Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lost in Translation—The Goat of Death


Today was met by my host at the Ryokan to guide me through the labyrinth of Tokyo transportation to arrive at the workshop an hour away—walk to the subway station, change to the rail station, take a taxi. My traveling blood started tingling just out in the teeming streets. Startled by so many people wearing white masks—I had seen this in China and Taiwan, but surprised by how ubiquitous it is here. I noticed that we stood on the left side of escalators while the walkers passed right and remembered that Japan drives on the left side. Except, apparently, in the city of Osaka. How do car manufacturers deal with that? Got on the line from Nezu to Shinochanomizu and sat across from eight young women all reading their cell phones. People who know me can guess my next sentence—so why bother to even comment? Out to the JR Line and from there in a taxi. I remembered from my 2006 trip the taxi back doors that open and close by themselves. How do they do that? It’s so cool!

Arrived in time at the workshop site and boom!, off we go again—laughter, bright eyes, moving bodies, exciting rhythms, only this time, the people are Japanese instead of Korean. And three men amongst the 25! Two hours that flew by—as it often does—short break and another two hours with some special guests. I’ll save that story for tomorrow.

Post-workshop, out in search of a famed sushi restaurant. But my host was dismayed that I only ate kappa maki or inari sushi or (do they have this here?),  California roll. So we started looking at other restaurant possibilities. I’m not exaggerating when I report that we walked the back streets of Nezu district for 45 minutes trying some 12 different restaurants that were either full or didn’t have a single semi-vegetarian option. Finally found a Japanese pub and had some fried chicken, tofu vegetable soup and something new for me—gingko nuts. Kind of like smaller and softer chestnuts—delicious!

From there, got back to my Ryokan just in time for a free performance of Rakugo—Japanese Sit-Down Comedy. The performer sits on a cushion, knees tucked under, with just two props—a hand towel and a fan. The fan can be a pen, a letter, a sword, chopsticks, or these days, a cell phone and assists in the storytelling. This show was all in English and the first story was from Grimm’s fairy tales. It was a charming story about a man who meets a spirit from the other world and strikes a deal. The man can pretend to be a doctor simply by visiting patients and seeing if the spirit is standing at the head of the bed or the foot. If the latter, the patient will live, if the former, he or she will die, All the man need do is make his diagnosis accordingly. To my ear, the creature was called The Goat of Death. So throughout the story, I pictured some goat hovering around the bed, not an image easily imagined. When the story was over, I looked at the little program and saw the real title—the God of Death. Oops!

Tomorrow I’m going to try to negotiate the subways myself. It’s nice to be driven around, but good also to exercise the traveling muscles and nothing like learning a subway system to keep you alert. It will be my 7th straight day of teaching and then a Monday off. I love this work, but even the best work needs some rest and relaxation. Anybody out there still reading this?

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