Monday, May 17, 2010

French Fries and Seagulls

Grumpy and sulking from the sticky mobile oven that is the night bus, scanning the street desperately for any sign of an establishment able to satisfy my growing need for a shot of caffeine (or, of secondary importance, somewhere to escape the downpour of rain), I again smoothed the crumpled directions to Temple University Japan—which had been inadvertently sat upon and crushed by the snoring gentleman next to whom I had spent the previous six hours—squinting at signs in the hopes that Azabu Hall would, preferably with a subtlety equating flashing neon signs or loud disco music, identify itself from the monotonous grey structures that lined the Tokyo streets. After trekking the same two blocks for 20 minutes—the building was not here, thank you very much—I finally caught two university students, who appeared rather taken aback at being confronted with a soaked, deranged-looking foreign kid dragging a duffle bag and convulsively clutching a shredded scrap of paper (I made a mental note to find a mirror before the interview). Asking if they could point me in the direction of Azabu Hall, I was met with an uncomfortable silence—was there something on my face? had I remembered to comb my hair after the night bus?—followed by a look of pity. The owner of the latter kindly indicated that I should turn around. And behold. Azabu Hall.

Thus began my second research interview trip to Tokyo. Fortunately, the results of the interviews were very, very much worth the trouble inevitably caused by my horrendous sense of direction. The first interview, with the head of Temple University Japan’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, was followed by an opportunity to interview Mr. Yoshinori Ohno, a current member of the Japanese Diet and former Minister of Defense (fortunately, the Diet buildings were clearly marked with signs and security guards). I even got a souvenir photo!

Behold the awkwardness:

It was awesome.

In any case, the interview data made a nice supplement to the mass of archival text sources that had been the primary foundation of my research until now.

The month of April was accompanied by the arrival of beautiful weather in Sendai (minus the hailstorm that occurred during the second week). With the sakura trees finally in bloom, a few friends and I traveled to Shiroishi-shi, a country town approximately an hour by train from the city, to see the reconstructed castle, taste the famous umen noodles, visit samurai dwellings and walk under the sakura trees by the riverfront. Although we managed to lose our way several times—an impressive accomplishment, as the town had only one main road—the ventures off the beaten path yielded exciting discoveries. (*Note: all photos in this post, with the exception of the interview photo, were taken by my friend Piotr, as I fail spectacularly at anything that utilizes a camera.)

Shiroishi-shi Castle views


Kamila and I at a restored samurai house

We also spent a day at Matsushima, one of Japan’s “three beautiful views,” where we took a ferry around the islands (you can feed the gulls french fries!) and spent the day moseying around the various shrines, caves, and tourist spots.

Look how close!

Scenes from Matsushima, Buddhist meditation caves, Eric (see below) and I

I also had the opportunity to show off Sendai city to Eric, a friend visiting from Yokohama. We toured the famous Sendai castle site as well as Tomizawa, the site of a 20,000 Paleolithic forest south of the city center that was phenomenal. Eric, who aspires to be a film director, was finishing his graduation film project for a year-long Japanese language program and asked if I would act in one of his scenes. (Stop cringing. I wasn’t that bad. …..forget it, I was that bad.) Agreeing only predicated on the conditions that (1) the scene did not require speech and (2) that my face would be kept out of the film and nobody informed of my horrendous acting skills upon pain of torturous death, we found an unoccupied stretch of riverbank and got to work. Twenty minutes later, crouched by the riverside in a yukata with fish innards sliding down my wrist as I attempted to act out the “fish gutting scene” using a kitchen knife and sea creature acquired from the local supermarket, I began to reevaluate the wisdom of my assent. This concern was magnified after several couples stopped along the river walk to watch the filming; I prayed, as I hacked away ineffectively at my fishy comrade, that none of them were my neighbors, and that they didn’t call the police under the assumption that I was mutilating the river’s wildlife. Needless to say, it was probably the only opportunity I will have to justifiably take part in such activities, and as I have heard no mention of the event within the confines of the apartment complex, the adventure was completed with my dignity almost intact.

No pictures of this event will be posted. Ever.

It was great anyway, and my knowledge of aquatic animal anatomy has markedly improved.

This week was the Aoba Matsuri in Sendai, a festival that dates back to the seventeenth century and includes plenty of festival floats, dances, procession of samurai warriors, etc. It is also site to the famous Suzume Odori, or Sparrow Dance. Check out the pictures below!

Aoba Festival parade with Date Masamune on horseback (the city's famous feudal lord)

The Sparrow Dance! (this type of coordination would not be happening, even if I practiced for years.)

Finally, at the end of this lengthy blog post: the Fulbright research is finished! Final edits were added to the report (“The Intersection of Counter-terrorism and Human Rights Narratives in Post-2001 Japanese Diplomatic Rhetoric Concerning the Overseas Dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces”—those who are interested, please shoot me an e-mail—I won’t bore you with details here) at the end of last week. In the interest of completing prep work for grad school (/relocating to the UK this fall) and ensuring the time to make some long overdue visits to friends, this means that I will return to the States at the end of June. Thus, let the packing and final preparations commence! There are still a few more trips coming up this month, so I will be sure to update with another round of pictures, etc., before the end of June!