Friday, August 25, 2006

Maruta no Mori: Minami Ashigara's Annual Camp

by Kevin Burns

Pictured: Saijoji, a temple near Daiyuzan Station in Minami Ashigara City. Photo
by Ikumi Burns

Minami Ashigara City, Kanagawa

When you don't have work staring you in the face, the sound of a cicada rings out much more clearly inthe humid night air. Surrounded by a forest of cedars, and in front of a huge bonfire, I imagine my ancestors, be theyJapanese or European, African, or South American, all intermingling in communal reverie and bonding. With the flickering flames, we could be in Africa, watching the dancers sway too and fro, but weare five minutes from my home in Minami Ashigara. Men laugh, women blush, and children play in Muratano Mori. The cicadas sing their song. I enjoy listening.

I think I should volunteer more often, witnessing the effort put forth by the city volunteers who put on thisannual camping weekend. I admire their kindness as they teach my six year old how to make a bow. The volunteersare from the city halls and from various walks of life. The man who fixed the lights in our home greets me witha "Long time no see!" He jokes with me about me making Curry Rice. I don't want my family to be rushed toa local hospital though, so I don't cook. I do manage to put boiling water in my cup noodle without burningmy hand, and for that I am thankful.

In our rush to get to work, to get things done, we often forget who lives in our town. I suggest you join thenext annual camping trip, you may make some new friends. The river running through the park is cold andfresh. The sound is nice to sleep by. My children enjoy wading through it and their friends search for rivercrabs. My precocious two year old decides she will conquer the river too. I manage to avoid both of usbreaking our necks on the slippery stones for thirty minutes. Maybe the cicadas are watching over us.Or perhaps it's the Murata no Mori Gods? Anyway, we escape unscathed and we walk back to the mainpart of the camp, to make more things out of bamboo. The bow had snapped so Jonah and my wife, gotanother try to perfect it. I don't think he'll go hunting, but I fear a sweat potato into my cheek may bein my future.

One woman and her eighty year old mother have been coming to these annual camps for seventeenyears. Maybe that says it all. Hope to see you next year!

Kevin Burns

This is the English version of the Minami Ashigara City Magazine article.

To apply for next year's camp, contact the Minami Ashigara City Hall. Inquiries should be in Japanese.

Never Trust a White Russian

by Kevin Burns

I never intended to set the white russian drinking record at John Festa's, the Canadian styleOdawara eatery/bar, yet that is what I accomplished. It was Mike's idea to go there but wenever even ate a meal, the appetizers and alcohol filled us up nicely. I definitely don't recommendmixing draft beer and white russians. I do recommend sitting close to the men's room.

It is amazing how much a train can spin when you close your eyes after drinking ten white russians.It seems to spin at all angles at once. The only way to stop it is to open your eyes and let everyoneknow with your glazed look, that "Hey, look over there, that gaijin is wasted."

I lasted three stops and got off the train. I felt my fellow passengers would not be interested in thefried squid I had consumed that night. Fried squid? Whose idea was that for food? What will theycook up next, battered car tire? It has about the same texture and firmness. Maybe they ripped meoff and I was actually eating car tires.

"I like John Festa's," Mike said, "It is so spaceous inside, the Tokyo restaurants are so cramped."I agreed. There were four other foreigners there that night and the place was fairly full by the timewe staggered out. Mike pointed me to the station. That was kind of him. Getting off the train afteronly three stops wasn't the best idea, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight--nor walking straight forthat matter. You know, Japanese will not pick up a sloshed hitch-hiking foreigner. I tried for aboutone hour staggering along one of the main roads and no one picked me up. Although I did not havea control person for the experiment--that is another drunken Japanese staggering along near me;I think my experiment is pretty conclusive that Japanese don't want drunken foreigners in theircars. Not that I blame them. I don't really want drunken Japanese in my car either.

Gohyakurakan Station is very far from my home. I highly recommend that you never get offthe train in a drunken state far from home. Staggering along a main road is dangerous andmany people who know you probably see you. Temples make convenient resting places whenyou can stagger no longer. The platforms around the edge make for a makeshift bed until yourstomach contents settles. It is sacriligeous to vomit on a temple. In view of this, I never didI am proud to say. I did drool a little I confess though. But that will wash!

The Japanese--being a people who love their alcohol, even have medicine for hang overs, GodBless them! I took some great medicine that made me feel somewhat human the next day.As well, the Aussies also being an "inebriated" sort, know that vegimite is conducive to bringing oneback to the vaunted halls of humanity. I ate that too and it helped as well.

I have given up drinking. Don't even ask me!

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