Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ohisashiburi


Hello out there! Sorry its been so long... I'm suddenly inspired this morning to write in this blog for the first time in over 6 months. I guess, yesterday was quite a special day for me and I felt I should share. Firstly, I witnessed my oldest daughter Audrey graduate from pre-school yesterday. She said her "aisatsu" loud and clear and bowed properly at all the right times. Much better than I could do it! I also participated in a Shishimai event in Koza next to a shoppers alley (Park Avenue - AKA BC Street) my mother used to always take me to when I was a seven year old kid in Okinawa. Park Avenue was the first place I ever really experienced in Okinawa since it was so close to my Aunt Hiroko's house. We would walk ten minutes from my aunts house to the shoppers alley 3 or 4 times a week and just walk around looking in various stores and finding a noodle shop to eat at. When I was twenty years old, I often left my mother with her sister and walked around these streets on my own. Coming back 23 years later (since 1986) to perform shishimai was quite a personal honor.

Regarding Audrey's graduation, man the Japanese do a good job with their pre-schools. Although the school is not much to look at from the outside (looks like a remnant from the WWII era), the teachers and overall school activities have been really great. Emma is going to start there next month and Audrey will make her way to Kindergarden! Here's some photos from the ceremony and a video of Audrey receiving her diploma. Also all the kids had to make a small speech about which kindergarden they were heading off to and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Audrey said "When I grow up, I want to be like Mommy".

(Audrey with her friend Yuuki)
(Audrey and boyfriends Mashu and Mahiro)
(Akemi, Audrey, Ken, Emma after the ceremony)
Shishimai as I probably mentioned can be roughly translated as the dance of the Shisa (or dragon-dog like creature that is an Okinawan figure of strength against demons and evil spirits). Most Okinawa houses have two shisa figures (one male one female) in the front of their house to ward against evil spirits. You can see a cute rendition of the shisa on the top o this blog. In any case, basically I am one of the lead shishi dancers now for the Koja Shishimai Troupe. Each shishi has two people inside. One at the front and one at the rear end. I'm at the head of the white shishi you see below. The front can be quite challenging as you have to swivel the shishi's head around with the strength of your arms. You also have to manuever you and your partner around with very low visibility. The back is also tough as you are basically blind and have to guess (through experience and knowledge) about how to act or move based on what you "feel" your partner is doing in front of you. Basic moves you typically see are the "roll-over" and the "standing high" move were the front man basically gets hoisted onto the rear man's shoulders or chest which makes the shishi stand 10 feet tall.

(That's me in the front of the white shishi with my partner in the rear. The taiko drummers and sanshin players are visible in the background)

My partner was quite tough on me for past few months since starting the group. I almost thought of quitting. You know, finally yesterday I'm feeling accepted by him and the rest of the group. I've been a clutch component to the group since joining because with the addition of myself they are able to perform with 2 shishi instead of just 1. And having 2 shishi out on the stage makes things more interesting for the spectators. The red shishi group is comprised of two brothers from the neighborhood. They were in the big Okinawa wide shishimai festival we held in October 2008. They're a blast to drink with!

(The Enogawa brothers make up the red shishi team. They're veterens of the neighborhood)

Here's a few videos from the graduation ceremony and from the shishimai:


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to the Beach


Well summers finally fading away and fall is almost upon us. That means its a perfect time to go to the beach in Okinawa since the weather is bearable and the water still warm from the summer. On Sunday, my coworker and friend Kiyo and I took Audrey and Emma to Hamahiga Beach. He took some really nice photos that I thought I should share...




I don't mean to rub it in (well, actually yes I do) but we are 20 minutes away from this very quaint and beautiful beach. The ocean is calm, clear and feels like luke warm bath water this time of year. Only thing is the sand is not so nice because of Okinawa's coral base so its quite course.





Of course Audrey and Emma enjoy the beach very much. Maybe next year its time to take them camping up north. I need to figure out how to balance my work life better. I'm not giving myself enough time on the weekends to enjoy my family. This is something my father was very good at. Balancing work life and personal leisure. Okay, I'm getting too philisophical, back to the photos.







Here's a video of Audrey swimming in the ocean.



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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eisa Matsuri

Well these days the fact that Audrey is no longer a baby is really hitting me in the face. She's only in pre-school I know, but she's talking a whole lot (bilingual now) and she has also started the phase in her life where she must wake up early in the morning and go be a member of the outside world. Welcome to real life baby, already... Damn that sucks. Recently her pre-school has her participating in the timeless Japanese tradition of Undoukai (Sports Festival) and the Okinawan revered Eisa Matsuri (Eisa Festival). I haven't downloaded the Undoukai photos yet so I'll just share some photos from the Uruma City Eisa Festival and from Audrey's first ever Eisa Matsuri debut with her pre-school classmates.

Local Koja Matsuri (Ken the flag bearer with his two daughters Audrey and Emma)


Audrey climbing all over her Mom's beautiful red kimono

Audrey and her Kirin Gumi Classmates (Giraffe Class)

Akemi says that she's glad that as a Dad, I'm able to handle both the video camera (in my left hand) and the digital camera (in my right) all at the same time with Emma climbing on my back... She said she just wished that she had an extra camera to take a photo of me being a gung ho "Japanese Dad" as she called it at Audrey's pre-school events. She said that she didn't think that American men acted that way... Also I'm contemplating doing some English lessons to Japanese students on the side for a little "stash away" cash. Because my wife has me on a measley weekly allowance, I have about 10 dollars of "fun" money all to myself per week. Therefore at 15 dollars per hour with 3 to 4 students a class at two classes a week, I may even be able to spend 100 dollars without my wife even having to know (or give me the evil beady eye). Do I have time to do this, probably not. But same as Shishimai, I'm just going to do it and see what happens later. Somehow, it will work out I'm sure. Here's a shot of me with a class I taught for the Japan Air Self Defense Force in Onna Village, Okinawa. Some of them went to place high in the JASDF annual English speech contest.
On a side note, life is quite busy for me these days. Okinawa living has really settled in my soul recently. I think I've become very normalized to this place and feel like I've lived here forever. Although still a constant source of stress is my maladaptive Japanese which gets me by just fine (in a humbling and ever so frustrating manner). I find myself really tiring of speaking in Japanese recently... I blunder with simple sentences these days it seems. I'm sure I've just arrived a low point in my life force curve and its bound to go up sooner or later. But who cares now that I have Audrey as my personal translator. She makes life easier around Grandma's house, that's for sure. Anyways, I'm rambling and its time for bed. Until next time!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Dance of the Shisa "Shishimai"

(Hey that's me!)

I have to admit, I've been feeling more and more guilty about not making entries into this blog as of late. It's the type of guilt one feels for eating that extra piece of cake or wasting an entire Sunday lazing around the house watching TV. It's a guilt that gets easier and easier to shrug off as the weeks go by. In fact, if it wasn't for my weird ability to get involved into things I have no business getting involved in, I might have thrown in the towel weeks ago.

Out of boredom, I ever so often go visit the local "izakaya" or Japanese pub just down the street from my house. I know Mama-san there who is a very kind and easy-to-smile Okinawan women who after losing her husband to cancer, has been trying to succeed in running her own business. I get to talking to her about my interests in things Okinawan, and she suggests to me that I talk to the Koja (the name of my neighborhood) Community Center leader. Next time he comes in, I'll give you a call she says. So I meet up with him in about a weeks time and I get to drinking with this guy and I end up meeting the whole Shishimai or "Dragon Dance" troop in one of their monthly "Nomikai's" (basically, its a drinking party). I get to drinking and have a great time and go home. The next week, I find my name on the local list of Dragon Dance team members as a "Sanshin" (Okinawan banjo-type instrument) player. Wow, my cell phone number and home address are posted on that list and everything! How did that get there, I think to myself (no recollection whatsoever of telling ANYONE I would join their troop). Then I think, crap I guess I better go through with it. And that's how it all started.

(The Koja Shishimai Troop, Okinawa City, Okinawa Japan)

Turns out, the shishimai troop is the first troop to come out of Okinawa City in 30 some odd years. We are practicing hard every week for an upcoming Prefecture wide competition in September. Nevermind about my PE exam or my more than full time work schedule, and not to mention my two kids at home. Okay, I have no time for this but I simply can't resist!

I actually don't know much about the Shishimai so I don't think I can do it justice but the basic premise is that its origins are from the Chinese "Dragon" dancing festival. You've all seen it, 10 chinese guys running down the street carrying a dragon costume along with various dancers and musicians. Looks interesting right? So the Okinawa's have something related but very different. First of all in Okinawa, its not a dragon. Its actually a "Shisa", which is kind of like a mystic creature (mix of a dog and dragon) which Okinawan's traditionally put in front of their houses to ward off bad spirits. You can see an example of contemporary and very cute shisa on the top of my blog page. These of course are cute little tourist trinkets and aren't the real thing. The shishimai troop is basically made up of 3 main groups, I think... You have the drummers or "taiko" group. You have 2 dragon dogs or "Shishi" which are each comprised of two men inside that shag carpet costume. Then you have the "sanshin" group with accompany the drums for a musical background to the performance. You also have misc people that blow seashell horns and bang on metal chimes. Apparently, the Okinawan Dance of the Dragon Dog is made to look very realistic, where the movements of the Shishi are imitated against the real movements of a canine or "dog" for the lay person. In contrary, the movements of the Chinese Dragon are more "unworldly" like a floating/flying mystical creature.


I actually don't really know very much, but I'll figure it out as I go along I guess. Meetings with the Shishimai group are always an intersting mixture of half-understandings and blurred messages due to my ever-so-maladaptive Japanese skills. Anyways, I'll post more later after we perform in this local festival "Manta Matsuri" on the 10th of August. Its our first performance as a troop and is a vital practice for the real deal in September. Until next time, peace out. Oh, check out the kick-butt taiko drumming group on the video link below. The first time I saw these kids go at it, my eyes actually started to tear up.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Biker Chicks

So the most recent thing Audrey has gotten into these days is riding her princess bicycle (which Larry bought for her last year) around our neighborhood. Well when we moved to Okinawa that bike took a real beating, suffering extensive damage to the pedal cranks, training wheels and tires during its 2 month trip over California highways to LA port, then across the Pacific Ocean to Kobe, Japan then again across the Japanese seas to Okinawa. Well we had to replace some damaged parts for it but since the bike was American we had a real hard time finding the parts it needed in Japan. Luckily a bike shop just down the street was able to find us used parts over the internet and fixed it right up for us. We really wanted Audrey to use THAT bike, since it was a gift from her Uncle (who she affectionately refers to as her "best friend"). That's on good days anyways, on other days she'll say to him "You're fat, you're fat. Or maybe even, you're not the boss, I'M THE BOSS! But that Uncle Larry-Niece relationship is quite special, so we put in the effort to "save" that bicycle and have it be the one she uses in early childhood. We all have had and remember that childhood bicycle of our respective pasts. I remember my first real bike was red with white handle bar grips and I used it for years to get around the neighborhood on various childhood adventures.

Well then I started taking Audrey out to ride everyday right after work since there is usually an hour or two worth of daylight left when I get home. Emma of course could not be fooled for more than two days in a row. She insisted to be let outside to see what daddy and Audrey were up to and BAM, we were caught in the act! Emma was so upset that she didn't get to have her own bicycle to ride. So Akemi called around and was able to get a hand-me-down tricycle from her sister. So now we go out there and ride together most days. Audrey talks about her bicycle, and she brags to her friends. She gets competitive with Emma eventhough Emma can't even pedal on her own yet. She does pretty good and here's a little video of a ride we had the other day.

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The good thing is our neighborhood is located on a dead end street so we really don't have to worry about cars. There are about 10 houses in the area and there are kids ranging from 2 to 16. So I think this will be a really nice neighborhood for the girls for awhile. I'm still quite pleased with this house we got in Okinawa City. I feel like I can settle here. I just need to make sure I can continue to find and do work for somebody. But so far so good and I expect things will be okay. If not, I could go work as a civilian on one of the bases here. For now, its just fun watching my two girls grow up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tadaima

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Here's a typical end of the work day, tired, worn down from dealing with the world all day, but excited to walk through the front door...

With all the kids being born in the Bull family these days (Big congradulations to Peter and Lara!! Good job and otsukare sama). Makes you realize what a treasure you really have in kids. Boy, they are frustrating - but make your short time in the world worthwhile. I say this now while my kids are still young and adore me. Just wait another 10 years when they refuse to sit at that same table as their Dad in a public place... Or does it come sooner than that?

Other good news, Akemi's sister is pregnant! So Akemi is REALLY FREAKIN EXCITED. I'm happy for them and for Audrey and Emma. They will soon have a new cousin, playmate, someone younger with less experience and know how. Finally Emma will have the upper hand on somebody... You go girl!

Tired tonight, planning to go to sleep in ten minutes but before I do, I wanted to share with you all my girl's new hair styles. Emma's is pretty damn cute I have to say. I didn't think they'd look good with short hair and I resisted this change. But Akemi was right in insisting. It is hot and humid here in Okinawa. It's not fair, I'm a man and don't know how it feels to have to live with long hair she says... So I diplomatically conceeded.


AUDREY FRONT AND SIDE SHOTS



EMMA FRONT AND SIDE SHOTS

Well, that's all I've got people. I need to quit working so hard, I'm too tired by the time I get home... Until next time.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sisters

The kids are growing up man... Growing up fast. Little Emma can talk quite a bit now and Audrey, well, Audrey doesn't ever stop talking. Her Japanese is getting pretty damn good too. They fight all the freakin' time and I find myself losing my temper a lot. But I try to remind myself that thats what sisters are supposed to do right? Fight and cry and generally drive each other crazy. I sometimes view Audrey to be an evil tormentor who cleverly and hungrily finds poor little Emma's weak spots then exploits them to the full extent possible. There is no remorse, only the wicked satisfaction of retribution. The sweet revenge for all those time Emma took away the spot light, or got poor little Audrey in trouble for not sharing. But then from time to time I discover that Emma has been crying for no other reason than to bring big bad angry Dad's wrath down upon poor Audrey-chan. She uses me as a weapon to smite her bigger more powerful/smarter sister. I'm being cleverly manipulated by a two year old. They are both worthy advesaries of each other. Oh what a battle these two rage...

But its not all fighting and psychological warfare... There are really nice childhood experiences abound. I'd like to illustrate this for you. For instance sometimes we all enjoy a really good game of hide and seek. Please click on the next freakin adorable video link:

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And here are the sisters dancing together to a "Wiggles" tune on the Disney Channel:

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JUN-CHAN
















HIKARI-CHAN