Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A dog, a devil, and a dinner party.

Do you want the long or the short story of how we came to own our first dog right here in Hokkaido? Per my unwritten blog rule, I'll stick to the short(ish) version and lavish the blog with photos of the little guy for the next year and a half. I know, I know, I bet you never though I'd turn dog lover! But my whole life here is about trying new things so read on....
Introducing Bunta, a Shiba mix from an animal shelter in Osaka. Do you like the red silk outfit they sent him in on the plane? Bunta was named after a famous Japanese actor by the homeless man he was taken from. Nova has been asking for a brother. We thought this the perfect comprimise. Shawn took this photo right after we picked him up at the airport. I think all four of us are a little in shock, holy shit, we just got a dog!
Why the new-found interest in dogs? I became concerned and fascinated with Japanese dog culture a few months ago. During my daily walk around the village I couldn't help but notice that many homes had dogs tied up outside 24/7. Sweltering summer day, tied up. Nostril freezing cold, tied up. When I inquired about the situation I was told, "It might make you sad to see dogs this way, but it is nobody's business." That rasied what Shawn and I have termed the "cultural exchange" flag. I sprang into internet research action!

During World War II dogs ran wild in Japan. Rabies infested and ferocious, they terrified young and old into a multi-generational stigma that stuck. Japan is now a rabies free country because all those dogs were killed. Gross Generalization Alert: Japan, being the land of co-habitating opposites, either treats their dogs very poorly to the point where in the US a neighbor would have called the humane society already (!) or dogs are inbred into oblivion and treated as cultural status symbols, i.e. small pink dogs were recently all the rage in some urban areas.

My fervid google searching eventually led me to this site ARK is the only humane animal shelter of its kind in Japan. Animal control offices kill dogs and cats within 3 days of pick-up.

Enter the Oni, Japan's version of a scary devil. Nova's preschool invited mothers and especially fathers to ward off evil spirits and welcome good luck into spring (yes, February marks the beginning of spring here).

I always mix up the words for scary (kowai) and cute (kawaii). Nova, your Oni mask is the epitome of both I think!

During Oni costume construction we spotted a Juneau mom's worst nightmare. Shawn and I imagined a rush of concerned mothers in Juneau descending upon this little guy playing inside this plastic bag. Here in Japan his antics and parents (non)-reactions are part of a unique take on early childhood..... let the kids lead, x-treme style. It's different from what we're used to. Shawn still isn't sure what to make of the elementary school girls goosing him up his bum when he's not looking. I'm still not sure what to make of the rampant candy consumption. I guess they figure the kids should have as much fun as possible now before they have to enter the serious world of adulthood. Japan cranks out some pretty delightful young people so they must be doing something right.

Here are the full-body Oni outfits we constructed for the dads. The whips and spiked clubs are traditional. We're reponsible for the green guy in the middle.
This father had obviously done this before. The tape face-guard was pure genius as children are instructed to surround the Onis and drive them away with peanuts and candy.
This wasn't just some good natured food chucking like we've seen before. No, this was pure eye-putting-out mayhem. I kinda felt bad for the poor Oni dads. Shawn, you'll be in the cross-fire next year.
What better place to invite evil into the room than the preschool? Some of the smaller children were terrified to tears. Machiko said this is an annual occurance. Other children are so scarred from last year's Oni Fest that they stay home from school. But all their fears vanish when the lights come on and they scramble for candy.
A few older girls sort their booty on a tray in very Japanese fashion.
Dinner is served...
Most entertaining in Japan happens outside the home. Gone are the days of the weekly Juneau potluck. It's taken 6 months, but our Thailand slideshow lured folks into our living room at last. I tried my hand at some of those Thai dishes from my cooking class.... disaster. Luckily good 'ol Ohara-san brough over a huge tray of sushi, Japanese nibletts and a case of Sapporo beer. Kampai! Gathered round the coffee table are mostly guys from the Bureau of Education. No wives or girlfriends present per usual. The secret lives and identities of these men's wives still elude me.