All posts by Editor of the Mikan

My Japan Bucket List

I love lists. I write to-do lists every morning detailing what I need to accomplish that day. I write items on the list that I`ve already finished just so I can cross them off. Anyone else do this? No, just me? Okay, good talk.

In any case, lists help me focus and prioritize. And while I think travelling should be a more meaningful experience than simply ticking something off a list, having a travel bucket list can really help, especially in a country as richly varied as Japan. Or if you`re anything like me, by the time you`ve reached the ripe old age of 25, you`re prone to forget things unless you write them down immediately.

Disclaimer: this is my own personal bucket list, including suggestions from friends both within and outside of Japan, as well as from the Facebook group JET-setters (a great group by the way). It`s a combination of nature, culture, food, and activities that, for me, encompass the diverse range of experiences Japan has to offer. There are so many other options! I cannot express this enough – I had to limit myself to 15 because otherwise you would be reading this post forever and I`d be writing several hundred bucket list items. Are there any that you want to add? Let me know – I`d love to hear what other people recommend.

 

So, without further ado, let me introduce Japan`s finest fifteen (in my humble opinion):

 

  1. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima – Okay, this maybe isn`t very original, but it`s one of the most visited places in Japan for a good reason. It is of such religious significance that no births or deaths are permitted near it, so the shrine retains its purity. The famed floating torii gate is classified as one of Japan`s top 3 views, along with Matsushima Bay and Amanohashidate.
  2. Hiking Yakushima – This came up the most when I appealed to JET setters for bucket list items. Located off the coast of Kagoshima, the island is home to some of Japan`s oldest trees – many over 1000 years old – and is said to be the inspiration for the backdrop of Studio Ghibli`s “Princess Mononoke”.
  3. Shimanami Kaido bike ride – Often cited as one of the best cycle routes in Japan, and even the world. Also, I had to include an Ehime one! My next goal is to cycle there and back over two days. Shameless plug, but looking forward to seeing lots of you at the AJET event later this month!
  4. Climb Mt. Fuji – It is said that there are two types of fools in the world; those who climb Mt. Fuji more than once and those who don`t climb it at all. Whatever you do, don`t be the latter. I climbed Mt. Fuji a few years ago and witnessed the best sunrise I have ever seen in my life. I`m a fool so I may climb it again.
  5. Lake Ashiko, Hakone – If you don`t feel like climbing Mt. Fuji, how about just viewing her instead? Hakone, with its variety of hot springs, museums and views of Fuji-san, is a hugely popular destination – helped by its proximity to Tokyo. Lake Ashiko is one of the best places to view Japan`s tallest mountain, and even if she alludes you, Hakone Shrine, the pirate ships and natural beauty around the lake are sure to make up for it.
  6. Yuki Matsuri, Sapporo – Best booked well in advance before flights and hotels sell out (book now for February 2018), the Yuki Matsuri remains one of my top bucket list items. More than 2 million visitors descend on Hokkaido`s biggest city every year to see the incredible snow and ice sculptures that will put your best snowman-making efforts to shame.
  7. Watch sumo – Another まだ for me. I`ve tried to attend sumo matches twice this year alone, but was unable to get tickets (admittedly, I was trying to go for the cheapest tickets on Saturdays). This year is particularly important as it is the first time a Japanese born wrestler has reached the highest sumo rank of yokozuna since 1998 (the sport has been dominated by Mongolian wrestlers in recent years). If it proves impossible to get tickets for a tournament, another option is to visit a sumo stable and watch morning practices.
  8. Stay in a temple, Mt. Koya – One of Japan`s most sacred places, Koya-san is the start and end point of the Shikoku`s 88-temple pilgrimage. It is the place where Kobo Daishi is said to be in eternal meditation awaiting the arrival of the Buddha of the Future and is also home to Japan`s largest graveyard, which has been described as both solemn and haunting. I can think of no better place to experience a temple stay.
  9. Eat wanko soba, Iwate – The name originating from the small bowls in which the noodles are served (minds out the gutter, people), wanko soba is Japan`s ultimate all-you-can-eat challenge. The aim: consume as many bowls as you can. With 8-15 “wanko” bowls equaling a normal-sized soba serving, women apparently consume an average of 50, and men an average of 60. But why stop there? Some restaurants offer commemorative plaques for those who reach 100.
  10. Tsukiji market, Tokyo – Famous for its live Bluefin tuna auctions every morning, Tsukiji is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. While witnessing the auctions is often one of the top picks for Tokyo, relations between tourists and buyers/sellers are strained (the market is first and foremost a business, not a tourist attraction). Instead, you`re best off heading to Tsukiji at around 9am to watch the fish being prepared at different shops and restaurants. Indulge in a fresher-than-fresh seafood breakfast – it`ll be the best sushi you ever try. Visit before the inner market is relocated (although the moving date is still uncertain).
  11. Watch Awa Odori, Tokushima – “The dancers are fools / The watchers are fools / Both are fools alike, so / Why not dance?” I personally believe this statement to be 100% true, so the Awa Odori (The Dance of Fools) sounds like my kind of festival. It is said that Tokushima city, descended upon by 1.3 million festival revelers, resounds with the sound of taiko drums and song from August 12th to 15th.
  12. Bathe in onsen, Beppu – Onsen should be an item on any Japan bucket list, and the country is blessed with so many popular hot springs spots and quaint (and not-so-quaint) resort towns. The most famous of these is Beppu, which produces more hot spring water than any other resort – over 83,000 litres a minute! Beppu also boasts sand, steam and mud bathing options in addition to normal hot water baths. Take a tour of Beppu`s “Hells” if you`re feeling brave enough (not scary, just a little tacky?). Keep your eyes on Beppu to see if the mayor comes through on his promise to build the world`s first “Spamusement park”, where – you guessed it – visitors will be able to ride rollercoasters and other attractions while soaking in the best hot spring water Japan has to offer.
  13. Bamboo grove, Arashiyama – Setting foot in Arashiyama`s bamboo grove feels like you`ve fallen right into an old Japanese woodblock painting. It`s one of Kyoto`s top sightseeing spots, but somehow walking through the emerald grove never seems to induce the same stress levels as walking through crowds at some of Kyoto`s other top attractions. Prepare your camera (no selfie sticks, please – don`t be that person) but be warned; photos just can`t capture the magic of the place (or maybe that`s just my poor photography skills).
  14. Lavender fields, Furano – Think about Hokkaido – what springs to mind? Skiing and snowboarding, Yuki Matsuri, winter is coming? But Japan`s northernmost island holds very different charms in summer, when the stark white landscape is transformed into a carpet of colours by lavender fields (other flowers are available). At the very least, summer in Hokkaido provides a welcome respite from the humidity and stickiness that smothers the rest of the country.
  15. Try taiko drumming – There`s something about the beat of drums, the most primitive of instruments, that instantly raises energy and excitement levels. Taiko drumming has not only an infectious beat, but also provides a pretty effective workout. Get those arms you`ve always dreamed of AND make great music? Sounds like a winner to me.

 

Although I`ve fully enjoyed my time in Japan so far, I haven`t experienced all the country has to offer – not by any stretch of the imagination. But you have to save something for the next visit, right? Here`s to whatever adventures the next two months (and beyond) will bring!

 Anna Tattersall is a 3rd year Saijo ALT getting ready to head back to the UK in August. She enjoys travelling, Yosakoi dance and running, and has an unhealthy addiction to Earl Grey tea.

 

Ralph Duffy-McGhie Reviews: Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is undoubtedly one of Ehime Prefecture’s primary attractions. Not just for cyclists, but for any tourist visiting the area. The series of bridges spanning across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea make for a stunning experience by car, but arguably even more so by bike. By cycling the route, you are taken off the expressway and down into the islands themselves. You experience firsthand the beauty of the tree covered mountains and bluffs, the winding local roads through the islands small towns and villages. Continue reading

In Gourds We Trust

In Gourds We Trust

Miriam Hemstock

At age 20, just beginning my final year of university and one of the most tumultuous periods of my life, my mother took me out for a day in London. As usual we visited one of our favorite museums, the Tate Modern, without much thought as to what we would see. At the time, a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work was being exhibited. Her obsessively repetitive and mesmerizing work had a resounding effect on me, immediately hypnotizing me with its back story of her 1970s ‘happenings’ and mental health difficulties. Her narrative and her pumpkins then proceeded to shape my developing interest in Japanese art and culture. Continue reading

The Mikan — Mikans and Money: The Ehime AJET Scholarship

Mikans and Money: The Ehime AJET Scholarship

Anna Tattersall

I feel I am very lucky to come from the UK. I have always taken for granted how close I am to other European countries and the ample opportunities to travel and work abroad (not so much anymore — I’m still pissed off about the whole Brexit thing). Since my first journey outside of the UK at the age of 6 months, various family holidays, school trips, and travels with friends have taken me to approximately 20 countries around the world, and I have had the opportunity to encounter festivals, events, languages, cuisines, and cultures that I certainly would not have if I’d stayed home in my quiet corner of the English countryside.  Continue reading

The Mikan — 365 Days in Japan

365 Days in Japan

Bronwyn O’Neill

One of my last memories of England before coming to Japan was sitting quietly with my parents, eating poached eggs at an airport cafe and looking bemusedly at my suitcase. We’d just wrapped the suitcase in clingfilm at an overpriced machine to keep my worldly possessions safe inside. At this point, the centre of the suitcase finally buckled under the pressure of the plastic wrap and contorted into an hourglass shape. The suitcase was red, and I smiled at the thought that I would be lugging around something very Jessica Rabbit-esque to my first graduate job. Maybe I should have interpreted it as a portent of the time trials to come, and not just the Mario Kart variety. Continue reading

The Mikan — Pirates, Monks, and Inakamono: Ehime in Contemporary Media

Pirates, Monks, and Inakamono: Ehime in Contemporary Media

John Wheeler

Tokyo is the center of Japan’s media industry, the place where a majority of production and marketing happens. The capital’s gravity is felt in everything from films to manga to advertising. Tokyo is modern Japan, and everywhere else assumes an outside position relative to the center.

There are extremes. Hokkaido is the frontier, making it a reasonable stand-in for southern Kansas in Lee Sang-il’s remake of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and for Norfolk in the Studio Ghibli reimagining of “When Marnie was There.” Okinawa represents both relaxation and danger in the Japanese consciousness. Characters may go to Okinawa to vacation, but often enough they go to buy guns or drugs, as in Takeshi Kitano’s “Boiling Point.” In the extreme case of the cult anime short film “Blood: The Last Vampire,” a young warrior poses as a schoolgirl to kill demons. Both films take place on or around the American military bases.

In between these two geographical outliers is the countryside, the signs of which are nearly universal and coded to create nostalgia even in people whose only experience of the pastoral is through media. Much Japanese media set outside of Tokyo emphasizes the divide between tokai and inaka. When city folk trek to the inaka, they may encounter mystery or horror rooted in local traditions (see the film “Shikoku”), find spiritual healing (“Departures”), or become wrapped up in a comedy of manners. Films and novels set in the inaka without this “visiting protagonist” may be about attempts to make the country more like the city through economic revitalization plans (“Hula Girls”) or material consumption (“Kamikaze Girls”).These rural settings have defining characteristics such as local landmarks and dialects, but they are reduced to places we want to go because they are different from the alienating crush of city life.

With all of this in mind, what images does Ehime conjure in the Japanese imagination? Using the Ehime film section at my local Tsutaya, Wikipedia, and a website cataloguing location shoots across Japan, I’ve compiled a list of media (mostly films) set in Ehime. One quality of Japanese media that frustrates this kind of research is the intentional ambiguity of settings outside of Tokyo. Many films and dramas with scenes shot in Ehime take place in anonymous seaside towns.

It goes without saying that the most famous work set in Ehime is Natsume Soseki’s “Botchan,” a gentle satire of country folk from the perspective of a city boy. The novel has been embraced by the targets of its humor, who have named everything from a stadium to clinics to parking lots after the novel. As a part of the literary canon, “Botchan” is an extraordinary example, but there are very few contemporary works explicitly set in Ehime. The ones I found fit the patterns discussed above. The settings have qualities specific to Ehime that make them curious to outsiders and familiar to locals, but thematically they serve mainly to create a contrast between the city and the country. The most common imagery in these works is of healthy, tanned seafarers and pilgrims in white, and Ehime is accordingly associated with summer. The following is a list of works that engage with the Ehime setting in different ways.

“Crying Out Love in the Center of the World” (2001)

(Also known as “Socrates in Love”)

世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ

By some measures one of the ten best-selling books of all time in Japan, this soapy teenage romance by Kyoichi Katayama is set in his hometown of Uwajima and features many of the city’s landmarks. The film version (2004), directed by Isao Yukisada (who also made “Go,” the smash hit about a Korean-Japanese teenager) was largely shot in Shikoku and features the Ehime Prefectural Office doubling as a hospital. An 11-episode TV drama aired from July 2–Sept. 10, 2004.

“The Daughter of the Murakami Pirates” (2013)

村上海賊の娘

The winner of the 2014 Japan Booksellers’ Award was this work of historical fiction about Kyo, the wild daughter of the last great pirate lord of the Seto Inland Sea. She gets wrapped up in the conflict between Oda Nobunaga and Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple. In reality, nothing is known about Murakami Takeyoshi’s daughter except for her name, which author Ryo Wada took to create a selfish, insecure, but inevitably good-hearted protagonist who idolizes another legendary ocean princess: Tsuruhime. It was recently adapted into a manga, a medium more suitable for the story’s exaggerated characters and often contemporary themes. For anyone interested in these seafaring clans, I recommend the Murakami Suigun Museum on Oshima Island.

“I am a Monk.” (2015)

僕は坊さん。

Based on a collection of autobiographical essays by Missei Shirakawa, the head priest of Eifuku-ji Temple in Imabari, this film was shot largely on location. Like many contemporary Japanese films, it is more episodic than narrative-driven. The protagonist is a monk who becomes head priest at age 26. While the film is cheesy and at times even amateurish, it captures the temple inside and out. “I am a Monk” also documents daily life at the temple, including scenes of visits from traveling salesmen, meetings with disgruntled parishioners, and monks getting blackout drunk.

“Tora-san Meets His Lordship” (1977)

男はつらいよ 寅次郎と殿様

Released twice a year for over 20 years and almost all directed by Yoji Yamada, the beloved Tora-san films (officially “It’s Tough Being a Man” in English) are a testament to the Japanese love of formula. Over the 46 films in the Tora-san series, the eponymous protagonist visited every prefecture in Japan except Kochi, Saitama, and Toyama. The 19th installment features a visit to Ozu and opens with the hero daydreaming while waiting for a train at Shimonada Station. Tora-san is a perpetual fish out of water, a traveling salesman with a rough Tokyo-Shitamachi accent and manner. He is kind and unlucky in love. This film’s core is a friendship between him and the wealthy descendant of Ozu’s domain lord. It features many scenes shot in Ozu and on Gogoshima.

“Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” (1995)

ゴジラVSデストロイア

While not entirely set in Ehime, this installment of the long-running film series features a close call between the big lizard and the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant. This imagery is uncomfortable in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, though the scene is silly in spite of itself: a high-tech fighter jet applies a soothing lotion to the monster’s burning nuclear rash. I don’t have much experience with these movies, though I learned some from Youtube explanations and rankings while watching this highly acclaimed installment.

Other films set in Ehime available at Tsutaya:

“Samurai Pirates” (2013)

Like a G-rated version of “The Daughter of the Murakami Pirates.”

“Shodo Girls” (2010)  A “big competition” film set in Shikokuchuo and based on a true story.

More than “Crying Out Love” and even “Botchan,” the specific settings of “I am a Monk.” or “The Daughter of the Murakami Pirates,” rooted in real life and history, can’t be swapped out with any other place in Japan. We can enjoy most works set or shot in Ehime because we live here and our connection to the setting is different than for films set in other inaka, but I wonder what impression they have on viewers from Tokyo. Do images of our prefecture convey specific qualities, or does it merely become part of the larger dialogue between inaka and tokai? I can’t say, but I hope to see more novels and films that engage with Ehime (and Shikoku) on a deep level.

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The Mikan — Anime and Manga Update

Anime and Manga Update

Leiso Edwards

I’m a big fan of anime and manga and, if you let me, I would never shut up  about it. However, it’s sometimes better to be brief. Instead of talking excessively of how great anime and manga is, I’ll just get to the point.

Firstly, I have two recommendations for new anime that are currently airing.

1) “Mayoiga” (English: “The Lost Village.” 12 episodes)

This is an intriguing mystery anime with a lot of characters that you can’t wait to seedie… and they probably will.  The screenwriter is the same one behind “AnoHana”, “Toradora” and other great works. Plus, there is almost no evidence of an absolute original source material (i.e. a manga/light novel), meaning that the trolls and spoilers will stay in their caves.

2) “Koutetsujou no Kabaneri” (English: “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.” 12 episodes)

Another anime original, this could be the love child of “Attack on Titan,” “High-school ofthe Dead,” “Princess Mononoke” and… “Rail Wars”…? The director is Tetsurou Araki, meaning it’s basically anime nobility. I admit it’s too similar to some of Araki’s more popular (and largely aforementioned) works to be called smashingly original, yet the show has wicked potential, and could be one of the best ones this year if they don’t screw it up.

In a similar vein, I’ll just recommend a few manga series that I enjoy(ed), and maybe expose people to something new.

My first recommendation is “Psyren” (2007; 16 volumes). “Psyren” is an underappreciated shounen, horror, supernatural, mystery, romance, adventure series with an engaging plot, characters you’ll like, and a main character who isn’t full of crap.

I also recommend “Mahou Tsukai No Yome” (English: “The Ancient Magus Bride.” 2014; 5 Japanese volumes; 3 English volumes), a supernatural/romance shoujo series (directed at girls/young women). The manga is  stuck somewhere between old shoujo , where everybody messed with everybody else’s mind and occasionally tried to kill each other, and modern shoujo, where everything is so innocent and sweet you run the risk of becoming diabetic.

The series is getting a home video release in summer for those  who prefer anime.

Finally, I recommend “Nana to Kaoru” (2008; 16 volumes). I admit I’ve only read some parts of this manga(*wink wink*) as I’m not really into… what Nana and Kaoru are into. However, I have had a largely enjoyable time with this manga (*grins). The title characters have doubts and problems that could belong to any one of us and are really endearing. I left out the genres because I’m entertained by the idea of you finding out for yourself.

Finally, some anime-related news. Easily the best thing I’ve seen so far (outside the Summer 2016 anime line-up, of course) is the fact that “Ghost In The Shell” is getting an actual live action release. AND that they’ve started filming. AND that the release date has been set, meaning… this is happening!

My hopes for the movie are that they stick to the original material but explore a different story arc than the original movies and the various series; that they tone it down enough that a wider audience can understand the plot but not so much so that you leave the theatre dumber than you entered; and that they keep the atmosphere mature and not make it family-friendly.

I have already seen controversy around Hollywood whitewashing the cast. However, I find that no different from Japan Asian-washing the “Attack on Titan” movie. I honestly don’t mind if they use big-name actors that will deliver a performance and rake in the bucks. What I would mind is if they change characters’ names and backstories to fit their new lighter complexions. For a series with such complicated characters as GITS, that would be disrespectful to the original story and ensure that the movie shares only the name with the original and nothing else beneath (if you’ll pardon the pun) the skin. Continue reading

The Mikan — Tell Me About the Rabbits

Tell Me About the Rabbits

Anna Sheffer

From fox villages to cat cafes, Japan has a reputation for animal tourism. And one of the most unique examples is Okunoshima — an island overrun with rabbits — located between Ehime and Hiroshima prefectures in the Seto Inland Sea. After hearing rave reviews, some friends and I decided to visit the island in mid-March.

For such a popular attraction, Okunoshima was surprisingly difficult to reach. We took a train to Imabari, where we caught a bus to Omishima, the largest of the islands along the Shimanami Kaido. From the bus stop at Inokuchi port on Omishima, it was about a 45-minute walk to the next port on the island, the only place we could catch the ferry to Okunoshima.

The clerk at the ferry port sold bunches of carrots for 100 yen each — a good indication of how many people visit for the sake of the rabbits. We’d come armed with our own carrots and lettuce, so we didn’t buy from him this time around.

The ferry runs once every couple of hours, and, after missing the 10 a.m. ferry, we opted to eat lunch on the dock while waiting for the noon ferry. We spent the short, 15-minute ride watching Okunoshima grow larger as the ferry grew nearer. From sea, the island has nothing distinct about it; it’s a mass of pine trees and boulders like the other islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

But as soon as we set foot on the island, we were greeted by a swarm of bunnies feasting on pellets that a couple of tourists tossed to them. It didn’t take me long to open my bag of lettuce. The rabbits, though definitely not underfed, were eager for a treat, and hopped right up to tourists who had anything in their hands. One of my friends shooed away curious bunnies as they sniffed at the orange case on her phone.

These rabbits are not the skittish animals found in neighborhoods back home. They put their paws on my knee as they stretched for food, nuzzling my hand even when I didn’t have anything to offer. I’m something of a sucker for animals, and I encouraged them, waving strips of lettuce in the face of whatever bunny wandered my direction. Coos and cries of “kawaii!” could be heard all around — especially from me, though I’d like to pretend I have more dignity than that.

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Not all of the animals are cuddly, though; among the fat, fluffy bunnies were several rabbits missing eyes or with chunks of their ears torn off, more like scruffy bunny pirates than house pets. These battle scars likely came from squabbles over territory or food, since outside dogs and cats are banned from the island.

Aside from rabbits, Okunoshima is famous for its poison gas plant, which produced mustard gas and tear gas during World War II. Though the plant was abandoned after the war, modern tourists can learn about the island’s history at the Poison Gas Museum and other former manufacturing operations that dot the island’s perimeter. Now, these abandoned husks of buildings serve as more hiding places for the rabbits, who dig burrows near old foundations and sleep under decaying bridges.

Urban legend has it that Okunoshima’s rabbits are the descendants of test subjects that were released into the wild when the gas factory closed. Another popular theory holds that the current population is descended from eight classroom pets that were released into the wild. Whatever the case, the 2.5 km of Okunoshima are now dominated by more than 700 rabbits. It’s impossible to visit and not see a rabbit.

Regardless of the island’s past, it has a promising future in tourism. The island has its own resort and campground, complete with onsen and a gift shop where visitors can purchase any rabbit-themed souvenir imaginable — from tenugui to rabbit-shaped cookies. Connected to the gift shop is a cafe where customers can enjoy small meals or ice cream while watching rabbits frolic on the hotel’s lawn.

We finished our day on Okunoshima by walking along the boardwalk back to the ferry port. Even on the wooden planks of the boardwalk we found wayward rabbits hopeful for a carrot or two. As we sat on benches waiting for the return ferry, three rabbits joined us, lounging under a tree and looking tired, but content, just like us.

Compared to their house-pet cousins or the cats who inhabit cat cafes, I’d imagine the bunnies of Okunoshima have no reason to complain. With the exception of a few gates, they’re free to roam wherever they want, dig holes, and frolic with other rabbits. They’re not overcrowded or outcompeted, and they always have access to fresh water. And animal-loving tourists (like me) will always be around to offer them carrots in exchange for a photo.

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The Mikan — Never Give Up: the Japanese community theatre experience

Never Give Up: the Japanese community theatre experience

Rowan Carmichael

Musical theatre isn’t easy. You have to be able to sing, dance and act, as well as give the commitment that any performance requires. To do a musical, you need a “Never Give Up” kind of mindset. I had the chance to be in a musical about a man with that very mindset — Sogo Shinji, the founder of the shinkansen. “Full speed ahead! The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji,” centered on Shinji’s motto “Yuufazu” (有法子 “Never give up” in Chinese) and how he never gave up on Saijo, his wife, or the shinkansen.

Like Sogo Shinji, I had to follow the spirit of “Yuufazu” even from before my audition. The auditions required me singing a set song (to be given on the day) and a Japanese poem. I was dreading this because I probably wouldn’t understand the poem even if I could read it. Even if I did understand it, I knew very few Japanese songs so I didn’t think I’d know this one. I nearly dropped out because I just assumed it would be impossible, but in the end, I decided that at worst, the experience of auditioning for a musical in Japan would be worth it. I managed to read through a poem I still don’t understand, and I was given permission to sing any song I wanted. And so I did.

I got accepted.

We all got accepted in fact. And so began the first trial: reading a script dense with Japanese that was certainly not in line with my N4/N3 skills. My lines would come up, and I’d be in the wrong place of the script, and then scrambling to read the line that was actually mine. With no prep time I couldn’t find readings for kanji, and even if I did, some of it was in the local dialect or archaic. Ultimately I was given a small role that used a combination of English and Japanese, and I was able to focus on really making those lines work.

How do you sing a small tsu (っ)? Singing was more of a trial than I expected. I’d never read sheet music with Japanese before and the っused on notes was confusing. For the longest time I found the songs difficult to memorize. With words flowing so much into each other it was a puzzle to just know where the words broke, making finding the meaning for words I didn’t know difficult if not impossible when clustered together. As someone who usually has little trouble memorizing an English song, this was frustrating. The one thing I thought I’d have no trouble with ended up being a major difficulty! It took me several extra weeks of solid practice to nail the lyrics so that I could finally work on the dance.

Dancing was a surprising relief. If you were to look at me, dancing might not seem like my favored activity. But because learning the dances was a simple matter of watch and repeat, it was a nice break from using so much energy listening out for instructions.

Which leaves the biggest continuous challenge I had: following directions. We were a pure Japanese troupe aside from me, so naturally all the directions were given in Japanese. I certainly learned a lot from context, but long rehearsals (twice weekly, 3-6 hours) were exhausting. Not just because of the length, but because I wanted to not be the weakest link in the chain, and to not slow anything down, which meant always being ready to leap into action, and thus listening carefully to anything that might apply to me.

After about four months of rehearsals, it was almost time to perform the real thing. The two weeks leading up to the show consisted of 6-12 hours of rehearsals a day in the blazing summer. “Never give up” was said a lot by the producers of the show. By the time the show ran, we had been practicing for so long I think everyone had difficulty believing we were finally performing! The show sold out in both venues, and people to this day still tell me how wonderful it was. With strong performances particularly for the role of Sogo Shinji in his old age and his wife Kiku. But why don’t you see a bit  for yourself?

Next time you think “I can’t do that!” imagine a rather tall, rounded Australian man performing a cheery song about never letting go of your dreams in Japanese. There are an awful lot of fascinating things to do in Japan, even in — in fact especially in — Ehime. Worry less about the ability to do, and more about making the effort to try. “Yuufazu” Never give up, never surrender to practicality. To musicals and beyond.

 

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Performance night for the musical. Spot the Rowan! (Photo via Rowan Carmichael)

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