Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Monks Are Calling

It's the Sojiji Temple's annual summer festival and the lilting voices of the celebrating monks are calling to me. I've hardly ever missed one second of the three-day-long annual festival for all the years I've resided in Temple Valley. When my oldest son Ichiro outgrew accompanying his father to the fair, my second son, Jiro, was ready to take his place. 

Last year at this time I had to briefly take my leave of Temple Valley so Jiro went to the festival with his friends from Bounty Hill Elementary School. This year Jiro is a middle schooler and it doesn't look like I'll be getting asked to the fair. He made plans to go with his friends over a week ago.

The sounds of the music and smells of the steamed potatoes smothered in butter and other epicurean delights have seeped into every nook and cranny of the Valley and it's filling me with a sense of nostalgia and vivid memories of my first fair. 

It was just plain weird. I was standing there holding my fish shaped lantern, a popular item that year, while Ichiro attached himself to my elbow as he savored a heaping cupful of shaved ice. Then I spied a strange figure approaching us from across the expanse of a huge area set aside for dancing. It was still early in the evening and the suffocating crowd that filled the path to the temple that was lined with food and gaming tents was just beginning to feed into the dancing/fireworks zone (seen in the video above). He, like Ichiro and I, probably stood out in the crowd due to his "foreignness." I say foreignness because he wasn't completely foreign in this context since his attire was completely Japanese and what's more he seemed to be fluent in the native tongue. 

Dedicated to legendary Buddhist priest and poet, Ikkyu, the lyrics go something like: "I like, like, like, like, like Ikkyu. I love you!"

He wasn't singing to me,or with me since I was totally unfamiliar with the tune, but rather at me in a most alarming fashion. Luckily he didn't stop to "serenade" us but instead kept moving right past us singing all the while as he stared us up and down. 

I took it (his behavior) as a challenge. I was new in town, a stranger in a strange land, and perhaps I had unwittingly stepped on his turf. Perhaps my presence questioned some claim of his to being the only foreigner in the area. I didn't know. All I knew was that I was going to learn that song if it was the last thing I did and return next summer to pick up the gauntlet my new rival had dropped.

A year had come and gone and I still had not learned the tune when my son Ichiro asked me to take him to the festival. With much fear and trepidation I returned to the scene of the singing but by the grace of God had narrowly missed meeting my arch nemesis. 

This year I know all the words to the song, I have the exact same outfit, and I'm just itching to show somebody. Maybe I'll head up there by myself. After all I've been going to that festival for years. I practically own it. That's MY festival. I'm going to go up there and sing and dance in my jimbe whether somebody asks me to go with them or not!!!

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