Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Samurai Japan

Samurai Japan

In the rather murky picture right down at the bottom of this page, I can be recognized by my ratty old running shoes, which are not far from the dustbin, having approached the end of their working life.

The photo shows me participating in the ancient Japanese ritual known as suikawari, one of the more esoteric elements of the high culture of Japan, which can trace its cultural lineage all the way back to the glories of Tang dynasty China.

We, the three of us - husband, wife and daughter - did suikawari at the Kohoku International Lounge, which is here in Kohoku Ward in the city of Yokohama, right in the heart of Japan. The date of this auspicious engagement with authentic Japanese culture was Sunday 27 August 2006.

On Monday, at the start of each of my classes, I gave my students a quiz question: what did I do on the weekend?

The hints I gave them were:

1. kendo stick;
2. JR card;
3. hit;
4. red;
5. eat;
6. usually at the beach.

By the time clue number six came up, at least one of the students got it: "Watermelon!"

Yes, we were doing suikawari, which involves taking a swing at a defenseless watermelon with a bamboo stick, the odds being evened up by the fact that you are blindfolded when you take the swing.

My wife, critiquing the quiz, said that "kendo stick" should have been "bamboo stick," but, which I have no doubt that she is correct, that might have made the quiz too easy.

"Suikawari" means, literally, "watermelon splitting," with "suika" being the Japanese word for "watermelon" and "wari" having the meaning "split."

The most cryptic of the clues is "JR card." The students laughed when I explained it: "suika card."

JR, Japan Rail, sells a card that you can use to get through the ticket wickets at the station. The rail routes are, I think, supposed to be pictorially reminiscent of the stippled markings on a watermelon.

The adults found the whole thing a big laugh, but some of the little girl kids got emotional when they failed to hit the watermelon with the stick.

Two-year-old daughter Cornucopia, the smallest of the small kids there, didn't get to take a swing at the watermelon at all, because the stick was simply too heavy for her.

I did get to take a swing at one of the watermelons, but missed entirely. Once you have been blindfolded, someone turns you round so you get totally disoriented. Once the blindfold came off, I found myself lost in the room, unable to get my bearings until someone led me to where my wife and daughter were seated.

Once the ceremonial slaughter of the watermelons was finished, we got to eat pieces of the flesh of the victims.

Despite having been bashed by a bamboo stick, the watermelons (I think two were sacrificed for our pleasure) arrived in coherent chunks rather than as a pulped mess. But it was, I have to say, not the greatest watermelon in the world.

We are, I think, at the end of the season for some of summer's produce. The peaches, for example, are near their finish. But what great peaches have they been! The best peaches I've ever eaten in my life.

We got a flyer for a "festival" at the Kohoku International Lounge on Sunday 24 September. But it's a long day, starting at ten in the morning and running on into the afternoon. Apparently people from ten nationalities will be there, and, if I go, I may be invited to show some pictures of New Zealand and tell a little bit about our culture.


Anonymous Steve said...

"For truly, in all the annals of heroism and romance, there is no account of any man ever daring battle with a watermelon stand and living to tell the tale." - The Walrus and the Warwolf

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real Hugh Cook coming up loud and clear on top of Google listing now - well done!

11:22 PM  

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