One day, in Ako…

December was been just as busy as November.  Instead of studying and writing though, I’m lesson planning or going to social events.  The highlight of not only that month, but the entire stay in Japan (so far) was the 47 Ronin Event that I went to.

Around November, all of the Osaka JETs were invited to go to Ako in Hyogo for an event revolving around the 47 Ronin.  Those unfamiliar with the story should read up on it!  Those invited to go would dress up as a samurai, wander around Ako looking for “Kira”, the antagonist of the story.  Meanwhile, you were able to eat a lot of free food as well as buy souvenirs from local shops.  The biggest twist was that a TV crew would be filming you the entire time because we were going to be featured in a TV show!  I immediately applied, hoping that I would get in.  Oddly enough, it turns out that anyone who applied got in because not many people applied in the first place.  Whatever!  I was happy to hear my acceptance and waited for the day to come; I knew it was going to be epic.

I had to be in Namba by 7:30 AM on a Sunday to depart with the crew.  Needless to say, it was pretty difficult to get up that early on a weekend—the moon was still up when I left my house!  Speaking of the moon, this took place the same day we had the lunar eclipse so the moon was really beautiful that morning.  I watched it as I took the quiet train to the city.  Eventually I arrived to my destination and we departed to Ako on a big bus.  The trip took around an hour and a half, and mostly everyone took a nap on the way there.

When we arrived, we were escorted to a building where we were given our samurai outfit.  This wasn’t a half-ass costume either, it was authentic.  Each one of us represented one of the 47 ronin.  Here is who I was!:

We couldn’t dress up on our own because it was too complex and difficult to do.  Luckily we had a few Japanese ladies that were tailoring everybody as well as dressing them.  I was fortunate enough to get dressed up fairly quickly:

Andre, some other guy and I posed after we got our costume on.  The cool part is that they gave us a sword and a knife as well!:

As soon as we were dressed up, we were asked if we could pass out a few flyers about the event to random passerbys around the city.  We didn’t mind so we headed toward the city in our get-up with a few flyers.  At first, I thought it was going to be difficult; people handing out flyers are usually a pest to the average Japanese citizen.  You see them so often and they try to shove their ads at you, I don’t blame people avoiding them like the plague.  However, it was the complete opposite situation with our group, everyone WANTED the flyers.  I wasn’t even advertising; the second they saw me carrying flyers, they asked right away to get one.  We finished our batch within 10 minutes.

Afterward, we were sent to a local market.  The TV crew gave us a bunch of tickets that we were able to spend on various foods and drinks.  The food was delicious; I couldn’t believe it was all free.  I ran into Jess and Raz who were going to wander around the city to look for Kira.  After all, that was our original objective until noon.  I decided to tag along.  After walking for a couple of blocks, we ran into a baby stroller that had a sticker saying, “Kira was here at 11:15”  I looked at my phone and realized that had only been about a couple of minutes ago.  Just as I was putting my phone away, an elderly couple pointed down an alleyway saying “Kira is down there!  I saw him!”  The three of us headed towards the alley, walking slowly.  Soon, we spotted him a block down.  We all sprinted towards him while the TV crew chased us down, it was hilarious.  I think Raz was yelling out “Kira!  Come back!”  She was really into it.  We eventually caught up to him and we were awarded with a small prize.  We were the first group to catch Kira because everyone else was still eating and wandering down the market.  Unfortunately this segment didn’t hit the air but it was featured in the extended version of the show.  The producer put the clip on Youtube, around 5:36.  You should watch it!:

After catching him, we bragged to everyone and continued to eat food.  We then saw a couple of staged fights, which was cool to watch.  Afterward, we headed to the graveyards of the 47 Ronin and made a prayer for them.  It was pretty cool walking to the incense and seeing two people chanting while you did your little prayer.  I took a few pictures around the area:

 

One of the funniest moments of the day was when Ahmed began singing “We Are the World” for no apparent reason.  Our Japanese leader heard it and began to sing it as well, which was hilarious.  He got everyone to sing it while the crowd was applauding, taking pictures and videos of it.  Our leader continued to do silly things like that and we later found out he was the head of Tourisim in the area.  So awesome.

Afterward, we were escorted to another area and watched a group of young kids performing traditional music/storytelling.  They were really young; it was cool to see them perform!  Here’s a video on that:

Some of our JETs were fortunate enough to participate with the Japanese when it came to demonstrating their blades.  I feel dumb for forgetting the name of the art style :\ sorry!  We also saw some more staged fighting:

After that, we were escorted to a memorial place of the 47 Ronin.  Along the way we saw another staged fight.  Before we entered the castle ruins, our leader asked us to make a chant for our group.  “A-K-O! A-K-O!”  The entire group got really into it while we marched into the castle.  While we were entering, I noticed a newspaper reporter talking to one of the JETs.  She looked really confused and opted not to be interviewed.  He looked at me as if asking me if it was okay.  I figured, what the hell?  I might as well try.  I was interviewed twice in front the camera but I had fumbled through it due to my rusty Japanese and nervousness.  However, by the time we got to the castle ruins, I had come up with something to say.  The reporter ended up being from the Kobe Shinbun.  He asked a few basic questions like “Where are you from?” , “Have you heard of the 47 Ronin?” and “What kind of experience is this to you?”  I answered every question fairly well and he asked for my name and the city I was living in.  At this point, I realized I was going to be on the newspaper, which rocks!  I always wanted to be in the newspaper for something random…it doesn’t get any more random than being interviewed in a samurai outfit in Japan.  Here is the article talking about us online; it might be difficult for those who can’t read Japanese but it basically talked about how tourism has gone down since the March 11 earthquake/tsunami.  Also, the story of the 47 Ronin has been forgotten by the current generation.  As a way to promote international relationships as well as introducing the story to a new generation of people, we were invited to attend as the 47 Ronin.  Then it has my comment:  “I think this was a rare experience.  Japanese history is very interesting and I’m glad I could be a part of today’s events’ he said with a smile on his face”.  Awesome!

Before we were allowed to explore, we were sent to the temple to give a prayer.  I don’t know for whom we were doing it this time but once again, a couple of priests performed the prayer inside the temple with us; a place most people aren’t allowed in.  After that, we drank some sake to honor them.  We were then given a good luck charm; I put mine on my backpack as they said to put it on something you usually have with you.

Afterward, we finally got some free time to check out the area.  Outside the temple were statues of each ronin.  Everyone found their person and took a picture next to it.  I was no exception 😀 :

 

Once free time was up, we were whisked to a little carnival going on.  We then watched a couple of really awkward shows featuring elementary and junior high girls doing sexy dancing to hip hop music.  It was really, really creepy.  Some of us decided to stop watching and took some pictures by a pond.  Ahmed had his badass camera with him so we took some black and white pictures of us posing by the pond.  I took the pensive route since that’s who I am.  I’d like to think it came out really well:

After the performances were over, we were called up to the stage.  The people interviewed a couple of us, mostly people they knew who could speak good Japanese.  After the interviews, they escorted us to our bus.  I took a nice picture of Ako along the way:

So finally, the event was over.  Or was it?  Once we got out of our samurai outfit, we were taken to a fancy hotel by the beach.  The final event was getting a free trip to the hotel’s onsen.  For those unfamiliar of what an onsen is, it’s a hot springs bath that you get inside and relax for awhile with other members of your sex.  The thing with the onsen is that you don’t wear anything—you go inside butt naked.  Needless to say, it was pretty uncomfortable undressing and watching lots of naked Japanese guys wandering around, showing their junk.  It’s even worse when you see your friends. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.  I got inside as fast as I could and made an exit when no one I knew was around.  The bath itself is very relaxing.  I can see why people say to only be inside there for around 10 minutes max; I was feeling pretty lightheaded when I got out.  So while it was awkward, the onsen was still nice.  I’m glad I got to experience that but I don’t know how often I will be doing that, haha.

Finally, after leaving the onsen, we were on our way home.  As if they couldn’t give us more free things, the camera crew gave us two huge bottles of Ako sake and a big bento.  It was probably one of the best days I’ll ever have in Japan and I’m glad I participated in it.  2011 definitely went out in a bang here, hopefully 2012 will be just as fun!

Oh, I almost forgot.  Here is the final product of our adventure that was aired on TV.  While I was barely featured, it was awesome to actually see myself and my friends on TV!

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