Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Turned 24 In Japan

... and it was kind of awesome.

Here's the thing about Japan, that I have discovered now that I am old and wise: if you get into a rut, and start to think that it's all a bit singular, all a bit monotone, all a bit samey, it's you that's the problem, not the place.

Anticipating my birthday was not pleasant for me - there's something about 24 that feels a bit close to 30. And I wasn't sure how I felt about spending it here, where I'm not building a career, or a life, where I'm coasting. I wasn't sure how I felt about spending it like I spend any other weekend.

And so, just to shake me up some, Japan put on a bit of a show for me. It started with cake. Everything good in the world always starts with cake.

I got three cakes, which seemed excessive, but didn't pose any particular difficulties (apologies to Adrienne, whose amazing home-made effort was eaten before it could pout). The cake with the name-tag was particularly poignant as I had, only the day before, listened to my long-suffering teacher-colleague spell out my name to an obvious non-English speaker over the phone. It took at least three minutes and I was certain that I was going to end up with seven t's on the end of my name, but Japanese communication won the day., and Scarlett The Cake was a triumph

My birthday fell on a Thursday, which meant it was spent at Kiyota High School. I didn't even have to work, it being Sports Day, so I wandered around watching people be more active than me, and then I ate two bowls of curry and a large piece of cake.

Yup, that's curry being cooked from scratch at the hands of two sublime Japanese men... I love my job.... Hang on. I've just realised that if I actually go into detail about the full events of the five days that I chose to allow my birthday to occupy, then I'll be here for one hundred years, and then I'll be 124, and who wants to sleep with that? So:

bikerideI'll skip right to the good stuff: Magical Camp.

IKNOW. I know, more camping. but I'll do anything as long as it has the word Magical tacked in front of it. Seriously. Magical Cleaning. Down with it. Magical Lobotomy? Sign me up.

Of course, because I went, it rained. Everywhere I go, I always take the (Wellington) weather with me...

But where did I go, you ask? Who did I go with? WHAT IS MAGICAL CAMP HOW IS THAT A THING?

Magical Camp is an all-night dance party in the forest. Magical Camp is rain on a hundred mirror balls, dark muddy paths through the trees, long-haired Japanese DJs. Magical Camp is candles and bonfires and black body paint and slender women dressed like cats. Magical Camp is Jack Daniels by the fire and a rave in an abandoned elementary school and curry eaten out of styrofoam containers and Japanese hippies campaigning for a nuclear-free Japan. It's dancing in a 100 yen poncho at 8am, and navigating your way through trees lit with fairy lights by the light of a torch shaped like a bunny, and collapsing next to strangers on sacks filled with straw.

I had a moment, somewhere in the small hours of my first Sunday as a 24 year old. I was thinking of how long I'd already been on my feet, how many more hours there were to go til daylight. I was tired, hungry, drunk, and I wanted the night to end. And then I remember how I'd felt for the last week, like my 23rd year had evaporated, how I wanted it back, and I realised how fucking contradictory it all was, wishing away my night while longing for my days. And then I let it all go and just danced, at the side of strangers, to the strange asymmetric beats of Ainu a cappella.

Magical Camp is a side of Japan known only to Hokkaido hippies, and those underground enough to know where they go. I'm no hippy, and I couldn't get underground with a hundred shovels, but I loved touching a side of Japan that doesn't have perfect hair, isn't worked to the bone, doesn't shop in the same stores. And when I found myself, at 2 am, posing for a photo to be posted on a website clutching a chalk-board on which I'd written "New Zealanders Say: No More Nukes", with mud up my legs and a blue poncho flapping around my soaked self, I thought, well, maybe 24 won't be so bad. It's already more political than 23 was, and who doesn't love politics?

The next morning, we got back to Sapporo, and the spell might have broken. I showered, snoozed, read five pages of Eat, Pray, Love, remembered why I'd always refused to read Eat, Pray, Love. I felt crabby about the fact that it was Sunday, even though Monday was a day off. And then, somehow, I ended up here:

That crowd shot might look like it shows a bored, staid group, but in fact what it shows is hundreds of people, gathered together to celebrate their sexuality, and that of their friends, kneeling and squatting and standing, paused in mid-gyration: watching shots of the Gay Pride Parade taken that day and projected on the wall; listening to Born This Way boom from the speakers; enjoying the spectacle of Japanese men showing some true colour and total bravery.

It also shows a Japanese man giving me the glad eye, who may or may not have mistaken me for a male in drag.

So, arigatou, Japan, for a fabulous birthday. It was queer, it was magical, it was camp.

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