You know in movies when a huge crowd throws the hero up the air a few times and says “hip hip - hooray.” When’s the last time you saw that happening in real life? Well, apparently it’s a customary way to celebrate in Japan called “douage” which basically just means body-throwing. This circle of guys is the baseball team, and everyone is douage-ing their newly-graduated team mates. The way they were doing it, one of the san-nensei (third years, the ones that just graduated) would step in the middle and one of the younger guys would say something funny about him or to him, and then they’d all rush him and throw him up in the air. One of my favorite parts of this is the girls standing outside the circle, holding all the cool boys’ coats while they show how strong they are. The guy standing next to me is Inoue-sensei, the biology teacher. He sits across from me in the staff room and is easily one of my favorite teachers. The kids love him too. He listens to American biology lectures in his car, and has thus absorbed an okay amount of English. He’s hilarious.
Cleaning day at Hokuto High School! This is a way of cleaning floors that may or may not be unique to Japan, but I’ve never seen it in any other context. It’s known as zoukin gake, which I think just means scrubbing with a rag. Normally the kids will divide up large areas and do this, but we challenged Nene to do the entire hallway. I didn’t think about getting a video until it was time for her to come back, but you can see what its like anyway. Afterwards, I had a go at it, but Miya has that video on her cellphone. I didn’t expect it to be so tiring.
I went out to Setsubun in Kofu last night. Setsubun is the day before the first day of Spring, which, in lots of Asian countries, is not actually at the equinox, but rather the equinox is in the middle of spring. Because Setsubun is related to the lunar new year, it’s kind of like a New Year’s Eve, so people celebrate by visiting the shrine for prayer, and then warding off the evil spirits of the year passed and welcoming the fortune of the new year. This is done, very simply, by throwing beans at the evil spirits. The custom is called mamemaki which just means bean-throwing. The gist is, someone, or many someones, dress up as a demon, everyone throws roasted soybeans at them and yells “鬼は外！福はうち！” meaning “Demons out! Fortune in!” There were lots of demons running around kofu, making sure to make every child in sight cry. We ran into this crew in the Yakuza section of Kofu. It was hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure they were all doing a pub-crawl. That and scaring babies. My only clue was that one of them ran straight into a barrier.
Oh, and of course I gorged on delicious festival foods.
Artifact of the day: the genki drink
To start, I should explain “genki.” Genki is a term that gets used to generally imply wellness and all that comes with it, i.e. good mood, energy, vigor, and so on. You can ask someone if they’re genki, which is essentially just like asking “How are you?” though it’s a more serious question here rather than a noise people make when they see each other like in the states, so you don’t hear it too often. Genki can also be used to describe someone’s demeanor, so say for instance… the typical American image of the super-happy-fun, giggling, peace-sign wielding Japanese girl. That’s genki. When my students sit there and stare at me when I want them to talk - not genki. When they make a big entrance into the classroom and say “OH HELLO NICE TO MEET YOU I’M FINE THANK YOU!” - genki. When I wake up at 6am - not genki. After coffee… you guessed it - genki. So you could say that coffee is a genki drink too. Some people here like to call various items from the liquor store genki drinks. But these drinks, these little bottles of whatever they may, are indisputably known as genki drinks, at least among the foreigner population.
walk into any conbini - 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart - and you will find a full refrigerated display, a veritable apothecary shop of these little genki drinks. Many of them have different uses. For instance, some are loaded with vitamin C and are drunk to prevent oneself from getting sick, some are loaded with B vitamins and other stuff to give you some energy, and some, such as ウコンの力 (Turmeric Power) are turmeric based and are drunk at some stage of a binge drinking session, typically just before, or just after. The idea is that turmeric supposedly helps your liver work well. This one here Ripobitan D is my favorite overall, but the power of turmeric is surprisingly amazing when drinking alcohol. I wouldn’t drink without it.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - living in Japan feels like living in a video game sometimes, but I’m realizing that the reason it feels that way is that this is where video games come from. Many common video game images and tropes come straight from reality in Japan. Here’s a good example. When I was young, I used to play Kirby all the time on Nintendo. Kirby is a strange game, and actually it’s one of the most Japanese games I can think of, but there was always something I didn’t understand about the game.
In the game, Kirby picks up these little bottles, and regains some health. I never understood what in the world he could be drinking that would help him regain his health. Now I know, Kirby is drinking a genki drink!
Agh, no more for me. I’m pretty tired. Guess I need a genki drink.
Flu’s going around, and I have a cold.
Oh yeah, and I’m in Japan, so this is pretty normal.
Oh boy. It would be a lie to say that McDonald’s here makes me homesick. It makes me consider sticking around longer if anything. When I come home to America, every McDonald’s I see will make me Japan-sick. Japan has the burger scene down pat.
When I am 8,000 miles away in Baltimore, I will miss this snack sorely. This is called monaka. Imagine this thing is about the size of a large-ish envelope and about an inch and a half thick. A big, hollow, egg-cartoney, wafer completely filled with ice cream, and running the length of the thing at its core is a big sheet of chocolate. Oh damn it’s good. Traditional Japanese monaka is usually just the wafer with some kind of jam filling, like red bean or sesame seed, but this “Jumbo Choco Monaka” is right up my alley.
Lots of people have a yellow light ritual; some superstitious action they perform when they pass under a yellow traffic signal. Some people touch the roof of their car, some people cross themselves, and so on and so forth. I never really had one in the states, but now that I’m in Japan, whenever I go under a yellow light, there’s a little keychain hanging by my holy-shit bar that has a button I push. It makes this noise.