How does the song go... "I think I'm turning Japanese. I really think so." Well, maybe not TURNING Japanese, but I'm at least one step closer. I discovered much to my bafflement and surprise (and perhaps even an pinch of disappointment), that I've quite fallen for Kimura Takuya. For those of you who don't know him, old KimuTaku (as the Japanese affectionately call him), is pretty much the premiere talent in this country. Everyone knows who he is. He makes wads of cash and does music, commercials, dramas, movies, magazines, variety shows... you name it, he does it. And he's been doing it since...just about since I was born. I mean Bon Jovi let him sing "It's My Life" as a duet with him. So anyways, most of the people here love KimuTaku, and everyone knows everything about him, whether they like him or not. Except me. I was always that one exception. And then yesterday I watched a clip from SMAPXSMAP (the variety show he hosts with the other guys in his band, SMAP), and I finally got it. In a mere 20 min., everything just clicked. And I can't really say why. It's like some mysterious power that is inexplicable. I mean, he's not a great singer, he played a weirdo/creep in the only drama I've ever seen him in, he's not what one would call conventionally handsome and he's much, much older than myself. But still... there's just something there. So, I have taken yet another step to being absorbed into the living organism that is Japan.
In other news, I went with my host parents today to the family grave, as this time is when everyone goes to visit/pray/clean their family graves. The Nishiyama family's graves happen to be a pretty dang far way away, so I got to take a roadtrip (3 hrs. each way), into the rural, mountainous (if that's a word), country. It is, in just about every way, different than Tokyo. And yet it was so lovely. The mountains are very unlike our own in the US, because where as our mountains are kind of like large, rolling hills with even slopes that swell to a top, the mountains here are very sharp and tall and thin, as though jutting up from the ground like overgrown stalactites. Or rather like God reached down, grabbed up a handfull of grass and jerked it upwards, and things just stayed there. They're sporadic and not really connected to each other, and not rolling but jagged looking, though entirely covered with trees and shrouded in an eerie, Samurai fog when it rains. Also, in the country, there are very few towns, most of the land being used as stretching rice paddies with one lone, ramrod straight road running through them for harvesters. When there is a town, it's not much to speak of. Usually, but not always, there is a gas station, sometimes a grocery, inevitably a bunch of very towering, grandiose-looking houses built in the old style (regardless of whether they really have money or not, they look grandiose), and there is always a Pachinko parlor. There may not even be a gas station, but there's a Pachinko parlor.
We finally got to Batou, which is where my host father's family hails from and where the graves are, and stopped to by fresh veggies/fruit (it's Strawberry season now), and to have lunch. Though they did serve Horse Sashimi (yes friends, that's raw horse meat), we opted not to have that, and stayed save with soba noodles and fried tempura, which was good and nice and warm on a chilly, rainy day. Then we pushed on to the house of my host father's second cousin, who runs the shrine in that town and holds down the fort on the family's ancient land. For countless generations, the Nishiyama family has been a family of Shinto priests and, strangely enough, doctors. The aforementioned second cousin's father had died just last year and he had to give up being both a pilot and a cop to come back to Japan and take over being a priest. Talk about being dedicated to your roots. As such, my host dad talked with him for a long time about general priest stuff that I don't understand, and while he did that, the cousin's wife showed us around her house. As it is a traditional Japanese house, I'd never seen one before, so she showed me around. Of course all the rooms have tatami mat floors and no beds, but futons. Instead of doors, they have sliding wooden doors that are covered, not with paper, but with silk on which are hand-painted scenes of Sakura (cherry blossoms), sparrows, bamboo, etc. Most of the rooms were full of priest stuff (their Hatama leggings, robes, special offering stuff, etc.,) but in one room, where the big shelf/cutout thing is where they hang the scroll to the god, she showed us a bowl made back in the edo era (a LONG time ago, pre-USA), a fake samurai helmet made all of money, a display case of ancient arrows, and a real katana sword, which evidentally you have to have a special license to even own and it has to be tied shut. So that was cool. I also got to check out a real Kotatsu, which is a heated table thing. Let me describe. There is a deep cut out in the floor long enough to hang your legs in, as if you were sitting on a ledge. On the bottom part, where your feet are, under raised slats of wood, is a POWERFUL heater. Then there is a table covering it, and blankets thrown over the top of the table so that when you slide your legs in, you put them under the blanket. Hard to describe, but there you have it. Also I went to a Ukio-e (wood block paintings) museum and had a strange Japanese dessert with red beans, jelly cubes and soft serve ice cream.
But before that, we went to the graves. Now, most people in Japan are both Shinto and Buddhist and celebrate both ways. When they are born, they have Shinto rites over them, when they die they have a Buddhist funeral. This is true for almost everyone. However, as my host father's family has always been Shinto priests, they're a little special and so you take care of their graves differently. The first set of graves we went to were very tall things with names and employment positions on them. Up until I think it was the Meiji era, though I forgot what I was told, Buddhism and Shinto were the same in Japan and so a person could be both a Temple Master (Buddhist) and a Shinto priest (Shinto). Some of the ancestors of the Nishiyama family were both. Moving on... So for the Shinto graves, you pour water over the top of the stone to clean it off, you light candles before the grave, you put mostly leaves or green plants in vases, and when you pray you clap twice. Also, you offer sake. However, there were some family members (more distant) that were buried Buddhist, and we went to see their graves too. As with the Shinto graves, you pour water over the stone to clean it off, and instead of candles, you burn incense, and instead of leaves, you put down flowers. Also, no sake and no clapping. So there's a crash course in that. Anyways, and that's really all that happened today.
I got my Kimono yesterday and wish me luck on figuring out how to do it. I've been shown twice and still seem to be quite lost. You wouldn't imagine how difficult it is. Just folding it back up the right way to put away takes 20 freakin' minutes! Even so, I'm gonna do my best to get it on tomorrow and go for my tea class. Also, my host brother's girlfriend just graduated and we're going on for dinner to celebrate. Then on Sunday I'm going to TRY desperately to get tickets (it's a raffle, so it'll take luck), to get in to see a taping of ALICE NINE!!! at the Ameba studio in Harajuku. Gosh I hope I get to go! We'll see. Then monday I finally have a day off, then Tues. meeting with my advisor and hoping, really hoping, that he can tell me what classes are offered this semester, when those classes are and... you know... when the first day of class is. I feel like I'm going to have a conniption most of the time. These freaking people. I hate my school. Then on Wed. I have a concert (The KIDDIE) and then on the 3rd, I'm going to Hanami which is sorta like a picnic/party where everyone takes time out to go and sit under the Cherry Blossom trees and admire them. They're just about to blossom here in Tokyo and everyone's already got lanterns strung up down the rivers and in the parks, pretty pinkish red and white lanterns for night viewing, once the buds finally bloom. So, not much longer for that! Anywho, I'll upload pics soon, though I didn't get many. Talk to you guys later! Wish me luck with everything!