On a monthly basis the residents of Kaminishi gather at Momo Park to enjoy some food and share in a bit of community. I have attended a couple of these in the past, but it had been a full year. It was fun the last time, and certainly better than a standard day of work, so to be invited along again for the last class before the winter break was a joy. When the day came, we had some sleet coming down, but it wasn’t bad enough to cancel the event.
When we arrived at the park it had already started to look like a nice day even, though it was still icy cold. We stepped out of the cars and into the clearing before the old school house. This building had served as the Kaminishi middle school ages ago, and then after that became the kindergarten. Some years later this too was shuttered and combined with another one closer to the center of town. It has since been relegated as a community space. It is basically on par with an old red schoolhouse.
The first thing we did was gather around a small pickup truck to gander at a wild boar that had been freshly killed. I love eating these things, and they do roam the mountains, but I had never seen one up close and personal. On occasion they run out into roads and total cars, but I’ve only ever seen a baby rooting through someone’s garden. They wasted no time in gutting this one, slicing it down the stomach and removing the entrails. With all of the kids looking on intently, he pulled out some of the still steaming innards and explained what they were. When he got to the heart, I started making a throaty ‘lub-dub’ noise, which put some of the younger students off. Organs were as far as we went though, since there were some other things to take care of.
The students gathered around a couple of basins to start pounding boiled rice with the traditional wooden mallets. They were far too big for some of the students and they couldn’t do anything more than just pat the rice with it, but they looked to enjoy it nonetheless. Once the ten students had all taken care of their business, myself and Mr. Kawada tapped in to complete the task. The students marveled at my ‘scary, serious face’ as I did it. I had already done this a few weeks ago at the Shionoe Elementary Harvest Festival, but being such a good bit of Japanese culture I’m always happy to take part in it again.
A couple of the students going at it.
Once everything had been pounded, it was taken inside to where a team of old ladies and then later the students tore off chunks and fashioned them into balls. A number of them were also filled with anko, which is a nice sweet bean paste. While they were doing this, I was chatting with a few of the locals and laid the groundwork for me to get involved in a couple of other similar events. Hopefully that works out alright.
After this was done, the teachers and students grabbed a seat, and then after giving the usual pre-meal thanks we dug in. Everything was rice based, but there were a few different ways for us to prepare it. In addition to our assorted balls of mochi, we had one small bowl of that we showered with grated daikon and soy sauce, and another with kinako powder. The latter was certainly my favorite since it is a little bit sweet. To the bewilderment of my students I dunked my kiwis into it as well. Before long we finished up, and got everything set up for the student’s performance.
Just as last year, the students would be entertaining the community, and they chose to start it off with a presentation of nicknames and jokes. None of them actually go by these names, but they were meant to make the audience laugh. Mine was only my name… Then, there were two rounds of jokes, the first was a series of puns in which the audience was asked how two given words were connected. The answer was always some homonym. One of the students gave me one to say, but I had long forgotten it by the time I got up on stage. I passed. The second round followed a more typical delivery structure and for this I was able to come up with something original that got a laugh.
After this portion of the entertainment, I was able to take a seat with the rest of the spectators and look on as the kids performed a number of songs and musical numbers. They opened up with a solid rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’. I’m sure you will recognize the tune, but being in Japanese, that may be all.
Next, each grade pair did a performance as well. While the younger four grades were nothing to write home about (I still am though) I was legitimately impressed by the upper grades’ number. Ayaka was quite impressive on the piano, and their recorder skills were something special as well.
Finally, they closed out the event with one of their new pieces called ‘Palm Palm’. Every year this school learns to sing and dance along with a song, and then milk it to death at every possible opportunity. Guest at the school? Need some performance filler? Community event? I was very please that we were running behind schedule and had to remove last year’s song from the routine.
Anyway, the event was a lot of fun, and I look forward to getting over to a few more of these I in the when it warms up in the spring and summer. In addition to some hands on cooking experiences, there is a always some sort of cultural performance to take in afterwards.