Sunday, September 6, 2009

And then I forgot...

So I haven't touched this in quite some time. And if anyone has been waiting for me to update, which I doubt, I apologize for my lazyness. It has been almost exactly two months since I have posted.

The funny thing is quite a lot has happened in this period of time. In fact, some of the most interesting events to happen to me in Japan happened during that period. So I am going to endeavor to record at least one of these events every week for the next few weeks in order to write everything down. I'm not particularly good at keeping up this kind of thing, I am actually surprised and relatively pleased that I kept it up as much as I did.

The first thing I want to talk about happened Sunday the 26th I believe. At the farewell party held by MGU I met one of the male buddies named Aru. We had seen each other before at some of the dorm parties, but didn't really hang out much. Me and the rest of the WAC girls invited him and Yukiko, one of the other buddies, to come with us to Fridays, yes, there are Friday's in Tokyo, had a lovely time, ate a lot of delicious food I hadn't had in months. I mentioned that I wanted to see Kamakura, and the 大仏 and go see the beach and some of the other temples and things. Aru said he lived in Kamakura and offered to take anyone who had time to go on a tour.

Danyelle, Wendy, and I ended up being the only ones to go, but it was nice to go in such a small group. We woke up very early and rode the train into one of the stations close to Kamakura, but not Kamakura its self. Aru met us at the station and we walked to the first temple, which was this big georgeous complex, with really steep hills, and beautiful dark wood and white stucco structures. It was really peaceful, especially cause it was so early in the morning. I liked walking in the cool under the trees. All of the temples were really peaceful, but the ones outside of Tokyo are much more so, they don't seem so rushed, it gives you time to enjoy nature and the placement of art around the temples and how nature interacts with the buildings.

The temple buildings were these beautiful wooden structures. The old gate out front was huge, it is amazing that something that old, made such a long time ago by means we consider primitive and made from wood, could last such a long time. The carvings were beautiful, of dragons and birds and flowers. I believe the ceiling in one of the buildings in this complex was painted with different cranes, representing the thousand cranes that will grant a wish. And they were adorned with gold leaf, spanning over the giant Buddha underneath.

In another temple we went to they had a statue of a Buddha done in a very modern, and rather macabre light. It was the starved Siddhartha, sitting under the tree. The Buddha looked emaciated, frail, and anything but holy. But it really makes you think about the sacrifices you must make to better yourself, and how sometimes you must come to the point of self destruction, it order to join the great all. It was kind of creepy, but I think it was a very beautiful statue too.

In another temple, there was a building, where you could take you shoes off and go to this lovely veranda that wrapped around an open air room with different kannon on the inside. The back of this veranda looked out onto this GLORIOUS man made zen landscape, with a beautiful little robin eggs blue pond that reflected the color of the sky. And grass so green and untouched it looked like it came out of a painting. There was a little stone bridge that went over the thinnest part of the pond where it bottle necked, the bridge looked so worn and old, I don't even want to guess at how old it was. I rock was embedded in the grass, so the grass looked like a sea lapping around it, seamlessly connected with no indication of how far down the rock went. There was also a little gnarly pine on top of one of the rolling hills that framed the scene, some little magpies were flitting about on the tree.

As we sat, we saw these two birds spot bugs and chase them over the water, and up the hills, around the tree, chasing them almost to the porch and then both pulling up at the last second to avoid running into people. At one point the bird caught the tail of a butterfly, chasing this way and that, so that the butterfly skidded off the water for a minute, escaping momentarily, only to be swooped down upon. It was really quite a show. But very peaceful and exciting at the same time. Natures circle at work.

In one temple there were symbols that looked like the Zelda tri-force every where. We were all very confused for a while, until we had Aru ask a man at the front gate what they meant. Apparently they were the family crest of a local family who donated large sums to the temples, and thus received honor through the symbols and protection of the temple. It was very interesting, and sure enough, we saw the exact same symbols at more temples, on rafters on roofs, on doors, on stones, by lanterns.

The art in the temples was amazing. One of my favorite sources of art from all of the temples are the rock engravings that are scattered all around temple grounds. Usually in some kind of garden, or in a court yard area you can find many foot tall stone slabs engraved with the effigies of different kannon. Many of them have little stacks of yen in front of them or on top of them.

In one of the courtyards there were about 80 of these little half statues, with the raised part of therock where their hands or things the kannon were carrying were were piled with yen. Some had flowers or other tributes on or around them. It was beautiful walking through them, loking at the careful detail that remains after Buddha knows how many years, slowly being smoothed down by the weather and time. It really was lovely.

In another of the temples, there was a little walk way that led to the top of this path, past one of the houses where the monks were. It had tiny statues scattered trough the underbrush. Old stone monuments, looking like little dwarfs poking their heads up along the path, most under a meter tall. I even saw one that looked like it had been carved from a piece of an old tree root, was just sitting on top of tree stump, that had been hollowed out by rain, and the remaining water filled hole had yen in it, and piles of yen around the little figure it's self.

During this trip, for lunch, we went to this special kind of soba noodle shop called nagashi somen. We sat out side on this really really long pick-nick table kind of thing, that had a halved bamboo stalk in the middle, angled downward slightly. They turn a little faucet on at the top of the bamboo and plop little rounds of soba noodles and send them sliding down the shoot, where you have to pluck them out with your chop sticks. They give you little bowls of broth and spices and an egg cake (kinda like an omelet slice). Another popular food stuff in Kamakura is sweet potato, which are very un-like the yams we are used to. They are pale on the inside, and have a dark purple peel. They gave us a kinda of mush, made from pureed sweet potato to mix into the broth. It was very good, and though it was a little expensive (about 25$/person) they really feed you a lot. It's up to you to keep eating, cause they will keep throwing noodles down until everyone stops eating. I was so stuffed after words. It is really very fun because you have to watch what everyone else on your side of the table is doing, and be courteous and ask the people down the stable from you if you want any more. It was a lot of fun.

After visiting the Dai Buttsu we made our way down to Kamakura beach. Besides an icky port-a-potty the beach was rather nice. I love the ocean, and Kamakura was wonderful. The water was warm, and relatively clear. I had fun splashing around in the waves, body surfing back to shore.

At one point this guy came up to me with one of the little pots they hold plants in before potting them. He handed it to me and said "present". I looked in it and found that there was a little crab in it. I tried to give it back to him, but he said it was a present. So it took it and carefully swam as far out as I could and tossed the little thing back into the water, then swam back to shore to avoid it pinching my little toes.

The beach was so nice. I love the ocean and Kamakura was an awesome beach. It was the first sand beach I have been to since I went to Kitty Hawk my senior year. It had a lot of little sea side shacks that offered music, food and booze, as well as a place to sit and relax out of the sun. It was all of course way overly priced, but it was still rather nice. We stayed at the beach for a really long time, about 4 hours.

Once we were all good and tired out we went back towards where the train station was. There was this really awesome, but smokey Okonamiyaki joint. It was Tabemono, so we could eat and order as much as we wanted to within two hours. It was amazing, and they had an awesome selection. I stuffed my self more than I can possibly describe. I loved the curry flavored and the kimchi flavored Okonamiyaki and ordered two yaki soba. It was sooooo good.

The only problem was that they sat us upstairs and that there was NOOO ventilation up there. So all of this smoke pooled in the room, and it was terrible combined with sea water eyes. We all ended up crying our eyes out and having to go to the bathroom repeatedly to wash our eyes out. So that kinda sucked, but the food was so good, and as more people in the tables next to us left, it was better.

We all parted ways kinda close to 11, it had been a very long, but an amazing day. It was probably the best day of my time in Japan. I loved it, and a big shout out thanks to Aru for taking Danyelle, Wendy, and me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kanjinchou; my essay for kabuki.

After reading the description, I note that this is supposed to be one of Japans favorite Kabuki, mostly because of the heroics of the main characters and the respect and dedication they show each other. I can see how the story and the bravery of the characters would make it a favorite play in Japan. The main characters fit very well the character type of the brave AND smart hero. They don't just use their strength to get out of difficult situations, they use their brain, and show proper respect to people of equal skill, even if they are meant to be their opponent. This seems to be one of the more realistic plays where it doesn't exaggerate actions or situations as much as in some plays such a Shibaraku or even double love suicide. The play seems to appeal to our sense of emotion more than a sense of action. But I find it very nice that way. It is a very emotional provocative play, and really appeals to your sense of what is right and loyal.

I do notice about that the dialog and accompanying music is very nice. I greatly enjoy the rhythmic dialog of this play in particular. Since this uses dialog so heavily it is very pleasing to the ears I think. Especially the dialog of the priest/retainer (though it may just be this actor in particular) I thought had a very nice tone and was particularly easy to listen to. The speed of dialog also helps to express emotion a lot. Like when the main retainer is being quized about different things in Buddhism and it gets really fast. Also the part where the retainer is apologizing for almost beating his lord. His voice gets very low and humble, it's very interesting to be able to listen to so much dialog, usually there is not so much dialog in large clumps.

I also see very much how the lord is portraid a little bit like a women. The actor does even look like an Onna-gata. The way he cries when his main retainer is begging forgiveness. Also the way he talks seems very feminien to me. But it almost makes the relationship better, you can see that this man does not have to protect this boy but that he really really does love and respect him. And that the lord returns the feelings.

The dance/fight scenes once they start are also very nice. The movements of the actors in this play remind me a little more of Noh or Bunraku. The use small movements and facial expressions to great advantage in order to portray the emotions these very interesting characterws are feeling. I also find it interesting that for most of the dialogs the actors are facing the audiance. Which was the case with many of the kabuki plays we watched but this is the first in which I really noticed it. I really love the scene where the main retainer uses his fan and dose a short dance sequence. It is very pretty, and again, almost feminen, kind of showing just how much it took for him to cry because he is such a masculine character.

I also really love the back ground music in the play. More than any other I thought the back ground music really helped to set the feel for the scene. I love the chorous and other musicians in this play. The music goes very well with how the dialog sounds, it makes it all very poetic.

It is a real statement I think on the why masculinity is viewed. He cries for the first time, after almost beating his lord to death and then being forgiven, which shows how tough he is and how loyal and devoted he is. But then he can turn right around and drink two full gourds of sake and keep on going. Also he can be loud and boisterous but it doesn't attract from his appeal. Also, I find this character acts in a very high manner. Not an arrogant manner, but he acts very wise and professional. He acts like a priest should act, he acts his strength.

The second fan dance after drinking sake is also very impressive. And again I enjoy the music quite a lot. I would not be able to dance so well after drinking that much sake. The exit of the lord and the music with this dance scene is wonderful. As far as music is concerned this is probably my favorite kabuki we have seen thus far.

For anyone not in my class, or who has never seen this kabuki in particular, I highly recommend it. Just be sure to read the plot before. I want a CD of just the music from this kabuki.


Tea Ceremony class and what it has taught me

Tea ceremony is all about balance and looking into our self while feeling out side of our self. You must concentrate on your feelings and body, creating the best self you can. While at the same time you must use all of your senses to feel what is going on in the tea house, with the host and the other guests, as well as feel the nature that is reflected in the atmosphere of the tea house. The Tea Ceremony is all about balancing with the things around us while finding balance in our self.

The Tea Ceremony class always made me happy. It forced me to be calm, forget all my anger and problems of the day, and focus on an act as simple as making a cup of tea, or eating a sweet, or looking at a wall scroll. I always felt more relaxed in the class, and felt more centered and pleased with my self after words. It was the perfect way to relax.

It also makes you stop and look at and appreciate nature in a way that few people do in today's society. It made me happy to come in and see the flowers, and to note how they matched the beauty and grace of the caligraphy in the scroll, and how everything went together to mimic the atmosphere outside.

I hope to learn more about the tea ceremony through my own research and keep it up through practice by my self. I would like to learn how to preform the whol ceremony, and get good at it enough to clear my mind through the whole thing and simply focus on good thoughts. This is what I see as the goal of the ceremony.

I really enjoyed my tea ceremony class in Japan. It was a very powerful class for me, and taught me a lot about relaxation, as well as Japans cultural history.

Thanks to my Sensei's

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nakagome Farm and Yamanashi Prefecture: Fresh fruit, BBQ and naked people.

So, now that I am done with my kabuki posts, it's on to the sillier things. I want to just point out real quick that this post should be dated 06/20.

On the 20th of June, Saturday, was the Bus Tour out to Yamanashi prefecture. This was set up by the Yokohama Buddies. Apparently how it works is that the Shirokane Buddies get fall and the Yokohama buddies get the spring trip, but it was all cool. I feel very lucky that I even got to go on this, there were a very small amount of spots open for the trip and they had to do a drawing of the people who actually signed up on time. A lot of people forgot and weren't even allowed to sign up late; bad for them but it was great for me. Luckily for me I was one of the people called to go. Actually, I was surprised that all of the Washington College students were drawn for the trip, but it was really lucky for us. I had really wanted to go for two reasons; 1.) there was going to be free BBQ and I LOVE free food especially when it is cooked over open flame, 2.)I had never been to an onsen, which is one of the things you MUST do when you go to Japan and that was going to be the big ending for this trip. So I had been praying really hard, and I guess someone listened (shout out to the powers that be.)

Anyways, we were supposed to meet in Totsuka, which is where the Yokohama campus of Meiji Gakuin is, really REALLY early (7:30am) so we would have enough time to get over there. Totsuka is a good ways away, so Danyelle went with me and we left around 6am I think, maybe a bit earlier (I believe I woke up at 5.) A lot of people actually didn't make it because they didn't get going earlier enough, which was kind of a downer cause it meant other people could have come, but se la vie.

We get to Totsuka, right on time. Start meeting up with other people from Shirokanedai. We are trying to find the meeting place, which we all think is some kind of food court type thing that is supposed to be outside one of the exits. We get to said exit and don't see the place we are supposed to be looking for. We end up calling one of the buddies and telling them to come find us cause we don't know where they are. It ends up "right outside the exit" was down the road and across and intersection and more like a super market. Oh well, someone gets us and we get there, actually a while before everyone else does. People keep spilling in for some time after we get to the bus.

Now, about this bus. The bus was pimped out. It had chandeliers on the ceiling, something kinda like disco dance floor lights as runners on the ceiling in different primary colors, and like gold and black fur de lies theme every where. I believe the giant plaque at the front of the bus said "King of Resort" which the UofC guys behind my seat found very funny and were referencing continually the entire trip. But the bus was pretty bamf. It even had a karaoke system, which we put to good use on the way back to Totsuka.

So we finally get going, almost an hour late, but what do you expect from college kids. The drive down to Yamanashi was really nice. I liked looking at the scenery. We must have gone over some mountain range because it got very lumpy. It was amazing seeing the huge steeply slopping mountains that looked like something out of a watercolor scroll. And the rivers and irrigation ditches winding between the terraced rice patties. It was really pretty to go through the Japanese country-side. I enjoyed seeing mountains again, even if they were completely different from the rolling ones you find in Appalachia.

Another thing that amazed me about the trip; Japanese rest stops. They are amazing. They have so many different souvenir shops and restaurants, and even farmers markets. And they were all so clean, it was amazing. I really liked the ones we stopped at, though we were lucky (I guess) to only need to stop once going and once coming. We had an awesome view of Fuji-yama from the rest stop coming, and going and we stayed under the mountain for most of the rest of the trip.

We finally got to the farm. It was really pretty and we were in for a surprise. We had originally though we were only going to pick cherries, but we also got to pick plums and peaches. Though we were only allowed to pick from one peach tree, and that poor tree had nothing on it once we were done with it. I actually liked the plums and so focused on them, though I did get a really good peach from the tree, but didn't go back for seconds.

After we left the peach and plum half of the orchard, we piled back on the bus and drove a little ways down the road where we got off the bus again and walked to the netted green houses where they had the cherries. The cherries were some of the most beautiful cherries I have ever seen. I perfect crimson red. And soo sooooo sweet. I am used to the black cherries we get more in VA, or even the white cherries, but they aren't that sweet, and the black cherries are down right sour in comparison. They were so wonderful, I really did stuff my face so much, it was ridiculous. I was stripping trees of fruit, or at least the ripe and good stuff. It was a lot of fun just in the act of picking the cherries. It kinda reminded me of the pick your own places where I live. I had a lot of fun running around and looking for the best fruit.

Once we had gorged our selves on fruit we walked over to the BBQ area. They had a few oil drums cut in half and set up on little legs as makeshift fire pits. They worked really well though surprisingly. They also had little grates or pans to put on top of them. We ended up doing kinda a B.S.ed BBQ because they only had the uber-thin cut meat that seems to be all they have in Japan. It's kinda depressing, I was hoping for a T-bone or a nice Chicken breast, but beggers can't be choosers, and meat is meat, and it's something we don't really get that often. It was really good too. We also had veggies, which are another luxury we don't get that often as poor college students in Japan. I grilled to my hearts content and ate till I litteraly couldn't eat anymore. And they had MARSHMELLOWS! I was so pleased. I think I had like 15 or so.

Then we all pilled back on the bus to digest a bit. I was waddling, I won't lie. We drove a pretty good distance to get to the Onsen. I was much more digested when we got there. Now, the issue with the onsen is that I am a touch self concious about my body. And most Americans at least have a very different opinion of public nudity than the Japanese bath culture has. It's not one is wrong ect. its just a cultural difference. What is considered bonding in Japan is awkward in America. But I was determined to give it a shot, because it is a big major cultural thing, and actually sounded like fun once you got used to it.

The Onsen was actually a BUNCH smaller than I thought it would be. I was expecting like a giant swimming center like place, at least on the outside. Or maybe like a really pretty landscaped place. But it kinda looked like a Moose Lodge. I actually felt kinda bad, when the bus pulled up to the curve I actually exclaimed "is this IT?!" which got a laugh out of a lot of people. I really didn't know what to expect though and in my mind I thought it would be bigger, or at least a bit nicer looking. Also, I had been hopping it would be one of the outside ones with the rock out-cropping. But no such luck their either.

We got into the Onsen. Like most places in Japan it had the little cubbyholes for your shoes at the door and we all got a pair of slippers to wear around. We all took a seat on the little cushions in a big tatami matted "rest room" and waited to be told what to do and where to go. By now most people were either excited or really nervous about getting in the onsen. I was kind of at the point where I was going to do it and there was no going back. I am anything if not determined.

We finally were able to go into the little room in back where they had a changing room and little laundry baskets in cubbys for your clothes and towels. Also a sink and scale, maybe people try and loose weight by subjecting them selves to large amounts of heat. But once we got in there I did it. I think I was the second one in the actual onsen room, which was seperated from the changing room by a slidding glass door.

They had little stools and buckets in front of a mirror almost like a little vanity area with a shower head. The showers in Japan have multi-function set ups, they have the usual shower head, which also usually has a high and low water preasure nob. And they also have a faucet function so you could fill up a tub, but in Japan its usually meant for filling up buckets to rinse quickly with. The little vanity shower areas also had body wash and shampoo. You have to shower very thuroughly before entering an onsen in order to keep the water clean and for the other guests benefit. Its actually nice to just shower off in the steamy room, that was kinda fun in it's self.

The actual bath part kind of reminded me of the rowning practice boxes they have in the boat house at my college. A giant wooden box built into the floor. It had another smaller wooden bow next to it with a little dividing step. We were told that the big one held the hot water and the other one was a cold water dunking pool. Quickly most people found that the dunking pool was a great idea. The water was really really hot, but very nice. You could tell it was a little different from tap water, it felt smoother, also a little more boiant, though that could have been because it was so hot. It definitely had some mineral content in it. One of the oba-chan who was in their before we got there said it made your skin smooth, and it really really did.

I was amazed how un-awkward it was once we all actually got in the pool. We all kept making jokes about how we weren't going to be able to talk to any of the people present with a straight face ever again, but it wasn't weird. It felt comfortable to me. No one was doing that comparing thing that girls are really good at, which was what I thought would be the main issue. It was really nice just relaxing in the warm water. I'm pretty sure I turned the red of a lobster after a while just cause of how hot the water was. I had to get up and dunk my self in the cool water box a few times just because I was starting to get woozie. I almost burned my self when I swam to close to the little tap/box thing that the water came out of. It was really hot. I wonder if it come out of the spring that hot or if they heat it up before hand. I'd be impressed if that was the temperature it came up at.

Everyone ended up crammed into the cool pool at some point, just to keep from passing out from full stomachs and the heat. We ended up roatating so that a few people would get into the cool box and a few people would leave the cool box at the same time, but the cool box was the more crowded of the two, partly I guess because it was a forth the size. I really did enjoy it though, and I still spent most of my time in the hot water pool. So nice and waaaaarm! <3

I really want to go to and Onsen again, we are thinking of going to this really big and kinda famous one in Odaiba. We sadly only got to stay there for an hour, I would have liked to stay longer but I think I would have been too well done at that point, so maybe it was a good thing to keep Eve from being hard-boiled. They had a little gift shop where you could get some food stuffs. I bought a thing of ice cream (crem-brule, mmm) and a big pack of candied ginger that a nursed for almost 2 weeks after going, it was really really good. I have decided that I actually liked that Onsen. The small size was kind of nice, especially for a first time Onsen go-er, it was a very friendly size and still remained a little less open, so it was kind of nice.

The drive back seemed to take longer. I slept for part of it, and got a horrible crick in my neck, but I felt better. At some point they turned on the karaoke set, and there was a bit of singing, but we were almost home by then, so it didn't really matter.

All in all it was a very very fun trip. I really enjoyed it. Shout out to CICE for helping set it up. And a big thanks to the buddies for all the organizing.

And that is the tale of my first time in an Onsen.
WOOT! Getting Naked!

十二夜vs.かかさいゆうき: Twelfth Night vs. Saiyuki

As you can see, with the help of my lovely tutor and friend, Wendy, I now know how to type in Japanese. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in that it is now going to be sooooo much easier for me to practice Japanese and to do my projects ect. Bad in that you poor people are going to be the ones subjected to my Japanese ramblings and are thus not going to understand very much. But know that your patience and understanding is appreciated, and that this really might be a big turning point in my language study.

So FINALLY, we come to the last installment of the Twelfth Night/Saiyuki posts. And all I can say is it took me long enough. For your information I am about 3 weeks behind. I will probably make it a round month behind before I actually get totally caught up. But I will try my best not to dally in my blogging. I apologize if my tardiness inconveniences anyone who actually reads my dribble.

Anyways, onto the main event.

So the point of this post is to compare the similarities and differences in the styles of the two Kabuki that have been the topic of the past two blogs. I did this to an extent in the previous blog, so I apologize for any repetition. Basically I am breaking it down into a few main sections. Comparing performance style, how set and props affected that, and then comparing what I gathered from each play.

Obviously the performance style of each play was very different. Though both plays came from old stories they were very new scripts and neither play had ever been preformed as a kabuki before, not to the best of my knowledge anyways. Saiyuki was preformed as the epic adventure/action story that it (in my opinion) should be. With acrobatics and daring battle scenes I think it captured the adventuress feeling of the quest story it was derived from. Some of it's scenes, like the dance scene with the doppelganger monkey children and when Goku has to birth Hakai, make it almost like a comedy.

For me, the performance style of Saiyuki was very much like a mime act almost. You got the idea, or the feeling of humor or suspense, but all the time there was an under current of action, there wasn't really a down or up point to the play. Though admittedly the big fight scene at the end between the spider women and the good guys was the highlight and climax of the play. But all through out the play there was a sense of action.

The actors were also not the usual kabuki actors. The actor who played Goku studied dance and it was exceedingly apparent in his acting style. His movements sealed the performance for me. It was a slightly new way to preform a play. You really got an idea of the super kabuki element from how they acted, not to mention the stage set up and costumes.

Twelfth Night, however, I think kept very closely to that almost surreal feel that most of Shakespears plays have. Though parts of it were very humerus, such as with the "cross garter" scene, it remains a mystery story. There is a sense of drama to it, and it is not purely funny, but has to do with the emotions of many of the characters, especially since two think their sibling has died and some of the are suffering from unrequited love. And that was how Twelfth Night was acted, and I think should be acted. With emotion, when the characters are happy and laughing, it feels that way, when one is mourning that the one they love doesn't love them back, you feel bad.

I also got a very Western feel from the way the play was acted. It was very lightly acted, like most western plays and unlike most kabuki plays. The only real part where it felt kabuki (and even then it felt more Super Kabuki than the usual flavor) was in the scene on the boat in the storm, very big and loud. Everything else had the light "oh romeo where art thou" romantic feel. Usually romance is mixed with some form of depression in Kabuki because it seems that most lovers died terribly some how. This was mixed with only a mild desperation because half of the people aren't going to get a lover out of the situation. But even still, the play ended with a very happy ending, which is more than can be said for most kabuki plays with love as a topic. The whole play felt very western to me, it didn't feel like the usual kabuki. It felt lighter acted some how. More like natural people than the big Shibaraku type personalities. More real, not so dramatic.

With Saiyuki, the set and props matched the suspenseful feel. For example, when the castle starts decaying into the ruins when the evil spider women capture Sanzo, you really feel like "oh my, it's falling apart, RUN!" The costumes I though were just vibrant enough to grab attention and not be over the top.

In fact, compared to some kabuki's they were very low key. Even compared to other super kabuki, Saiyuki didn't try for outrageous, just exciting. The end scene for example, with the bright spider web kimono and the party streamers it was very exciting but it didn't have the over the top feel that Shibaraku, or the play with the guy and the huge anchor, or the きつね (kitsune/fox) Super Kabuki had. It was like a good action flick, exciting enough to keep you on the edge of your seat and saying wow, cool. But not so ridiculous to make you laugh and roll your eyes.

Twelfth Night's set kept with the dramatic Shakespeare feel. From the double sided glass in the beginning that almost eerily fades into the scene, to the spot lighted scene changes, where the main character is lit in such a very dramatically Shakespearean way. It made the play feel very dramatic. Also, the fact that you did have almost complete darkness for the scene changes was very dramatic because you didn't know what was coming next. It has highs and lows, it was a very emotional play, but still not acted as strongly as most of the kabuki. In their own ways, both of these plays were both acted much lighter than regular kabuki's. Twelfth Night was just more emotional, where as Saiyuki didn't have to be emotional to keep you interested.

Twelfth Night also didn't require any of the crazy acrobatic tricks in order to convey the message. The boat scene in the beginning was the only part that was truly amazing in the unbelievable sense. And even then only because you know there couldn't be an ocean on stage. The scene where the heroine is facing off with the foppish guy isn't actually that far from what one might expect to see in real life. Minus the strange costume, which is my opinion just kept to the silliness of the character and the slightly surreal feel found in all Shakespeare plays.

So, in short, I got a preservation of the Western traditional acting style from Twelfth Night. Saiyuki I felt a more modern western "action flick" style from the acting and the play as a whole. Though both had a surreal element, I though both tried to be less over the top than many of the Kabuki out there, while still managing to keep us guessing what was going to happen next. Saiyuki accomplished this through its fast pace action and humor filled acting and story interpritation (the dance scenes, the props, the colors). Where as Twelfth Night kept us hooked through it's appeal to our pathos and emotions, as well as it's dramatic use of lighting and set design. Both mixed non-Japanese stories into a very Japanese art for quite well. As represented in the costumes, the mixing of musical influences, and the acting styles. I think both plays represented the originals stories the came from quite well, though I would say that Twelfth Night kept closer to the original text than Saiyuki. I enjoyed both plays equally for different reasons. I hope that there is more mixing of cultures into Kabuki in the future. I would love to see an African based Kabuki, like the story of Anansi the spider trickster. Or a Brazillian story done to Kabuki. It is a wonderful way to spread culture and help introduce kabuki to other cultures by making it more reconizable for them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Saiyki and Twelfth Night: Part 2, Saiyuki and how it compares to what I know.

So two fridays ago I went and saw Kaka Saiyuki. I feel very behind in my posts but surprisingly a lot of things have been going on.

The play was amazing. I really enjoy this Kabuki theater as well. It is very new compared to the other ones I think. I look forward to going to it again this month. The kabuki theater is actually a play house for many different kinds of theaters, the Japan National Theater, and thus not really a kabuki theater at all. In fact I think they have a very Western play preforming there this month. But it is still a very nice Theater. It kind of reminds me of the Kennedy Center in D.C. and is the first Japanese theater I have been in to do so. Despite it's many parts it is still much smaller than the Kennedy Center. In fact, the room we were in held less people than either the Kabuki-za or the other theater we were in to see 12th Night. But it gave it a very friendly atmosphere I though, it was very homey, and not so intimidating as the other two.

The beginning of the play was awesome
because it was one of those introductory plays, I believe, that the National Theater puts on. I really enjoyed the beginning introduction to Kabuki. They had two of senior actors come out and give a small presentation on the different noises and movements of Kabuki and what they meant. My favorite was when the one guy pretended to be a ghost and control him. And they had a bit of chemical induced burning cloth on a bamboo pole that they wove around to make it look like a spirit. I thought that was really cool. I know it was chemically induced and real flame because it was green, and produced smoke, I was very impressed that they let real fire in a building, but I guess the could hundred years Kabuki has been practiced has been enough time to perfect the techniques implemented.

I also like it when the same man did the short dance piece, it was very good. They did it like a very entertaining comedy act, but even with out the head set ( I didn't have enough money at the time so I couldn't buy one) I understood enough for it to be funny, and for me to get the basic gist of what they were explaining. I thought it was a very good way to introduce people (especially children) to kabuki. They also explained what the different drum beats and different instruments represented. It was cool to hear the actual musicians with out any singing or talking over them. I think that all Japanese middle schools should take trips to the national theater. Most of the Japanese people I have talked to have never seen Kabuki and that is very sad I think. They should know more about their culture than I do, and most don't, at least not when it comes to Kabuki.

The opening scene was very cool, having Sanzo, Hakkai, and Gojiyo (the guys who are cool, but not quite as cool as Goku) walking down the Hanami to this big castle set. They are tired and thirsty from their travels. And while Sanzo (being the kind and wise priest) that he is goes off and talks to the lady of the castle (Queen) and meets up with her sister, who ends up kinda seducing him. While this is going on Hakkai decides to drink the wholy spring that will impregnate ANYONE that drinks from it... getting him pregnant. He finda this out after the maiddens of the court tell him this.

SO, since neither of them can do anything really about it, they call on the AWESOME POWER OF GOKU, the Monkey King. I am getting all of this from what I know of the original text (which is very little, but downloadable off of Wikipedia so I might have to read it) and the Mang/Anime series, which were both given very modern and almost modern vs. traditional twist, in that the Deamon bad guys also had robots, not to mention the main good guys were horribly horribly sexy, and in the original Goku is actually half monkey and Hakkai is a pig... so there are some comparisons that don't match up.

Goku, in a very very dramatic dance pice that was WICKED AWESOME!!! cuts open Hakkai and takes out the fetus... I wonder how the Evangelicals would view this part. I know this whole drama doesn't take place in the manga, but I wonder how closely to the original text they kept. Also the whole character relation in the manga was different. For example, in the manga Sanzo was actually the main and strongest Character. They also did a lot of back story on all of the characters. And Goku was not the wisest at all, in fact he was shown as a child and acted like one.

So again, I am thinking that this play kept closer to the original text, however, I know for a fact that the original text was very very long, and more like the manga/anime, had many different deamons that they had to come up against before they could fight the main deamon. I am guessing that this Kabuki version only took one of the mini battles from the original text, keeping character relations the same, but kept to the plot and feel of that one trial very closely. I will have to read the text to be sure, but this is my guess.

The play was wonderfully acted out though. Short of it is, the Queen and her sister turn out to be spider deamons that take Sanzo and bind him in this big rock. I believe Hakkai and Gojyo are kinda scared off after a futal attempt to save him, and are in fact then captured by a bunch of lesser spider deamonesses. Son Goku, makes a bunch of dople gangers (which are actually little children and they are SOOO ADORABLE!!!! and they do this cute cute dance session) which gives Goku more power. So he can go off and fight the big scary Spider Deamonesses.

The final fight scene between Goku and the Spider Deamons is awesome. They used great face paint to make them look like spider deamons, and you can really see why it is called Super Kabuki here. There was a lot of acrobatic work and this battle lasted a good long time. I was kind of tired just watching it. The goons of the Spider Deamonesses kept doing all the flips and drops and things when Goku attacked them. There ended up being a lot of them on stage. They also used different props to fight him. At one point they made a giant spider web out of rope and Goku actually sat on top of it and they lifted him and spun him around. They also used ladders and spears for the fight scene. The choreography was really excelent.

They did something else I approved of, and actually used replicas of the weapons that Goku, Hakkai, and Gojyo use. All of which have a pole as part of them (a bow (stalf not bow and arrow), a rake type thing, and I can't remember the name of it but it has a crecent blade at the end of a pole) respectivally. They did some really awesome tricks with there weapons that remind me of my color guard days. In fact I know how to do all of the tricks they did except this one where Gojyo and Goku have traded weapons and Goku catches his own weapon in the 'U' part of Gojyos and spins them so that it looks like a helicopter. I believe I understand that basics of this move but have never had a flag pole with a 'U' shapped part at the end, so I have never had the ability to try. They did some very basic moves like butterflys and flourishes, but they must have had their poles really weighted other wise it would have been really hard to get the amount of speed they were getting. They also did some fun tricks like where everyone throws their pole at the person accross from them and catch the pole being thrown at them. Also where every one throws their pole straight up vertically and run around in a circle and catch the weapon of the person who WAS standing to their right. I was very impressed with their tossing ability.

I respect Super Kabuki a lot, because it is so new. Most of the people doing regular kabuki have been practicing since they were tiny. But with Super Kabuki, everything is new. So you have to learn a new style or a new skill from scratch, you haven't been seeing it for years. I think it would make it a lot harder, and it also gives people who are not hereditary kabuki actors a chance to get on stage and get major roles. Not to say that I like Super Kabuki better than regular Kabuki, I think they both have their good points. But I enjoyed seeing my first live super kabuki.

For example, going back to the learning new things, I loved the way Son Goku was portrayed. His dance scenes were done amazingly. The actor really acted like a Monkey, it was amazing. I wonder if he studied how monkeys moved and acted before doing the part, because he got many of their habits and mannerisms down pat. I really enjoyed it and it made the character much more fun. For example, the way he moved, and held him self kind of at a slouch the entier time. Also I LOVED the random belly or ear or head scratching he would do, just like a real monkey. It must have been really hard to get those movements down, they do not seem very natural for a human, but he did it effortlessly it seemed. I have never seen a kabuki that requierd the actor to act in a way that was nothing like human. The closest I have seen has probably been the lion dance or when a ghost is on stage, it does act like a zombie or something not alive more than a person, simply by it's movements or the way it holds its self.

I also really liked the use of make up in this kabuki. Goku looked like a monkey, Hakkai looked like a pig, and Sanzo looked distinguished. I never really understood what Gojyo was supposed to be anyways. I think some sort of water deamon, I know he is half and half, he looked very good though and very appropritate I think. And as I said before, the make up on the spider deamon people was AMAZING!!! They have big black fangs and most of their make up was black and white and a little gray in the cheeks and around the eyes I think.

Did I also mention the spider deamonesses had metalic orange kimono with black spider webs on it that were lifted to make them look bigger when they were pissed. They also made wonderful use of party favors. The little ones that shoot out streamers were used to represent webs and were everywhere for the big fight scene at the end.

I look forward to seeing this Kabuki again in the near future. I am hoping it comes out on dvd at some point, it will totally be on my birthday list for a while to come. I also would like to do a modern dance interperitation of this play, including the flag/stalf twiriling bits, since those were some of my favorite parts. I now want to read the translation of the original Saiyuki text and see how it compares with this play and the manga. Or at the least I want to read the part where they fight the spider deamon.

Again, I believe that the manga kept with the multiple battle story line (where they had to fight a lot of bad guys to get to the main bad guy and fulfill their purpose) where as this was like a mini plot, and indeed, looking back on it, they didn't really have any point in the plot line, Travlers, head of party captured by deamons, rescue head of party, continue traveling, nothing really REALLY resloved. Though I may have missed the part that says they are on some quest due to the lack of the head set. This is one of the plays where I wish I had had the head set. Next play I go to I must remember to get one. However, digressing, I believe that this play stuck to the characters personas better, instead of having Goku as the annoying kid who happens to fight good, he is the wisest and toughest of the group. I liked the combination, but it leaves me wanting more, I want to see part two or the sequal to this play. I need to watch more Super Kabuki and see if I like them just as much.

Expect Part 3 this weekend. That will hopefully compare Saiyuki and 12th Night to each other. A new form of Western based Kabuki and Super Kabuki.
Hope you enjoyed.


W00T I lived through another month in Japan!

June threw more stuff at me than I know what to do with. It did throw a bit more stability my way though, and for that I am very grateful. However there is still so much to do, and I'm not sure enough time anymore. But my better personal out look will help me get through it, and I'm going to take things as easily as I can.

Work is important, but I still want to have fun, and I need to realize when I am laying my head on the cutting block and setting my self up for a let down.

I think July will bring more stability as well as a winding down that will be much appreciated.

Wish me luck in this, the last month of my stay here.