As night falls, the old ladies do their lazy obon dance
around the tower, accompanied by
the taiko drumming of sixth grade girls.
This time of year in Japan is obon. It is a time for people to remember and celebrate their ancestors. Apparently all the dead people from the past come back to Earth to visit, so most Japanese people go back to where they're from to meet with them. It's a very popular travel time and all that, because everyone's off from work. Also around this time, every little town or neighborhood has a little obon festival, with traditional obon dancing and a bunch of stalls selling kakigouri and other festival food. Everyone puts on yukatas and it's really nice. Yesterday I went to the obon festival in Kawayanagi cho, which is the main neighborhood where my school is, because some students invited me. These particular kids are some of my best friends at school, although everyone at the festival turned out to be either student of mine or the parent of one. It was great because I got to see a lot of elementary school kids I hadn't seen in a while, and do lots of running around and stuff like that. A bunch of kids introduced me to their parents too, which was kind of weird because their parents had all already heard all about me. A lot of them thanked me for teaching their kids, which is always weird to me for some reason, although I guess there isn't much more of a conversation we can have. At some point, the principal and vice principal from my school showed up, and I spent a little while sitting with them and the other town bureaucrats, which was kindof interesting, but not as interesting as hanging out with the kids, so I left the bureaucrat table. As it got to be night time, lots and lots of students showed up, as well as a big contingent of teachers from my school. This is still a little hard for me to understand, because it was a Saturday night and none of these teachers live even close to this area. It seems like it's a part of their job to have to go to things like that, because they couldn't understand the idea that I would go for the fun of it. But it was a lot of fun. And it's so cute to see little 7-year-olds in kimonos.
After that, I went down to Tokyo to check out this movie, Hikikomori
, at the Pink Cow. It looked like a pretty interesting movie from what I read about it, but overall I would have to say that it wasn't very good. Hikikomori is a phenomenon that I think is peculiar to Japan, in which people retreat completely from society and live life as hermits, usually locking themselves inside their room at their parents' house. Then the parents or someone has to take care of them all the time, cooking food and collecting the bottles of pee they leave by the door and so forth. While the movie did feature one such character, it wasn't really about that at all. But the truth is that it's hard to say it was about much of anything. The story revolved around a hacker who was Japanese but spent most of her life in New York, apparent;y hacking ATMs, until she came back to Tokyo by herself. There she gets on the bad side of anything hacker who is also a shut-in, and some mild conflict ensues. The only real meaning I could get out of it was something about the computer hacker girl being like the hikikomori in that her whole world was inside the computer just as his was inside his room, and that they were both missing out on most of life or something. The movie was in Japanese, but even I could tell that the Japanese was very strange, I guess because the (American) director wrote it and then just had it translated. I would expect that actors to fix it up a bit and make it sound more natural, but their performances were pretty flat overall. It was cool going to see someone's independent, really low budget film, but I think that when your budget is so low, you have to focus on your writing.
So after seeing that, it's like 2 in the morning, and we're stuck in Tokyo. There are a number of options available to you at this point, none of which is the one you really want, which is to go home, although if your home wasn't in Saitama this wouldn't be so much of a problem. Especially in Shibuya, there are a lot of places open all night, so it's easy to find somewhere to go. Many people go to a bar or izakaya to wait for the trains to start up again at about 5. You can also go to karaoke for a few hours, even if you don't sing anything, and it will still come out cheaper than a love hotel or capsule. But this time I did something different, which was to go to a manga/internet cafe. These places are really cheap and cramped, but a cool way to kill a few hours. You basically get a small cubicle with barely enough room for the chair and the desk. But you get a computer and a PlayStation 2. On top of that, they have some DVDs and PlayStation games that you can use for free. They also have a drink bar that you can use for free to get coffee and soda and juice and stuff. On top of that, the entire place is pretty much stacked to the ceiling with manga, so you can go in there and just grab pretty much anything and read it. So that's what I did. I read some judo manga, of all things, and then I watched a DVD. The movie I watched was called "Phonebooth" and it turned out to be pretty interesting. The whole thing takes places in and around a phone booth near Times Square. It's kindof a goofy story but some good acting pulled it through. If you're stuck in Tokyo overnight, you might as well watch it.