Historically Gifu has been the epicenter for paper making, creating a fine, yet strong, rice paper (mino washi) for lanterns and parasols, and sword making. Seki is known for making the best swords in Japan. These days it is a major center for aerospace technology and car manufacturing. Rice farming in towns like Godo, is still viable. Sam’s in-laws, the Obas, have five subsistence rice fields they tend, raising all their own rice for the year.
The weather was hot, 90 degrees and humid (a lot like Costa Rica, actually). I was the only one fairly acclimated to it. But then their weather ranges from 39 degrees Celsius in the summer to -6 degrees Celsius in the winter. I would find that range hard to cope with.
I went to the supermarket for some groceries and poked through the shelves of unknown items, but did find a tube of toothpaste–TSA took mine at the Portland airport–called Cool. It says it offers “dental etiquette.” That should do the trick.
The other part of the day was spent playing with the object of my affection: Little Hannah Oba.
She is now crawling and getting into all manner of trouble. She likes to spend a lot of her time chewing on the TV table. Yuka put a strip of black foam rubber along the glass rim and Hannah thinks it makes a wonderful teething bar.What is it about small children? You can buy them the fanciest teething rings and playthings money can buy, but their favorites will always be the stuff they find in your house.
The end of the day was a treat.
Sam took me back to the renowned Sushi Man and his wonderful restaurant, Tysin, near Godo. Two years ago we ate there and had some of the most memorable sushi I have ever eaten. He creates them as you eat, sending out little packages of goodness over the counter: salmon, eel, tuna, and tamagoyaki, all on sticky sushi rice. Yum! By the time I got to the end of the meal my stomach was stretched to capacity. I kept wondering how I would sleep.
Not to worry. On the way home, Yuka’s father said there was a summer festival near his mother’s house and did we want to go.
Held in a small neighborhood park, the festival was in full swing when we arrived. Music blared–and I do mean blared–from crackly speakers; a most God awful sound. I could see women sitting at instruments inside a small building and went to have a closer look.
There were probably ten of them kneeling in front of a low bench, playing kotos- a harp-like instrument they plucked creating a twangy, definitely Asian sound. People milled about outside buying meat on a stick, shaved ice in florescent colors, or beer. On closer inspection I discovered our sound system was simply a bull horn in front of the players, so we got music and the cacophony of the mingling crowd. I was driven back to the far edge of the park where several others had taken refuge.
Neighborhood kids were all dressed in traditional kimonos and wore elevated wooden shoes. My daughter-in-law’s uncle shoved a beer at me and said something welcoming. Just the thing for an already over-full stomach. Yuka kept telling me to toss it in the bushes, but I didn’t want to be impolite and sipped at it when space opened.
The party was full-on. About the time I thought I couldn’t stand the racket from the speakers anymore, they stopped and someone put a cassette in that was, if anything, scratchier than the music. Yuka’s uncle motioned everyone to form a circle around the yagura (櫓 or 楼 for those of you fluent in Kanji), a bandstand turret constructed for the celebration.
Yaguras are often seen in Japanese castles and were used as watchtowers, armories, and, according to Wikapedia, sometimes as astronomy observation towers for the feudal lords.
Our yagura was a bit less ostentatious, constructed as it was out of bamboo and paper. Up in the crow’s nest was a traditional drummer. I will include this photo, but it is not our drummer. We couldn’t see our drummer behind the paper turret. Only the drum sticks appeared every now and again.
He began a syncopated beat and, led by the uncle, people began to dance around the circle.
The dance consisted of motions for hoeing and pulling, wide swinging arms for–what?–perhaps cutting rice with a scythe, Yuka wasn’t sure.
Many of the participants didn’t know the steps, but elders and ones more familiar demonstrated and the dance proceeded round and round the tower. There were different dances for different tunes. Yuka’s uncle knew them all. It has been said that, “In Taiko you return to the roots, the beginning of humanity,” True, and I found it moving that these traditional dances have been kept alive and the drumbeat goes on.
When they finished it was time to play Bingo. BINGO? I doubt this is a traditional game from centuries back, but who knows. In any event Bingo is difficult if you don’t know any Japanese, so I sat on the sidewalk and Sam and Yuka sat on a window sill above me, calling out numbers in English as they came. Yuka’s uncle came by and gave me another beer. Ah, just what I needed, thank you. By this time all the sushi was floating on the suds. I thought I would explode.
And then, BINGO, I won.
My present, which I opened the next morning morning, was 50 meters of plastic wrap, that I donated it to Sam’s household.