The Day with Shizuko

The day after my Kamakura adventure, I woke up at my normal time and headed to Starbucks before it was time to meet up with Shizuko.  Shizuko and I met in Jazzercise several years ago in St. Louis.  I can’t remember the exact year, but it was either the semester I took off in 2011 when I was supposed to study abroad in Japan but could not due to the tsunami, or when I was working two internships the summer before my senior year.  Either way, we met in Jazzercise where I spent several classes trying to work up the courage to say hello in Japanese.

She also introduced me to my friend, Aya, who ended up being my language exchange partner whenever I was in town.  Aya and Shizuko have both since moved back to Japan, so now I’ve hung out with them both in two different countries.  I say Shizuko last four years ago when Jen and I had our whirlwind winter travel adventure, but have not had a chance to see her since.  She hasn’t had time to get down to Miyazaki and Nagoya is not close to anywhere I have been, so it was perfect that we were finally able to see each other again.

We met up at Kanayama Station and then headed to a covered shopping area in Nagoya with her daughter in tow.  Our first stop of the day was Kannon Shrine.

It was a little awkward at first, namely trying to find our old rhythm and eventually giving up on English altogether, but even her daughter started to warm up to me again (she did not remember me at all from when she had last seen me when she was 5, unsurprisingly) when we went into the first arcade.  It is not uncommon in a multi-story arcade to have one level entirely dedicated to UFO catchers (claw machines).  We wandered around, trying to find something that we actually wanted to spend money on.

I didn’t win anything, but Shizuko’s daughter did!  She won a Pikachu pillow shaped like a macaroon.  I also challenged her to a Taiko Tatsujin battle and she wiped the floor with me.

We managed to find all kinds of cool things along the shopping street, including a store packed with collectables of all kinds.  They had full sets of the little toys you can get from capsule machines, statues, and even American comics.  I picked up a few cheap copies of a Deadpool story arc I haven’t read yet for the plane ride home.

There was also a new looking shrine we found in the middle of the shopping area.

We also found a strange store called, “Alice on Wednesday.”  It is an Alice in Wonderland themed store that has stores in Osaka, Nagoya, and their biggest one in Tokyo.  The Tokyo one is multiple floors, with each level a different theme like the tea party or the rose gardens.  The Nagoya one is much smaller and was suffocatingly packed.  We had to wait in line for about half an hour just to get inside.  There were some cute things that were not even expensive, but I could not stand more than a few minutes inside fighting people.  I ended up waiting outside after I got my fill, but it was a cute store.  I’m hoping I can check out the Tokyo one when I visit.

By the time we were done with the store, it was time to head to the main event of the day: the rakugo performance.  Rakugo 落語 is written with the kanji for “to fall” or “to drop” and the kanji for words or speech.  It is a type of comedic storytelling that typically finishes with the single punchline which seems to be a pun more often than not.  This was my second time hearing rakugo.  The first time was at Middlebury Japanese Language School the summer after my first year of college, when I officially started learning Japanese.  At the time, it was interesting, but I think that was because there was a PowerPoint displayed behind the rakugoka (the storyteller) with the English translation.  I heard a lot of rakugo stories during that summer, but the one that sticks out goes something like:

Once upon a time there was a man eating ramen at a ramen stand.  While he was eating, another customer was finishing his meal.  “How much do I owe you?” The customer asked the stand owner.

“1000 yen,” the owner replied.

“Ok.  I have a bunch of 100 yen coins.  1, 2, 3… By the way, what time is it?”

“Oh, it’s 8,” said the owner.

“9, 10.  Here’s your money,” The customer said.  The owner took it and nodded as the customer left.

The man eating ramen thought, “Wow, that’s a really good idea.  I’m going to try that next time.”  Several days later, the man visited another ramen stand and when it was time to pay his bill, he decided to try the new tactic.

“1, 2, 3, 4,” The man started to count.  He paused and said, “What time is it?”

“It’s 2,” The owner replied.

Grinning, the man continued counting, “3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. “

And that’s how the story would end.  A beat of silence later and everyone starts chuckling as the joke sinks in.

When we arrived at the rakugo theater, I was excited, thinking I would definitely be able to understand the Japanese now that my skill was so much more advanced than it had been.

I was wrong, so very wrong.  Rakugo (specifically Tokyo-style, according to my Japanese teacher) is spoken very quickly.  It was nearly impossible for me to understand.  I was able to snap some cool pictures of the theater, though.

Thankfully, the rakugo was interspersed with other acts.  A magician performed and I understood all of that.  There was also a man with a giant spinning top, the kind you spin by winding a string around it and yanking it.  He was pretty good, but he had some trouble with his final trick and ended up being told by the staff he had run over his allotted time; it was time to get off the stage.  I even understood a lot of the manzai (a two-person comedy act like, “Who’s on First”).  The last part of the show was a kind of wrap up with a lot of puns.  Four rakugokas sat on the stage with one of them sitting off to the side as the MC.  Audience members then called out prompts based on the theme.  One of the themes was marriage.  The puns were things like, “A TV and a satellite dish got married.  The reception was excellent.”

We wandered around a bit more after that and got some interesting light bulb sodas.  The shop also sold rainbow bagels, but sadly they were all sold out.

At the end of the day we picked up some roasted chestnuts.  I had never had them before, so Shizuko and her daughter had to show me how to eat them… Then we all had a good laugh when I failed miserably at puncturing them with my nail and popping them open like the two of them could.  (I’m going to blame my messed up finger for this one, because I need an excuse.)

Thankfully, I later discovered the chestnuts came with a handy-dandy tool which made my ineptitude a non-issue.

All in all, we managed to spend the whole day just in the shopping district.  The whole day I had flashbacks to when Jen and I visited.  Things I had completely forgotten about popped up, like when we were wandering around and one of the lights suddenly caught on fire.

I am so glad I got a chance to see Shizuko again before I move.  I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to Nagoya, so I am glad she was able to make time for me.

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