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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Things You Can Find On A Friday

There's been plenty to talk about lately but perhaps the most interesting day to make note of, was last Friday. We went to town on a whim, and weren't expecting half of what eventually transpired.

Mitsuko had a three day weekend just recently, and initially we decided that we would spend most of it indoors this time. However, Friday after she got off work we decided to take a little jaunt out to Yonago, which as I mentioned before, is the closest "big city" to Kofu. There's a small department store called Takashimaya there that we've heard loads about it, but never visited, so we thought maybe we could go exploring that and get a bite to eat later at an Indian Curry place that we've become quite fond of lately. Rather than take the bus, we decided to go it on foot so as to get a bit of exercise in, and to see more of the city that perhaps we never noticed before. At a certain point we came across an outdoor mall type area. It had a a covered roof, but the entrance to it was open to the street, so it felt a bit like the wall Fremont Street is in Vegas right now (if you've ever been there) but with much less sparkling light.

I took a picture of picture of the top and bottom since I was too close to get the whole thing

So you can see how it's open to the street.
 The sign says above the entrance says ほれどおり, which without the kanji is harder to translate but it seems to me that it means "Charm Street". That would be nice if that were the case, right? Either way, we headed in because we've often seen this shopping arcade while on the bus to the bigger AEON, deeper in Yonago, but never had the chance to visit by virtue of always driving past it in a bus. Having stood there at the mouth of it's entrance I felt we shouldn't waste a chance even though it was not originally part of that day's agenda. I feel these days that while I'm still in Japan and relatively young, I should not let that which is unexplored remain so for too long, even if it's something as ostensibly mundane as this. Long story short, I'm really glad we did.

The very first shop we noticed on our right hand side was something of an antique store at first glance. I noticed a line of Koto (a Japanese stringed instrument) sitting up against a wall, which immediately caught my attention. I moved towards the shop some more and peered in. Lights were on, and the door was ajar about an inch or two, so it seemed as though it was open. The insides were fairly cluttered however, littered with all manner of old Japanese curios, books, ornate boxes of various widths and length, very decorative Sensu (fans), and of course the Koto lining the wall.

The outside of the shop, note the Koto against the wall

Boxes, books, and papers oh my!

There were also flutes, the name of which I do not know

I called out, "すみません。。。” (pardon me/excuse me) in what I thought was a fairly loud voice. There was no answer however. As I was about to part from the shop, my glance happened to turn to the right and that's when I noticed a row of Shamisen (a guitar-like instrument) hanging on the wall. Perhaps it was a bit rude, but I didn't care. I opened the door and walked inside. The automated alarm started ringing, greeting us with the standard PING PONG type chime, shortly followed by the digital voice saying "Welcome" in Japanese. I moved further into the shop because standing there just kept setting it off. I moved to the Shamisen and couldn't believe what a find this store was. I'd always wanted one of them but the only place that you could physically go to a see one was Little Tokyo in LA back home, and I could never be sure of the quality down there. It is also one of those things that would be more exciting to buy IN Japan. Anyway, the first thing I noticed was the price tag. Coming in at a whopping 63,000 Yen (as of this writing, exactly 800 US dollars) these weren't toys to be sure. Now obviously more expensive doesn't mean better, but I thought I could safely assume that these were more than decorative pieces. Shortly after the welcome chime stopped we heard a voice from deep in the back of the shop, where we couldn't see. A man soon appeared from the back and greeted us. We apologized for rustling him from wherever he had been, and stated that we were just looking, and hoped that it was okay. He was very kind, and asked us about what we were looking for. I pointed to the Shamisen and asked if it was in fact a Shamisen. I knew it was, but oftentimes I like to ask a question I know the answer to as a way of probing conversation in a certain direction. He nodded and said that they were indeed Shamisen. I mentioned how I had always wanted one, and I wanted to learn how to play it. He then walked towards the shelf, forcing all of us to do a dance so he could work his way around us without stepping on anything. To my surprise he began to unwrap the instrument, at which point I felt bad. I thought maybe he was thinking that I was prepared to buy it right there, perhaps I spoke incorrectly and made it seem like I'd be buying one. But no, he took it off the shelf, walked back to where we were standing and began to tune it. He asked if I'd ever seen one played before. I mentioned that we came from California and close to LA. Over there sometimes you could occasionally seen someone playing one, especially during Nisei Week, which is the annual Japanese Festival they hold there. He strummed it a bit and then paused before asking if I wanted to learn how to play. I said yes, because I thought he meant more like the future, one of those "one day" type statements. But we clarified it, and it turns out, he was willing to show me right then and there, how to play free of charge. It didn't take too much thinking on my part before I agreed, very excitedly. He said he would go grab his really quickly and for us to have a seat. We did.

He came back with his, which he said was the same model as the model I was then holding. It was the cheapest one they sell there, but still a very nice Shamisen. All I could think was "cheapest?!" when he said that, but I should've known better from being a violin and guitar player myself. Instruments, especially quality ones, cost a pretty penny. He then proceeded to tune his own, and afterwards showed me a bit of the basics, as far as how to hold it, and how to strum it properly. It was way cool to say the least and I still amazed it even happened at all. Eventually he performed a song for us, something that resembled the season, and the sounds of the insects. He showed us which parts were meant to imitate certain sounds before and after he played. It was great. He also played "Sakura," which even in America is pretty famous as a Japanese Folk song. If you don't think you know check it out on youtube. I'd love to learn that one.

So after a bit more talking, it seems that he's willing to teach us whenever we're able to go down there, for about an hour each week. If I heard him correctly, he said that if we practice and still very much like it, he'd be willing to offer a discount on the Shamisen. I think I'm clever enough to know that it's kind of a tactic to sell one of those instruments. He means no harm, let me clear that up right away! He said that there's no pressure to buy one at all, even if we practice for a while with him. But even knowing that he's trying to get us more interested in it by helping us play one, I'd still buy it. There is no gimmick at work here. If I had the extra money, I would definitely buy one.
I instantly wanted one
We exchanged contact information later on, and we'll see him again this weekend.

We did manage to go to Takashimaya by the way, and there wasn't much there that I required. There were some interesting food places in the downstairs area, which only served to make me very hungry. We left there and went searching for a Daiso (hundred yen shop) that we heard was in the area. While there we met an elementary school girl who was blown away by the fact that we could speak Japanese. We mentioned that Mitsuko was an ALT, and asked if at her school there was anyone helping teach English. She mentioned two names but they weren't anyone we or the other ALTs have heard of. In all likelihood they might not be a part of the JET program because all ALTs seem to know all ALTs. In any case, she was a very smart girl for a 6th grader, and I felt bad when she said that the people working at her school speak English too fast and she can't understand them. Boo. We chatted with her for a bit with her and gave her our address before parting. We mentioned that if she ever wanted to work on practicing English she could always write us. She was excited about that and said that she would send us a Nengajou (New Year's Card), haha.

Afterwards we walked back to the station, and towards the small AEON where the Indian Curry was. Much to our surprise, we found two ALTs that we've become friends with, Alex and Charlotte. Alex is actually not a surprise, that guy is always there. He recommended the place to me, so I must say thank you. It's pretty good, I have to admit. We had a good dinner, and a good chat.

It was a long day that had interesting surprises in it.


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