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Opposite Ends Of The Earth

This article first appeared in issue 37, and was written by Tom Waggener.

Yesterday was the junior high schools' Sports Day. Sports Day here in Japan is one crazy event, with singing, dancing, performances, relay races, and all kinds of other stuff.

Everyone was really friendly, and they dragged me out on the field for some kind of Japanese traditional dance. I looked pretty dumb, but the Japanese sure seemed to enjoy it. As simple as the dance seemed, I am pretty uncoordinated, and they were nice enough to tell me I did well anyway.

Immediately after the dance, the vice-principle took me to a tent with several lively and intoxicated older men who spoke no English. We tried to converse anyway, and they gave me a beer and some peanuts. The vice-principle motioned for us to leave, but insisted that I finish the beer first.

As soon as I sat down in the spectator's tent, the vice-principle asked me to join in the 200 Meter Dash with 5 junior high boys. I have been running a lot in Japan, and I thought that my long legs would give me an advantage.

I flew like the wind, and I was about five feet behind the lead kid rounding the last turn when I realized that if I kept running at that speed I would most likely pass out. (I want a re-match, because I know that kid didn't down a beer before the race.)

Afterwards, they brought me a Coke and a hand towel and laughed and punched me in the arm. They seemed pretty proud of me doing something that none of them would have done.

Next they entered me in the Log Cutting event, where teams of 10 men run across a field, two at a time--one holds a big log and the other saws a two inch wide slice off the end.

Later I ran a relay where I pushed a bicycle rim around the track with a stick. I've heard many old timers talk about this in the States, and it always sounded simple and boring, but that has to be the most complicated thing I have ever tried to do. I could get the rim about four feet before it went running off in another direction.

I ended up hoisting the rim on my shoulder about half way around the track and pretty much throwing it across the finish line, to much cheering and laughing.

After that I was taken to a post-Sports Day iinkai. Iinkai translates roughly as "a very good time to drink spirits and eat tons of fried shrimp, tofu and pickled veggies."

Drunken Japanese men were slapping me on the back and telling me (I think) what a great job I did that day, inviting me to their houses and introducing their daughters. I think they really want to marry me off, because whenever a single Japanese girl was nearby they all laughed and sat us next to each other embarrassing both of us.

After the iinkai at the community center we trucked on down to the vice-principle's house, where there was a spread twice as impressive. Again with the back slapping, house inviting, and woman introducing. Some guy spilled warm sho chu all over me. Sho chu is Kagoshima's version of bourbon, and it is served with warm water, cold water, or anything else that kills the taste of sweet potato liquor.

The whole thing ended at about 9:30. It was one crazy day, and apparently in this country, we find a lot of excuses to do some crazy sport and drink a lot. Next weekend there is a sumo type event at the Sports Center, which I have been told will be followed by an iinkai.

It is the Monday after. I'm writing these journal notes before work begins, trying at the same time to send a mental message to the office lady to please, please bring coffee. I know that sounds sexist but, (a) it is in fact what she is employed for, abd (b) if I tried to make my own coffee she would smack me upside the head. I can't ask though, because my American upbringing tells me that asking the office lady to make me coffee is sexist and wrong and I would surely be forced to listen to countless speeches of Gloria Steinem. So I sit here, tired and coffeeless.


Tom Waggener, from Columbia, is spending the year in southern Japan where he teaches English to grade school and middle school students while also learning about their culture.

This story was posted on 2001-11-15 12:01:01
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