Monday, November 30, 2009

Pain in the Arts

There's a reason I don't teach kindergarten. While my personality ideally matches that of an energetic, yappy, and 元気 (げんき / genki), jovial/happy, youngster, there’s something my body wasn’t built for: Arts & Crafts. I’m clumsy, lack patience, I certainly don’t stay in the lines, and my feeble fingers shake like I’m in rehab. I'll gladly stroll through an arts & crafts show, but you won’t find me behind a booth.

Our (humans) brains are either wired internally to their physical body or externally to their soul merging with the outside world. The former makeup the world’s athletes and salarymen. While the latter is where I fit in nicely. This is the land of the thinkers and 夢想家 (むそうか / musouka), dreamers. When your brain is too busy contemplating an ice cream stand on a purple cloud, it can’t accurately orchestrate the maneuvering of muscles needed to move you eleven yards ahead to leap, and catch the ball while safely landing on the ground. Being an extreme imaginataur (a cute little name I came up with), this also rules out arts & crafts. Though doesn’t mean I shy away from torturing myself.

So during the dismal darkness of winter when opportunity came knocking, eleven of us 怪人 (がいじん / gaijin), foreigners opened the door to brighten our lives with our own personal Nebuta float.

Aomori’s Nebuta 祭り (祭り / matsuri), festival, is the premier summer celebration in northern Honshu. Picture a nighttime Macy’s Day Thanksgiving parade where gigantic illuminated paper floats march through the streets alongside flutes, Taiko drums and heaps of leaping volunteers clad in an unusual Haneto costume.

Besides growing りんご (ringo), apples the size of a giant's fist, Nebuta is Aomori's claim to fame. While I have joined the parade, I had no experience in creating one of the magical floats. Consequently, it was only natural that I immersed myself in this rich tradition. Early Saturday morning, we cracked our knuckles and gave out a ceremonial yawn as famed Nebuta artist, 木村明 (Kimura Akira), trained us to mold, craft, and paint a Nebuta float patterned after the face of who we believe to be the Japanese warrior, Saitō Musashibō Benkei.


The mundane adventure begins.

The journey towards creation involved seven crucial, pain-staking, phases:

1.) MOLD: Using a mapped out cheat sheet, we framed the body of the float by bending and twisting metal wires like they were on the dance floor. My fragile fingertips did not appreciate this activity.


Crave & Chris showing off their steel frames

2.) GLUE: Finishing the skeleton frame, we cut individual pieces of paper and glue them on forming the skin.

3.) EAT: Without a sandwich of doubt, lunch was where I shined the most!

4.) PENCIL: Before painting the face of our float, we sketched the design. I should have spent more time on this.

5.) PAINT: While we had a sample to mimic, many of us renewed our creative licenses by adding protruding tongues, piercings or in my case, lipstick kiss stains on the cheek and forehead.


Kimura-Sensei's shows 'this is how we do it!'

6.) WATCH: In the 'this doesn't make any sense' moment of the day, a professional electrician was hired to come in and install light bulbs inside our floats.

7.) POSE: Fat ladies are rare in Japan so nothing is over until a group photo is taken.


Cultures conveniently collide culminating an enjoyable day of Arts & Crafts.

While I thought we would be out the door before 1pm, most of us struggled to complete our 'apprenticepieces’ before 5pm. The work was miserable, but in the end I have something gloriously awful to show off! Now whenever someone attempts to drag me off to an All-Night Knitting Party, I simply show them ‘Mr. Casual’ and they understand my pain. Arts & Crafts are a wonderful diversion for many, but in my case I’ll let it float on to the next person.


Just like what a parent says about their child, 'It may not be pretty, but it's mine!"

Special thanks to Chris, Tesia, and Christy for assistance with this experience and post.

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