The Oddest End of All

Right then, back on schedule.

KARUTA

One of the best aspects of my job is getting to see and participate in all the special activities my school puts on. I think more than anything else this is the biggest insight into Japanese culture. I get to see what Japanese people do as they grow up. Unlike my shrine visits this is simply something a tourist never gets access to.

So I was really excited last Friday afternoon when Kosuga-sensei asked me if I would come watch the students play cards.

Yes you heard me, watch them play cards.

The game was karuta (literally card), specifically “iroha-garuta” which is the original karuta game and something of a Japanese tradition.

Karuta is a sort of listening version of snap. Students sit in small teams surrounding a set of cards placed face up. One person (i.e. a teacher) reads out a word or phrase and the students have to grab the corresponding card. I use it all the time in classes, say by putting a load of pictures of emotions on a table and saying “I’m happy” so the students have to grab the “happy” card. However “iroha-garuta” differs slightly from the way I play it. In “iroha-garuta” one person is reading out various tanka (or poems). He reads the first 3 lines of the poem and the students have to find the card with the last two lines.

The students study tanka in their Japanese classes so playing this game is the culmination of a lot of months hard work memorising poems.

This just sums up Japan so much for me. Not just taking time out from lessons to play a card game but actually studying it in lessons in order to prepare. And for no other reason than that it’s a tradition.

It was a pretty fun afternoon too. Of course I had no idea what the teachers were reading out but the answer cards were written in hiragana not kanji. This meant I could have a go at reading them (although I didn’t have a chance in hell of understanding them) and I was pretty pleased with how well I was doing.

The kids seemed to be having a ball too. One group of boys did the respect fist every time they won a card. So of course after a while I came and joined in.

Traditional school card games. I love this country.

JAPANESE CRISPS ARE WEIRD: PART 2

Ladies and gentlemen these are Strawberry flavoured Cheetos.

Some madman has combined the flavours of cheese, potato and strawberry!

This truly is the upper limit of weird food, surely.

Nothing more insane than this could possibly exist, could it?

Dare I eat them.

I must, for how could I pass up something so tremendously bizarre.

If I do not taste them now I shall forever wonder.

They shall haunt my dreams forever more, a nightmare vision in pink.

And so I must.

Yet, I still fear.

But what is man if he cannot overcome his fear.

Pray for me friends.

*crunch*

Actually.

They’re quite nice.

To provide some explanation for this. In Japan pink is considered to be a lucky colour. It’s a mix of the red and the white of the imperial flag. After the New Year everything turns pink for the whole of January and a startling amount of pink food goes on the market. My sakura crisps were one example of the pink food phenomenon but I’ve also seen a huge variety of pink crisps, sakura flavoured kit-kats and lots of stuff made with prawns.

G-GUNDAM

I usually don’t talk about the Manga (comics) and Anime (cartoons) that I’m into at any moment in time because I generally assume that the people reading this blog either a) already know about them or b) couldn’t care less.

G-Gundam is an exception because it is profoundly and gloriously stupid.

Gundam is a catch all title for various series all about giant robot vehicles called “mobile suits”. If you want to know all the details then by all means check out wikipedia but take it from me, you don’t want to know all the details. My friend Ryan is obsessed with Gundam to the point of frightening normal people but I can’t judge because I find the series to be quite cool myself. I watched “Gundam Wing” back home in England and bought a Shenlong Gundam model (my favourite gundam) shortly after I arrived. I even sent some gundams to my nephew for Christmas.

G-Gundam is set in a universe where most of the countries of the world have established colonies in space and given up on life on Earth. To avert the possibility of a catastrophic war between space colonies they hit upon the idea of deciding all conflicts by gundam combat. So once every 4 years each colony competes for the right to rule the entirety of space in a pitched gundam battle. Earth is the battleground and anything goes.

So far so laboured but serviceable set-up to watch robots hit each other. However, it is the designs of these robots that sets G-Gundam apart from its more normal sister shows.

This is the robot of Neo-Japan. It looks like a standard gundam. Humanoid, coloured in red, blue and gold with a white body. In every gundam series there will be a robot that looks like this and it will be the hero.

In sharp contrast here is the Mexican “Tequila Gundam”

That there is a robot with a sombrero. A giant robot sombrero.

Yes, you guessed it. The whole series is little more than one national stereotype after another. But the humour comes from seeing what the Japanese think about other countries. For example China and Hong Kong get relatively sensible robots. But Denmark.

They get a robot dressed as a fish. The “mermaid gundam”.

America fairs slightly better with an American football themed robot.

That transforms into a topless boxer.

I’m not even going to touch the Spanish “Taurus Gundam”

What have Sweden got?

Why yes, a leggy blonde, of course.

Japanese people love France and the French “Gundam Rose” is actually pretty dignified and cool. Although the Napoloen hat cracks me up.

And of course now I’ve shown you France you’re all curious what the English gundam looks like right? Well presenting the “John Bull Gundam”.

Yes, they gave us a robot bearskin. You’ll be pleased to know that we beat up the French Gundam, but then the Japanese guy kills our pilot (we’re baddies in this series).

But undeniably the king of the stupid is the Dutch Gundam, or “Nether Gundam”

Plus the theme tune features the phrases “bright you now” and “shining finger”. This is obviously hilarious but unfortunately the theme tune is incredibly catchy. This means I’ve been wandering around my house and school singing “bright you now” without noticing. Damn catchy gibberish.

GAMERA

Mentioned in the Aquarium post was Gamera. Here he is again.

Gamera is an enormous turtle. He breathes fire, he can fly by retracting limbs and shooting fire out of the holes and he is amongst other titles “guardian of the universe” and “friend to all children”.

I have recently been watching a lot of Gamera and again I wouldn’t mention it, except that recently I watched a film called Gamera vs Barugon.

This was much like any other Gamera film, in fact all told it was a pretty poor Gamera film (right up until the part where barugon shot rainbows from his back that somehow destroyed missles) with one exception.

At one point Barugon destroys Kobe.

You have no idea how much we cheered.

Having seen years of asteroids destroying the empire state building, aliens blowing up the white house or the Eiffel tower, dragons eating London or Godzilla stomping Tokyo I finally got to see something I know and love destroyed on camera.

It was awesome. Nothing makes a disaster movie more fun than recognising what’s been destroyed. I’m sure there’s the basis of an interesting essay in there but at the moment I’m just too happy to think about it properly.

I mean a giant lizard knocked over Port Tower with his tongue. Glee!

The other cool thing about Gamera is that the film company that makes his films, Daiei, is the same company as my supermarket.

And finally.

I have been sick recently and bought tissues. Hilarious tissues.

Aroe? That isn’t an ingredient, it’s what my kids say to greet me in the morning.

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