :O :O :O I was thrown for quite a loop.
(Lookin’ like a damn goober)
So as they were enacting out a WWII scene on the stage, here we two foreigners were backstage talking rapidly in English (am I right?). While I was being told the story of how he (I never did get his name) and Shinpo san ended up meeting, a curious group of Japanese women dressed in lavish Kimono’s asked as to what my colleague was doing dressed up as a Japanese villager now? He then proceeded to explain to them that after serving under Perry, he came to hate America and decided to high-tail it to Japan and start a new life, and as every joke a foreigner makes is a success with Japanese women, this was no exception.
We headed out once more, and I quickly realized that I did not belong in this group, as they were performing a traditional Japanese dance that I had literally never learned before in my life, but as we were organized in a circle formation I simply followed a guy who really looked like he knew what he was doing. Returning afterwards, I found myself separated from both my 白人 friend and Natsumi and her two friends! I soon noticed that the man behind me was jokingly asking if I was a native Japanese, and appearing aghast at his discovery I protested that I had lived in Hakodate my whole life. He told me he was Chinese, but for those who have heard of my unfortunate experiences with such things, I literally had no idea whether or not he was joking, but from his English pronunciation he seemed to be Chinese (China kicks Japan’s ASS at English education it seems).
Went out for the finale, killed it, enjoyed our complimentary beverage for our toil and sweat, changed back into my real person clothes, bashfully accepted the praise of the people amazed at a foreigner’s ability to speak Japanese, bounced into the car, headed out for some victory ramen, I gotta say, today was a good day.