Greetings from Hiroshima (Part Three): Your intrepid Wayfarer Visits The Hairy Ainu
words and pics
by Ben Laycock
First lesson in my Japanese cultural education is a trip to the Night Garden where all the most exotic plants you can possibly imagine blossom under the light of the moon. Then we retire to the Night Garden Bar to do this ridiculous thing called Karaoke, where otherwise respectable bespectacled businessmen get drunk and try to sing pop songs. Not really my cup of tea. Of all the myriad aspects of Japanese culture to tickle our fancy, why on earth did we westerners choose this one?
Next we go to a posh restaurant where you get to know your dinner on a personal basis before you eat it. This is about as close as it gets to having pets for your average Japanese person. After a fond farewell, my friend the trout is placed on a bed of crinkled lettuce so it looks like it is leaping out of a mountain stream, but is actually already sliced into very fresh sashimi.
After another fond farewell, I venture out alone to discover for myself the secrets of this seemingly impenetrable society. I head for the renowned Cherry Blossom Festival in Kyoto, the ancient capital and cultural epicentre. (If you will pardon the expression)
I need do no more than stick out my thumb and I am escorted to my destination. Of all the peoples I have come across in this world full of people, the Japanese are by far the friendliest. Not only do they go out of their way to pick up hitchhikers, but they go to great lengths to get you to your destination. When we stop at a service centre my driver seeks out a number plate from Kyoto, locates the occupant and asks them to kindly take over his charge. Now that is service for you. One night way down near Kagoshima I am loitering outside a noodle bar, contemplating spending another night under another bridge to escape the ash from another volcano when a nice lady gives me a noodle box and says in halting English. “You hungry, eat food”. She then takes me home and gives me a bath and introduces the whole family (in that order). After a blissful night’s sleep she drives me to the train station and thrusts $50 in my hand. By this stage I am definitely warming to the local way of life.
Now, where was I?
Ah yes , I am off to Kyoto for the Cherry Blossom Festival: as well as the cherry trees, which put on quite a display, the locals have a quaint tradition of launching little lanterns down the river, thousands of them, all bobbing along and twinkling like little stars.
Next I’m off to visit the Ainu, Japanese Aborigines with dark skin and big hairy beards (well the blokes anyway, the women have quite discrete moustaches), who eke out a meagre existence in the bleak far north of the country where they must share the unrelenting cold with wild bears. The Hairy Ainu have managed to tame some of the wild bears and make them do tricks. The ones that refuse to do tricks get put in prison. Luckily the prison is open to the public so I go to visit some of the refusenicks and watch them suffer. I try to convey to them as best I can that they are doing a lot better than their brethren being led around with rings in their noses and laughed at by small children.
I am accompanied on my visit by just such a gaggle of small children who had soon grown bored watching bears being tormented and now wished to see bears being bored and demented.
The spoilt little brats were constantly demanding ‘Ika’. In my country spoilt little brats demand ice creams, while over here their favorite snack is roast squid stuck on a stick, dipped in soy sauce. It makes me hungry watching the little brats devouring their squid sticks but the kiosk sells nothing but very dry, rather tasteless biscuits that make the kids snigger when I eat them. When we go to the bear pit the little buggers throw their bikkies to the bears who stretched up on tippy-toes to catch them, which make the kiddies laugh with gusto in between chomping their squid sticks.
Altogether, a good time is had by all.
In the next exciting episode your intrepid wayfarer discovers a secret Shinto Shrine and hopefully gets to Hiroshima in time for the big rally.