Of hauntings and hydrangeas

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Good evening, one and all!

It’s been an intense old week, wouldn’t you say? The political action last Thursday had me feverishly refreshing the Guardian live results page throughout the day – bulletins which I dutifully delivered to my mildly amused students before every class (making them have a May-vs-Corbyn debate the previous lesson had hopefully provided them with enough insight and interest to at least be able to humour me). For fear of stepping aboard a rant train that I may not be able to alight for some time, I shan’t address the subject further here, but will confine my election reaction to a single syllable: HA.

parental-advisory_custom-d61ea6192ebc478d3a7ff147dbbe3e884ebcb5ac-s900-c85Classes also hit a high note on the intensity stave, with discussions of male vs. female on-screen nudity and Miley Cyrus’ pot-fuelled publicity stunts in a series of lessons on censorship (“Katrina, what is joint?”). The following lesson was dedicated to rumour-spreading role-plays, during which one linguistically adventurous lad jubilantly announced his suspicion that I was a certain type of promiscuous woman, the term for which begins with ‘s’ and rhymes with ‘nut’. I quickly arranged my face into what I hoped was cool nonchalance, and gently advised him of the potency of the word and the inadvisability of its usage, meeting his bashful apologies with assurances that I wasn’t remotely offended, and more relieved that he’d had the sense to take this exciting acquisition (courtesy of Skins, apparently) out for an initial spin in the cushion-padded testing ground of my classroom, and not in the more unforgiving wider world.

A saner person might have taken the weekend to unwind from a 45-hour week of such concentrated controversy. But plans were in place and weekends are precious, so at 4.30 on Saturday morning Amanda and I folded away our grown-up selves along with our work suits, and bounded out to the foot of Mt Fuji, where Japan’s (self-proclaimed) most famous theme park awaited us…

 

Fuji Q. I am pleased to report that I did exactly as I had intended, and spent about eight hours running from ride to gravity-defying ride, high as a kite on E-numbers and adrenaline, laughing inanely at every jolt, whoosh and lurch. I also put some time aside to get the poo scared out of me at Japan’s (also self-proclaimed) scariest haunted house: 30 minutes of unadulterated terror during which I screamed and swore fluently, and probably cut off the circulation in the imperturbable Amanda’s arm due to my supreme wussiness. The place is done out like a post-apocalyptic hospital, so we were pounced on by a delightful cast of zombie surgeons in blood-spattered gowns and semi-dismembered, un-dead patients, made all the more menacing by sporadic bangs, disembodied screeches and flickering overhead bar lights. Bloody awful. Amanda’s refusal to so much as flinch at anything we encountered, plus the prospect of having to report back to the students on Monday that I’d wimped out, got me through the ordeal. Glad I did it. No desire to do it again. The whole pleasure-in-fear thing still very much a mystery.

 

Hie jinja and Hakusan. Taking intensity levels down a notch on Sunday, Mayu and I spent several sublime hours wandering around Hie Jinja in Akasaka, babbling happily about anything and everything while bearing witness to the Chigo Gyoretsu – a delightful procession of kiddies done up in traditional Heian-period garb, accompanied by traditional musicians and dancers to have health and happiness bestowed upon them by the Shinto gods.

Mayu’s excellent translation of the ceremony information informs me that the coloured dots painted on the kids’ faces symbolise their divine status on this special day, although some seemed rather too young to appreciate the magnitude of their office…

 

We drifted on to the other side of the shrine, where a kendo tournament was underway. I had never seen a kendo dual before; if I had, I might have been prepared for the moment when the two Nazgûl-esque participants broke their solemn circling by raising their swords and launching themselves at one another, the change in pace announced by a series of bizarre squawking cries. Successfully resisted urge to burst out laughing, although only just.

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19105254_1375694402512346_2084514890_oHakusan hydrangeas. These stunners really are pulling out all the stops at the moment, exploding all over the city in a fit of deep blues, pinks and purples. Mayu and I continued our Sunday saunter by heading to hydrangea HQ at Hakusan, where a huge flower festival was in full swing. One of the many aspects of Japanese cultural life with which I have fallen deeply in love is the role of nature as the heart of the celebration, rather than as some kind of secondary symbol or bi-product (think of our holly at Christmas or roses on Valentine’s Day). I’m not say that such appropriation isn’t also in evidence here, and cherry blossoms, maple leaves and hydrangeas alike have unquestionably been added to Japan’s consumerist arsenal. Nevertheless, there is something extraordinarily pleasing about the fact that people here turn out in their thousands for the primary pleasure of admiring 19095937_1375694649178988_2031878612_oflowers. It’s as though, despite the capitalist crap that’s been heaped on top, on some level Japanese society still understands that nature does not have to have man-made symbolism impressed upon it in order to have value. I may be sentimentalising the subject somewhat; it is true that such natural beauty is being consumed more than ever by the relentless jaws of Instagram and Facebook. But uncomplicated admiration is still clinging on in there somewhere. Long may it continue!

Have a gander at some snaps while I brew up the next update – with an exploration of Kagurazaka and a bit of firefly watching on the cards, this weekend is looking like solid blog-fodder already 😉

Take care lovely, lovely people. More soon! X x x x x x x

 

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