Monday, 9 April 2012

Japanese Musings II: O-ha!!!

It's been a busy week with Holy Week taking over, but things are back to normal now and on a more secular note, here is another slice of my time in Japan, this time when my life gets invaded by a rather annoying yet catchy pop song...
Keep travelling!
Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all the Japanese Musings:

Series 1

Japanese Musings I: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Japanese Musings II: O-ha!!!

Japanese Musings III: The Thin Blue Line

Japanese Musings IV: Nihon no Shokyu

Japanese Musings V: The Sporting Life

Japanese Musings VI: A Bad Day

Japanese Musings VII: Time, time, time…

Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation

Japanese Musings IX: Meri Kurisumasu!

Japanese Musings X: It’s Cold Outside!

Japanese Musings XI: Moomins and Mydo Cardo

Japanese Musings XII: Engrish

Japanese Musings XIII: Valentine’s Day

Series 2

Japanese Musings 2.1: Arrival: Tokyo

Japanese Musings 2.2: Arrival: Inaka

Japanese Musings 2.3: Riding the Kamioka-sen

Japanese Musings 2.4: Onsen

Japanese Musings II: O-ha!!!
Just recently Japan seems to have been taken over by one of those catchy pop tunes that appear from time to time, are on everybody's lips and then disappear completely, only ever heard again at wedding discos or other such celebrations. The beautiful "Macarena" by Los del Rio and the haunting "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies are two examples of such songs. I am not sure of the precise title of the tune that is brainwashing the Japanese public at the moment, though it is known by most of the gaijin at least as, "The O-ha Song".

The formula is simple, take a member of Smap (a popular band), dress him in women's clothes, call him Shingo Mama and then get him to perform a catchy song about his addiction to mayonnaise, and give the catchy tune an equally catchy dance. You see, it is the dance, or at least parts of it, that people remember. Basically, you sing "O-haaaa!" a lot, making two 'ok' signs with your hands for the 'o' bit and then pushing both hands out in front of you, fingers stretched out, (imagine you are pushing open a heavy door with both hands), for the 'haaaa!' bit. "O-ha!" incidentally means 'good morning!' and yes, before you ask, of course I purchased this CD, (if only for the dance moves inside the sleeve).

But, alas! This is not what I intend to discuss with you this week. Instead, I shall tell you a little of myself. For several years now, I have taken to sitting in cafes and sipping sedately on cups of tea, or if that is not available, coffee. All great, famous artists and writers do this, in the cultured cities around the globe - Paris, Milan, Rome, Barcelona, Wolverhampton - whilst they muse upon their latest writings or etchings.

Now of course, I am sure that many will be quick to point out here that I am neither a famous author, or indeed remotely good at etchings, paintings, or indeed anything that requires a grand deal of effort, but hey, I like caffeine and it makes me feel more intelligent than I actually am. Now of course, many will also be quick to point out that Osawano is generally not regarded amongst the great centres of world culture, but unperturbed I persevere and continue with my vocation.
Indeed within Osawano I have found a venue where I am quite at home; it is named 'Gusto'. Now, I have to admit, that 'Gusto' is not quite a French pavement cafe with Art Nouveau Architecture and warm croissants. To form an image of 'Gusto' in your mind, think more MacDonalds with rice and a toilet with a heated seat, (I jest not). In fact, I do have several friends who tend to look down upon the humble 'Gusto' as "not being authentically Japanese enough". But, a Japanese-owned restaurant, in Japan, serving Japanese food and full of Japanese people is Japanese enough for me. So what if they serve burgers as well, in my opinion these people are either (A) On a higher cultural plane to myself, or (B) Stuck up their own cultural backsides. I am unsure which.
But, oh, let me get on with my tale. Well, sat I was in 'Gusto' the other evening, nursing my cup of tea (with milk), and musing upon the workings of the world, when the waiter came over to me and started with surprise "Matto-san! You have come from England! Yes, you teach in Osawano Junior High, and then a longer spiel recounting numerous exciting exploits of my life." Now of course, this gentleman's intimate knowledge of me did surprise me somewhat, so I asked him from whence he had garnered it.

"From the newspaper!" came his reply.

You see, this little story I just told to illustrate a new dimension of my life, that of my new role as a celebrity. The thing is I actually teach every child in Osawano from 3-15 and due to being employed by the Town Council, I have a regular newspaper column. Thus, I am fast becoming extremely well-known in the town. I cannot help but walk down the street before someone will come and "Matto-sensei, herrow!!" Now, of course this was rather pleasant at first. Achieving celebrity status is of course something that many of us dream of, and even better, to achieve it by doing absolutely nothing. But to be honest, I am finding that it begins to grate after a while.

The other day, myself and a friend were in one of the finest restaurants in the locality, (ok, small lie, it was 'Gusto'), when a group of children came in, immediately spotted me and shouted "Matto-sensei, O-haaaaa!" "O-haaa!" I did reply, complete with actions. But alas, this merely spurred the little tinkers on. Oh yes, we were on the receiving end of "O-haaas!" for the best part of half an hour. I walk along the street, and lo, out of the corner of my eye I spy a member of the Osawano youth. I hurry up, bury my head in a book, but to no avail, I am discovered and out they holler "Matto-sensei, O-haaaaa!" Of course, the good side is that if I go out of Osawano, I am once again just a normal gaijin, who does not warrant "O-haaaas", merely stares, but I do have to live here. They are "O-haaaing" me in the bank, the supermarket, the street and last Sunday, even in the onsen. I admit now that Shingo Mama is cool, he has immense musical talent, his song is great and his choreography even better, but right now, I wish he would just disappear fast.

And take his bloody "O-haaaas!" with him.

Written 2000, Osawano, Japan

Want to check out Shingo Mama and his classic 'O-ha Rock'? Click here and enjoy along with an enlightening interview (in Japanese with English subtitles).

Next musing: The Thin Blue Line

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