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Monday, January 28, 2013

That other Asian country

Those who are acquainted with me, or who occasionally take a look at this most humble of blogs, know that I'm very interested in most things Japonais. I lived and worked in the country for a number of years, and have frequently traveled throughout the archipelago. Though I'm married to a Taiwanese woman whom I met on the island of Formosa, have a child who can speak Mandarin Chinese and carries a Republic of China 中華民國 (Taiwan) passport, and am currently in Hell class torturing myself learning to read and speak 普通话/ 國語 in preparation for our supposed planned move to Shanghai 上海 this April, I've always felt more comfortable with Japan and the Japanese, be it language, culture or ways of thinking. So it was with nostalgic anticipation that I, along with Amber and Pamela, attended the Japanese New Year Celebration in Washington 2013 ワシントン新春祭り2013 this morning and afternoon at the Washington Plaza Hotel.

Thanks to Asami, a friend of my wife here in Falls Church (they met in a local English class), her husband Nori (who's working in Washington on assignment with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication  総務省) and their two young children Towa and Saya, I was able to reintroduce myself to Japan for a few hours today. It took a while to readjust thanks to the damage I've suffered all the things I've been learning in class at FSI - when first reading the Japanese signs, my brain was coming up with the Chinese readings of the characters - but it wasn't long before that old familiarity had returned. It was almost like being at a local festival in a Japanese neighborhood...if such matsuri were held in swank hotel lobbies, that is.

Amber prepares to dig into some takoyaki たこ焼き - the small balls of octopus covered in batter are a favorite of hers.

For some reason, this photo didn't focus very well, but it shows osechi お節料理, traditional Japanese New Year's foods.

There were demonstrations of rice-cake pounding 餅つき実演, in which my daughter enthusiastically participated.

There were also examples of traditional games. The people above are playing karuta かるた, a Japanese card game involving poems or proverbs.

Amber tried her hand at calligraphy, opting to write the character tori 鳥, meaning "bird". She finished off by writing her Chinese name, Lee Chih-hui.

Origami 折り紙

One game where my little one excelled at was the activity pictured here, super ball scooping スーパーボールすくい. The idea is to pick up as many balls as you can from the water before the paper scooper brakes apart. The game is most commonly played with goldfish as the target, where it's called kingyo-sukui 金魚すくい, and is popular with kids at Japanese festivals. It can also be seen at night markets in Taiwan, which is Amber honed her considerable scooping skills - she picked up eight super balls before the scooper broke on her third attempt.

A performance of drumming from the Ryūkyū Islands 琉球太鼓 was given by a local troupe called Chin Hamaya Daiko.

Former Transportation Secretary, Commerce Secretary, U.S. Representative and Mayor of San Jose, CA Norman Mineta spoke briefly at the event. Not many people get airports named after them while they're still alive.

A comical samurai sword fight 侍殺陣 was part of the entertainment

Amber seemed to enjoy the performances of traditional Japanese dance 日本舞踊 as done by a local dancing troupe, the Shizumi Kodomo Dancing Team 静美こども舞踊団.

A good time was had by all this afternoon, with a sincere どうもありがとうございます to Asami and her family for inviting us along today. Washington, D.C. has a surprisingly small Japanese community - there are no large Japanese supermarkets like Seattle's Uwajimaya, and the nearest Kinokuniya Bookstore is in New York City - so it's nice to be able to take part in activities like the New Year celebration. But as the folding screen painting in the background reminds, it's time to return to the Chinese world.

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