Apr 26, 2008

In Sunlight

Here are a few pictures from a recent day trip up to Nikko. The series of temples and shrines was built by the Tokugawa Shogunate as a show of wealth and power, and is the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of that line.

"Nikko" is Japanese for "sunlight." On this given day, it was a fitting name. The place was impressive, showy, gaudy, and gleaming, a medieval Vegas of sorts. The interiors of the buildings all had prohibitions against photography- I was disappointed that I couldn't get pictures of the large Buddha statues. All around, though, an awesome time. The conifers reminded me of home.

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Apr 19, 2008

"Never call a native speaker a 'skinhead.'"

Last week I did two lessons on personal appearance, one about simply vocabulary and the other about tact (i.e, a "larger man," as opposed to "fat dude.") Today I answered questions about the homework for that lesson, and I had to explain for the ninety ninth time to a student that if someone has no hair, calling them a "skinhead" is not okay. In fact, very not okay. Simply referring to someone as either "bald," or having a "shaved head" is vastly preferable.

I'm suspecting that "skinhead," may be a katakana word (I know that "niga" is), as many students are genuinely surprised when I tell him that the term refers to violent white supremacists. (Blah, blah, blah, I know what S.H.A.R.P.s have to say about hijacking of the subculture. By now it's irrelevant.) There might also be pronunciation issues- the word "bald," packs a sort of double whammy for Japanese speakers. It's got a consonant cluster at the end, something almost entirely absent from Japanese, with its liberally dispersed vowels, and one of those consonants happens to be "l." I often sounds something like "barud," or the like. "Skinhead" is an easier pronunciation task, so I'm not surprised that students have tended to favor it.

Anyway, informing them of the connotations of the word is a nasty little culture lesson. But, I weirdly like it. I like it that it gives me a moment where I can let a little bit of politics into the classroom. Most students find the phenomenon really strange. I'm always tempted to mention that there are plenty of people here who are still frighteningly right wing, but I hold my tongue.

It's strange, though, hearing such a term bandied about, denuded of its history, ugliness, and violence. It's as if it had been emptied out and stuffed, and was now simply a bit of furniture rather than a beast.

Apr 10, 2008

The Rites of Spring, Part II: The Giant Cocks of Kawasaki

I've decided to be somewhat crude in this post. Also, there are some mildly NSFW pics at the end. Just FYI.

First, though, a story:

Once upon a time, there was supposedly a young girl who got infected with a demon. A rather nasty demon, too. This demon didn't make her vomit pea soup or do any of that Exorcist type stuff, instead it just hung out in her nether parts and caused her vagina to sprout fangs.

This was a problem.

Anyway, the demon collected a few cocks, biting them away, and it was decided that the best way to solve this dilemma was for the local blacksmith to make a big steel phallus that would subsequently be used to smash apart the vagina dentata.

The plan went swimmingly, and the girl's lady parts were joyously teeth-free on account of the Best Dildo Ever, which gave her a good solid fucking and smacked out the Worst VD Ever in one fell swoop.

Anyway, this particular shrine in Kawasaki where said events supposedly took place was a place long visited by prostitutes where they prayed that they would not get VD. This is a very practical thing to pray for, I think- lack of VD. If I prayed, I'd probably ask the Powers That Be for that very thing. I'd also ask for a few dozen odalisques and a pony.

But I digress. The point is that there's a cock shrine in Kawasaki, and every year people celebrate the shit out of it at the Kanamara Matsuri, the Festival of the Steel Phallus. The festival, instead of cracking the teeth off of VD demons, now raises money for HIV research.

We got to Kawasaki on Sunday morning. The cherry blossoms were in bloom and spring was in the air. We met up with a few friends, and found the shrine, which was mobbed by people, many of them curious foreigners such as ourselves. Not only "mobbed," mind you, but absolutely packed. It was like a 6:00 Yamanote line train, except stationary, and filled with depictions of cock.

All kinds- cock lollipops, cocks on banners. Cocks carved from daikon, cock candles, cock hats. Sake jugs that looked like cocks, sausages (which always looked like cocks), and carved wooden charms that were little more than cocks on strings. There were big wooden cocks that inevitably got mounted, hugged, and caressed by the various festival goers. Most of all, there were cocks hoisted above the crowd on portable shrines. One was metal and one wood. The largest was huge, bright pink, and carried around entirely by drag queens.

Above the crowds the huge cocks traveled, the revelers chanting and thrusting the gigantic mobile members into the air- two or three dozen men all chanting in time, thrusting in time, and fucking the dome of the sky with the same enormous metal dick.

And there were the metal cocks that were part of the shrine. One was a good meter tall, thrusting from the earth, and the other was welded to an anvil. The anvil cock was huge, but of all the members on display it was the smallest- perhaps the size of horse's. It's smallness, though, it's supposed manageability gave it a pornographic presence that the larger members lacked. The anvil cock invited contact. Women straddled it and had their pictures taken with it, and I couldn't help but wonder if it had ever been mounted. In a shrine once frequented by whores, I got to wondering if ever one of them, after perhaps a glass too many of sake, decided to test her limits and see if she could handle the girth and length of the anvil's phallus.

I wondered if whores had straddled it on dares or out of curiosity, and I wondered if perhaps it was more than just whores who'd done it. The curious and aroused, perhaps, venturing to the shrine at night, testing their luck and the limits of their orifices on the rigid, steel approximation of manhood.

We milled about and drank. There was drumming and music of various kinds, and the smells of greasy festival food wafted about the air. It was absurd, all of it. Part of me reveled in the obscenity of it all, the sheer bawdiness and ridiculousness of the situation. It was novel and fascinating, and I couldn't help but think that such a thing would never happen in the States.

But another bit of me, perhaps a more reflective bit, thought about how absurd it all was. The cocks were somehow devoid of any real sexuality. There they were, isolated and alone, without even testicles for companionship. The countless members were so exaggerated and decontextualized, that they were without any sort or sensuality or maleness. The whole thing was bawdy, but it wasn't a bacchanal. Picture, for instance, a floating pair of breasts, entities unto themselves unattached to any sort of woman. It would be impossible to derive anything truly sexual from said orbs. Likewise, the multitude of dicks were without mojo. They reminded me a bit of men in pornos- formless, mindless things that simply stand erect and fuck without feeling or enjoyment.

This isn't any sort of condemnation, mind you. It is far easier to engage something complex (like sexuality) when you engage its gross caricature instead of the real thing. I think it's far, far easier to laugh and chant and mount a giant penis than it is to really think about the complexities and vicissitudes of sex. Simple and direct revelry isn't wrong, of course. I had a wonderful time, but it was a gross and bawdy time. As a celebration, it had more in common with making someone laugh by saying "penis" than with anything sexy.

But, I like dick jokes. I don't think that I'll ever reach some mystical point of final maturity where the human body ceases to be amusing. Despite the empty non-sexuality of it all, I could only approve of the thing in all it's simple, obscene glory.

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Apr 8, 2008

The Rites of Spring, Part I

The cherry blossoms are a sort of holiday here. There is no specific holiday set aside for them, nor does anyone get the day off. But every year a substantial percentage of Japan's populations breaks out the tarps, packs some junk food and beer, and heads off to O-hanami, cherry blossom viewing parties.

Kori and I had a simple goal two weekends ago. We'd arranged to meet with friends in a Shinjuku park to lay about, eat lunch, and get sounsed while looking at the nation's most recognizable plant. And for a while, we did just that, before the various Shinto deities in charge of dumping rain on Japan decided that they were going to cut short everyone's revelry. We packed up, and settled for karaoke.

The next day was still rainy, and we strolled a bit in Yoyogi Park and in the nearby Meiji Jingu. Pretty much no one was out. They were all sheltered away from the rain, and remnants of hanami-goers hasty retreat from the day before were all around us. All around tarps, bento boxes, plastic containters, beer cans, boxes, and bags littered the scene. There were coke, wine, tea, sports drink, and liqor bottles cast about, and stray bits of food that enormous blue-black crows shoveled into their impressively sized beaks.

It looked precisely like what it was, the foggy and muted aftermath of a giant party. Yoyogi Park was waking up and it was groggy- Tokyo's living room had a bitch of a hangover. The Meiji Jingu was a bit light on blossoms, but I was more than a little amused at a few foreign guys who were ogling the gigantic torii at the entrance.

"They had to use a whole tree to make that thing," one said. Yes, yes they did. Telephone poles are quite the thing, too.

Anyway, the weather was clearing up by the time we got out of the Meiji Jingu, and Kori had a dentist appointment. I was off to Ueno Park. Kori was there last year, and assured me that it was quite the thing for sakura. It was.

I walked through Ueno, and wondered why on earth I didn't have a camera with me. The place was a veritable cathedral of pink. The trees arched over, enmeshing the crowd. The onlookers, in turn, had all manner of extra eyes at their disposal. Digital cameras and cell phones, immense things on tripods with priapic lenses, disposable cameras, iPhones, and a whole menagerie of visual recording. I tried, half heartedly, to snap some pictures on my cell phone. The quality was too poor for it to be worth my while, and I settled for simply looking at my surroundings.

I walked around the park, taking in the seasonal burst of color, looking as much at the people as I did at the flowers. They ogled the blossoms and commented on their prettiness, snapped photos and sipped beer. I went down to Ueno Park's lake and by the water festival type stalls were set up selling festival type food- things fried on skillets, skewered on charred bits of wood or wrapped in greasy paper. I bought a skewer of pork and asparagus, ate it by the water amongst the other onlookers, and strolled about the people as if I were a contented wallflower at a lazy party.

Quite nice, really. The pictures below are from Naritasan, Shinjuku, and a street in Narita near my school.

Then next weekend we went to a penis festival. More on that later.

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