Thursday, August 18, 2005

Same thing, I wrote this last night, but am posting today:

My Birthday and Awa Odori Part II.

This may be quite a sizeable entry!

So I woke up on my birthday morning to a nice pile of parcels and cards that had arrived through the post from home. Always nice to be thought of!

I headed to the city and arrived by midday. Stepping off the train, you could literally feel the festival atmosphere in the air. It was positively buzzing. It reminded me of Edinburgh at festival time, except without so many daft Europeans wandering around. I spent lunchtime with Kenji in Big Brothers (Kenji's second home). He treated me to lunch, and the folk at BBs gave me a double helping of chocolate brownie for dessert, topped with birthday candles, and a rendition of 'Happy Birthday'.

I headed out to meet Dave quickly, who was holding my birthday present from my Tokyo friend, Linda. Linda is Singaporean, very beautiful, and very electric. She's such a live wire! We spent an afternoon together when I was in Tokyo last month, and ended up guttered by 3pm. I met her when I was editing Team Taught Pizza. She was the person assigned to head up the printing of the book. We have remained in touch despite the book being finished. She's rather poorly just now, so my thoughts are with her. Anyway, she sent me a beautiful bracelet via Dave, which was rather a surprise.

Left Dave to his Awa Odori, and wandered round the city to soak up the atmosphere. I ran into my friend Dan, and we sat by the river and chatted for a while. Then it was time to take my seat for the early evening dance performance, at one of the most famous street venues, Aibahama. Tickets for this go quickly, and I was lucky enough to be offered a spare one from some friends of a friend. The show was great and certainly got me fired up for the start of my own Awa Odori season the next day.

The show ended, and I met up with Dan again, and then our friend Stephi, whose Mum was here to help Stephi get home (as this summer is sadly the end of her JET tenure). I had intended take the final train back west at 10.20pm, but I was having such fun, so I was persuaded to stay out and party the night away. We danced in the street, drank beer, did some weird fairground game involving catching plastic fish, went to Ingrid's briefly, and ate some raamen. It was a really nice way to spend a birthday, even though all my closest friends were otherwise engaged. Or in another part of the world!

I didn't feel so hot waking up for the 5.45am train mind you! I got home with enough time for an hour's kip before I had to start getting ready for my own Awa Odori performances.

And my, what performances!

Admittedly, we got off to a shaky start, with broken shoes, messed up formations, and missed calls. But it went way up from there! We had a good first three runs at our usual haunt, the Highway Oasis, a quick bite of dinner, and then we piled into two coaches to head to Ikeda, the capital of Awa dance in the west of the prefecture. When we got off the bus it was like a minature Tokushima: the same vibe ran through the streets, people looked happy and relaxed, and it felt good to be there. When our turn came to dance, it was impossible to keep the smile off my face (which is good, as you are supposed to smile!). I shouted “Yattusa!” louder than I have ever done, and generally gave it my all. The highlight of the night was Ekimae, a street in Ikeda leading to the train staion. It was packed, and it is a very long distance to dance. But the spectators were great, applauding and cheering, and my smile only got bigger the further up the street I got. I saw some rafting friends, who cheered for me and took my picture. At the end of the street, I had sweat dripping off my nose, and running into my eyes, but I felt so alive and happy. What a great time! We danced through another couple of streets, and then, exhausted but happy, climbed back aboard the coaches for the short drive home.

The following day, we gave four shows at the Oasis, with a mini enkai at night at one of the local Japanese restaurants. Again it was fun, but it was nothing compared to the previous night!

On Tuesday, it was the last day of Awa Odori for the year in Tokushima. After dancing at the Oasis, we headed for Ikeda for one last dance through the streets. By this time, even I was feeling tired, but again, as soon as we stepped off the buses, the atmosphere hit us like a brick wall, and, if it's possible, we gave it even more effort than we had on Sunday night. Dave came out to watch us in action, but of course got pulled into the thick of it, even without a yukata. He loved it! As did we all. We even got filmed for telly. It was another late night, but well worth it. I love Awa Odori!

I was clever enough to take today off work, so I could catch up on some sleep. I did that, did some shopping, some cleaning (though barely touched the tip of the iceberg in that department!), and went to visit my friends Hanna and Kunihiro in Mikamo-cho. They recently got married, and I think maybe they haven't many friends around here (as neither of them are natives to Miyoshi-gun: Hanna's from the south of Tokushima, Kunihiro from Aichi-ken, near Tokyo). They are lovely people, and between their half-baked English, and my quarter-baked Japanese, we get to have some good conversations. We're planning an overnight trip together to neighbouring Kochi-ken next month. Should be a good time!

The pictures are of the dancers at Aibahama, a rather tired-looking me with Dan on my birthday, and of the Minoda-ren dressing room, a hive of activity just before we start dancing for the day.

Back to school now. Back to the grind. Looking forward to the kids coming back to school, the holidays are boring without them!

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