Today was one of those days in which there loomed a promise of horrific disappointment as well as far too many things to take pictures of to really take it all in (so this is just a selection).
At the Nikko Kanaya Hotel I had been chatting with the Chief of the Front Desk, Suzuki Nobuhiko, (who has quite the story of how he got from the University of Phoenix, AZ doing sports physiology to being Chief of the top Resort.) and he didn’t believe there was going to be Sword Dancing on April 2nd, but he made a bunch of calls and confirmed that yes there was dancing and it was at 10:00 am not 9:00 as the disability centre told me. Well, you know me, if it doesn’t actively run away quickly….talk to them! So I gave him a bit of my last few years and told him this was my Dai Boken! He really laughed at that. Poor guy, since the heating in our room was from the 19th century and our bathroom was so hot that we had to have the door closed (it was a end pipe of old steam pipes). Beyond that, the fact was that our room was SO nice and had a wheelchair shower and toilet bars that I needed to call and do the verbal dance where I talk about how wonderful the room was but just in passing WAS this the $450 “accessible room” or the $180 room I said I “would crawl into” – since I didn’t need to crawl, just flip my casters over about 1 inch of door lip. It was the $180 one. Whew!
They had added modern Japanese tech to our 19th century toilet and Linda says button 1 washes your urethra while button 2 sends water up the bum. She is getting WAY too into the toilets here.
So I got up a little early to blog and post the pictures of our magical night of drinks at the lounge. I also went to bed drunk (Yup, drunk from ONE drink!). With a few drugs I got eight hours of sleep and during blogging Linda said with emphasis, “Next time do the packing FIRST and the blogging SECOND.” We did get the packing done and took a taxi to the special worker’s entrance to the Futara-san Shrine, which is a complex of shrines and some heritage site (World Heritage, UNESCO, someone!). It is also the ONLY shrine which is wheelchair accessible (if giant flagstone paths with 6-8 inch gaps surrounded by wet sand and snow counts as accessible). The shrine to the side where the dance was supposed to take place had a guy taking stuff AWAY (which didn’t look good). There was a shrine maiden selling good luck charms but they didn’t have English language fortunes (which is what I wanted – particularly the “long life” one), nor did she or the woman at the entrance (to take the money) speak any English, and our attempt to make a sentence from the dictionary of “Shrine” and “Dance” (as in let’s go to a club) got some odd looks. Well 10:00 came and 10:00 went, and while Linda went to call Suzuki I got some New Zealand guys to ask and they got sign language saying the stage something, something. Well, now it was 10:30 and our train left at 1:30 and we had to be there by 12:45 and I was feeling pretty blue (like cry all the way to Kakunodate blue). Linda called Suzuki AGAIN and he said that he had been misinformed but that he had told the person to “look for the lady in the wheelchair” (actually when we got back he told us he was begging them to do something or it would all be HIS fault).
Then Linda got invited into the “employee only” part of the shrine (which she managed to take some pictures while no one was looking – that is SO Linda – including this picture of the connecting hallway to the main shrine).
They got someone who spoke English who said, yes, the dancing happened at 9:00 (I will never doubt you again Disability Japan!). This news must have made a very VIVID expression on my face as he said that maybe they could “practice” for the upcoming festival on the 13th. I was all “Domo Arigato” and hands clasped and bowing as deep as one can in a wheelchair. And they all went off somewhere to “pray” – which was fine by me as I had been praying for 30 odd minutes already for the dance to happen. Linda went and got some water which is sacred for reasons we will never know (at least not until our Japanese improves).
And then, I was positioned right in front of the little shrine which was also a stage and suddenly out comes the guy (a priest?) followed by three shrine maidens in Miko’s (red skirts). And there are three busloads of people now but the shrine maidens come right by me and it is clear to everyone that while they are not sure WHAT exactly is going on but it is going on for the girl in the wheelchair. So everyone knows that if they step in front and block my view then LIGHTING will probably strike them. Linda agreed to take the whole thing in Video and I took pictures, and due to editing time I am just putting up some of the pictures. There were three dances. The guy played a wooden flute while one maiden pounded the drum and the other two did dances. One dance was with a fan and bells and the next with bells and then the last with SWORDS.
I hope to put up a couple pictures from the earlier dances but there are SO many pictures of the sword dance so had to limit that today. First they danced around with these things looking like wooden swords and I am, “Oh replicas, that is okay I suppose.” And then they presented the swords to each other and pulled out about 4 inches of tempered steel and I was like, “Oh shit! These are REAL swords.”
That was about when they just whipped out the swords and there is about three feet of pretty deadly sword. They did a series of dances around the perimeter which I guessed was traditional of when they defended the shrines and then some positions and dances to the different directions (sacred?). Then they go right into this definite fighting pose at opposite corners. I was like, “um, I like the sword dance but I really don’t want any decapitations!” Then they danced toward each other and got pretty close in low sweeps with the sword which ended in a face thrust. Now I have put my arm past someone’s ear at speed to show them how accurate you get with an epee sword, but there is one thing putting a “sports” and thus SAFE epee sword anywhere near someone and pointing a REAL sword right in their face, which these two did to each other.
My response: “Cool!”
They finished and sadly there is no clapping, so we couldn’t do hooting and clapping but I bowed a LOT as they came by and at least one was smiling so I think she was glad to make my day. Meanwhile the other tourists figured I must be some celebrity because this year there were THREE sword dances at Nikko – two for festivals and one exclusively for a female who flew from Japan on her Dai Boken to see a sword dance. Sweet!
So we borrowed a cell phone from a couple of guys from London, one who was cool and one who was a private school twit and kept saying things like “What a quaint expression.” We got a taxi and back at the Nikko Kanaya, Suzuki was apologizing profusely and I was trying to say, “All is well that ends well” as for me getting a PRIVATE shrine maiden dance, that counts as ending pretty damn well! Linda headed off to take pictures, particularly pictures of the mail bridge down at the bottom of the hill. It was used only for messages for the emperor, and is called Shinkyo, and made of a red lacquered wood. Here is her best one.
Then as she wandered around the grounds of this amazing old resort which is sort of what I imagine the Titanic to be (if it didn’t sink!) and here we were the first class customers. I was checking out the gift shop which had lots of really cool hand made paper products, including a gift set of 100 cards, totally sweet paper BUT it is the 100 best Japanese Haiku, written in JAPANESE. So I figured this might NOT be considered the best gift when it showed up in people’s mailboxes. I instead selected 10 of the best postcards showing parts and sights of the hotel over the last 100 years, all on handmade paper. They are real works of art and I wish I could have kept them but I have enough beautiful things, and am experiencing beautiful things so I figure if I spread them through my friends then I know they will always be safe.
Meanwhile Linda had found a garden totem or shine and taken a picture of it while I managed to make an ass out of myself with the wheelchair bathroom. I complained the door was locked because it wouldn’t open no matter how much I pulled or pushed! They came over and slid the door open sideways (just like the traditional Japanese paper and wood doors!) with two fingers. Red face? I think so. So let’s see that garden totem instead!
We left there and Suzuki presented me his card which I remembered to hold in two hands and study (what you are supposed to do in Japan) and I felt foolish that I did not remember to have my own made. He had been teaching me some Japanese phrases, with little success (due, I blame, to the lack of sleep and travel exhaustion) but a lot of laughs. I told him I would see him on my next Dai Boken! He says if I make it come back to Japan and to Nikko Kanaya it won’t be a “Big Aventure” but a HUGE Adventure and then laughed a LOT. I choose to interpret that as a compliment.
For the rest of the day please read part II!
3 hours ago