Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On Golden Week

We're just wrapping up with Golden Week here in Japan. Today, May 5, was Children's Day (Kodomo no hi / こどもの日). Since April 29, we've had a series of holidays. Showa Day (Showa no hi / 昭和の日) kicked it off. Yesterday was Greenery Day (Midori no hi / みどりの日 ). And the day before that Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpou Kinenbi / 憲法記念日). This week, binding a few national holidays together, is kind of like the Memorial Day of Japan. Lots of folks take the week off, heading off to vacation spots to get in a nice few days before the misery of summer sets in. More and more people just ignore it, settling in for a few quiet days at home. 

Traditionally there was a spike in movie-going during these holidays, back when movies mattered a bit more. In 1951, the film Jigyuu Gakkou (School of Freedom) really took off - a huge hit. This inspired Hideo Matsuyama, then a bigwig at Daiei productions, to give the moniker of "Golden Week" to this time in late April, early May, since it was a week that put a lot of money in the bank for the big production companies and May 1951 was really big. The name stuck. As the years went by, hotels and tourist spots got in on the big chance at sucking out some leisure time yen from the public and Golden Week became what it is. 

The movie, Jigyuu Gakkou, has largely been forgotten. There was another film named Jigyuu Gakkou produced by Shochiku the same year. They were both adapted from the novel of the same name by Bunroku Shisi about people coping in postwar Japan. As he put it “My quite ordinary, rather somber, life seemed to demand that the newspaper novel I was writing be a bit boisterous, dramatic, and colorful. This became Jiyu Gakko in which I sought to portray... the tumultuous world that was unfolding under the fiction of ‘freedom’ in those days.”

The Daiei version was directed by Yoshimura Kosaburo and had a screenplay by Kaneto Shindo. The two went on to collaborate for years. Shindo became one of the big names of Japanese new wave of the early 60s.

The Ajimi team celebrated Golden Week staying at home watching the first 4 episodes of Wolf Hall, the Masterpiece Theatre production about the tumultuous world that was unfolding under the power struggles and intrigue during the time of King Henry VII. Seemed like the appropriate thing to do for the holidays.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

On the Road to Kawazu

We were walking along a stretch of backroads that made up the old highway connecting Shimoda to Shuzenji - a pathway that snakes up and down valleys along the interior of the Izu peninsula. This was the road people traveled before trains and before Highway 135, which traverses the rocky coastline. We were following in the footsteps of the Izu dancer - the fictional object of obsession in Yasunari Kawabata's famous short story, Izu no odoriko.

We were walking alongside the narrow and tree-lined Kawazu River, when we came upon what appeared to be a completely oversized bridge being constructed. Gigantic slabs of concrete had been poured along the sides of a tiny tributary. A monstrous crane thrust up through the narrow channel.  Certainly overkill for this bit of back country. We veered away from the site and followed the river on a high path surrounded by small copses of bamboo and breezy trees. After about a half kilometer, the path opened up to a small road that cut across a low hill of terraced farms overlooking the town of Yugano.

There we came across a farmer, hoisting a fairly industrial-sized weed eater, perched above us, standing on the edge of concrete embankment, buzzing down a corner of wildflowers and unwanted greenery along the edge of a field. We exchange greetings, remarking on what a great day it was, and walked on a couple dozen meters to gander at the glorious view down the valley.

In a couple of moments, the yammering of the weed eater ceased. I turned to see the farmer motioning us, Japanese-style, with fingers waving down, to come back. He disappeared behind the tall stand of flowers. In a few moments he reappeared, hands full with four giant orange citrus fruits. He trundled down a small stepladder that leaned against the concrete wall and presented us with about 5 kilos worth of anseikans.

Anseikans are a pomelo variation hybridized by a couple of Japanese botanists during the Ansei era (1854-1860). They're big, thick-skinned, seedy, moderately sweet - but a bit more hassle than they're worth.

The gift was appreciated, though it meant packing extra weight. More important was the basic generosity and the moment of time, perhaps a welcome break for the farmer, to chat and share stories. He had worked driving a train up in Tokyo. Now he had settled into a bit of a pastoral life where timetables and schedules seemed to matter less.

We parted with our load and ambled up a nearby side road to catch a view of the valley from the neighborhood shrine. A fellow was taking a break from weed-eating the errant grasses on the path to the shrine with another guy who had been motoring through the neighborhood on his scooter. They were taking a smoke break. We had a little chat, and learned that a new highway was going to be built, just above the shrine, from there to Shimoda. About 5 kilometers away, along the coast, to the place that Highway 135 already goes.  Hence the bridge. So sayonara, peaceful valley.