Thursday, October 25, 2012

アメリカンジョーク American Joke

I still am not sure what Japanese people mean when they say "American Joke" but I think I know. so here it is, a joke relating to Japan made by an American. This is Mizuho Fukushima,  chair of the Social Democratic Party of Japan.

The caption reads "More ice cream for everyone!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Meet@Marunouchi: Sake Tasting, Zen, and Maiko

I had the good fortune of meeting up with my buddy Phil from work last night. He and I went to an event run by one of our students. Watanabe-san works for Mitsubishi Estates which is a highly esteemed real estate company with many varied interests but they are most famous, I think, around the Marunouchi side of the famous Tokyo Station. They own a huge amount of the land and buildings around this area, including the building that Phil and I work in, the Shin-Otemachi Building. 

Anyway Meet@Marunouchi is a company sponsored event that aims to give foreigners a look at Japanese traditional culture and promote tourism for the Marunouchi area. The event I attended was a demonstration and brief lecture about zen in Buddhist religion delivered by a 'radical' young monk from Kyoto. I say radical because a number of times throughout the night, I was told by Watanabe-san and others that this guy is not like a traditional monk. I got the vibe that he is preaching to this generation and not that of his forefathers. And I have to admit I respect that. The way my grandparents worshipped, still used in many churches in small towns across the Midwest, is highly reverent but in my opinion no longer relatable. The best Lutheran ministers are the ones that are relatable. So I tip my hat to Mr. Monk. 

Personal religion aside, this monk was great. His English was pretty decent, he couldn't have been more than 35 years old (or could he??) and he ended a pretty cool talk about zen by asking people if they wanted him to slap their bent-forward backs with a giant stick made from a Japanese Judas Tree so they could "have a memory of this event". And then he encouraged us to drink various types of sake including a potent "sparkling sake" with an admittedly suspicious milky texture. A superb drink called Tsuki no Katsura月の桂, (lit. Japanese Judas Tree of the moon). Watanabe-san and I formed a plan to get Phil to drink most of the bottle...It totally worked. We got Phil buzzed. Unfortunately, Watanabe-san and his boss Yoshihiko-san had the same secret plan for me. At one point I put down my choko, 猪口、sake cup, and begged for a respite to "gather me wits about me"...because, you see, sake takes me straight back to the London of Oliver Twist. To which they all starred blankly at me and we all burst out into uncontrollable laughter. But on second recollection, it might have been just me laughing...with no actual references to Britain.

Oh and did I mention there was a visit from a Maiko, (geisha in training), who visited all the way from Kyoto. Check out the video below of Phil asking the Maiko about her training. 

Also, there was a very friendly news reporter from channel 4, Japan Television, asking us about our thoughts on the zen experience and sake tasting. It was quite funny as the reporter was speaking to the other foreigners present through a translator, a cute blonde, who I later learned is from England. The first question I was asked by the reporter, I had trouble understanding what he was asking so I looked to Joanna for help. She translated and I responded in English. His next question I understood well enough to answer so I just dove in and answered in Japanese. I think most of the crew and Joanne were a little taken aback. Joanne later told me that it was pretty funny because during the first question when I looked to her for help, she felt good, feeling helpful, like she was doing her job and was happy she showed up. But then when I answered the second question, she felt "What the heck, who is this guy who has been speaking to a Japanese guy for all of two minutes, and now speaks great Japanese." It looked like I was being mischievous...and who am I to say I wasn't.   ;-D

Overall it was a phenomenal event. When I left I was replete. And to top it off when I awoke this morning I found a giant bottle of sake waiting on the kitchen table: a parting gift from Watanabe-san and Yoshihiko-san who I am truly grateful to for sharing this event with me. Now, the same story in pictures and a video. Enjoy.

Buddhist priest and Maiko, both from Kyoto

Phil blending in

Meet@Marunouchi channel 4 Nihon Television news crew

"ZEN" with Mr. Monk

"Phil" :-D
My gracious host Watanabe-san and I

 Phil asking the Maiko about her training
Just so you know...Phil doesn't always get the girl  <lucky son of a gun>

Talk about a party favor, 1.8 liters of Kyoto sake. Next party, my place! Thank you for reading!