Friday, September 24, 2010

Jeepney Press 2010 September-October Issue Page 10

CONNECTIONS by Richard Diaz Alorro

Beery Summer
The summer of 2010 holds the record of the hottest, most humid, and wettest summer experience I have in Sapporo. For an almost 5 years of stay in this northern Japanese city, never had I heard electric fans selling like hotcakes in a city known for its cool and refreshing summer characterized by less rainfall. This year’s summer in Sapporo defied the usual and the conventional. Sapporo bathed in a summer comparable to that in the mainland and the southern islands.

In this very hot season, nothing beats a glass of thirst quenching ice-cold beer of your choice with friends or colleagues after a hard-day work! Thanks to the Sapporo Beer Festival, Sapporo locals still have a great reason to enjoy and celebrate summer. Sapporo claims to be the first city to brew domestic beer in Japan and the city where the best beers are found due to its cold climate and the use of homegrown materials for beer production. Whether this declaration is true or not, undeniably Sapporo Beer Festival is a must-do during summer and has become one of the most-looked forward events among Sapporo locals.

The Sapporo Beer Festival or Sapporo Beer Garden happens at Odori Park, the famous location of the Sapporo Snow Festival in winter. During summer, 6 blocks of the park are converted into a big open-air area where beer and food are served. In each block, different brewery is selling their products and some local delicacies. Each block is a showcase of various flavors not only of beer but also of entertainment and ambiance. The shops are open from around 11 am until 9 pm. The beer festival lasts for about 4 weeks starting from mid-July until mid-August. According to Sapporo City website, as much as 574,842 liters of beer was consumed by 523,00 people for about 20 days during last year’s Sapporo Beer Festival. This statistics is a proof that citizens of Sapporo drink huge amount of beer!

What I really love about the Sapporo Beer Festival is the opportunity to mingle and have great time with friends or other locals under the heat of the afternoon sun or the shy mid-summer evening. People from all walks of life convene in these blocks of beer extravaganza to get relief from stressful work at least for a while, chat with friends or colleagues, and enjoy different beer flavors and beer accompaniments. The summer beer festival is an amazing idea that fits very well in Japan’s context of enjoyment, social interaction, and festivity. By western or even Philippine standards, the beer festival might be an absurd concept considering the chaos that might occur when people get drunk and become crazy. Most Japanese remain very calm and peaceful, crazy at times yet enjoyable, even when they are drunk. Indeed, this makes Japan, particularly Sapporo, an ideal setting for beer festivals and the best venue to truly enjoy a glass or a barrel of a cool amber beverage.

If you plan to visit Sapporo in summer, never forget to include in your must do list the Sapporo Beer Garden experience. As for me, for 5 years now, the beer festival has always been a part of my Sapporo summer. It feels good to be connected … always!




The GeGeGe Boom
普通なのに直通。これは何だ。 Yes, the jeepney, no less. This space will take you to different destinations and discuss current events or commonplace themes by focusing on the local scene—discussing people, events and places. Today’s spotlight is on the GeGeGe boom caused by GeGeGe no Nyoubo (GeGeGe’s wife) the NHK drama (airs from March 29 to September 30, Mon-Fri 8:00-8:15AM and Sat 9:30-11:00 on BS) which has been enjoying immense popularity with average ratings of over 20% over the past few months, surpassing all other shows this season. The man of the hour is Shigeru Mizuki (friends called him GeGeGe at school). He is a prolific manga artist considered by many as master of the yokai or supernatural beings. His characters like Hakaba Kitaro, Medama Oyaji, Ittan-momen Nezumi Otoko and Akuma-kun are very popular with children and adults alike.

Shigeru Mizuki ’s works on the yokai are currently on exhibit at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (July 30-Oct 3, 2010). I went during the Obon season when the crowds were rather thick but it was a joy to see whole families queuing. The pictures showed yokai in various settings from bamboo fields to the tokonoma, or sticking out from mirrors and pots which rendered the yokai as amusing rather than scary creatures. The parents and art enthusiasts enjoyed the masterful art of Mizuki-san with his attention to detail and ability to tell the history of a specter in one frame. The children’s eyes were sparkling with curiosity as their parents read out the place of origin, powers, quirks, and watering holes of each yokai. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, there were close to a hundred creatures (several of them are lurking in Kyoto!) chronicled in drawings and paintings.

Shigeru Mizuki is also well-known for his war memoirs narrated by Nezumi Otoko with progressive anti-war themes depicted in a manga series for young readers detailing the atrocities of the Japanese Army in China and Korea. He was sent to a South Pacific island (now a part of Papua New Guinea) in 1943 during the war where he experienced beatings, hunger, contracted malaria, etc. His left arm was seriously injured in an explosion such that it had to be amputated without any anesthesia. He was befriended by the tribesmen who helped him recover from his injuries and continued to live with the villagers until 1946 before returning to Japan.

Shigeru Mizuki (Shigeru Mura in real life) who hails from Sakaiminato, Tottori is considered an icon and town’s flag-bearer. Museums and even yokai qualification exams are credited to his name. Town office workers who flesh out strategies to attract tourists to visit Tottori expressed their gratefulness for having “Mizuki-sensei” as their kababayan. Whenever they ask Mizuki-sensei for advice, they cannot help but address him not just with one but with double keigo showing deference to this living icon.

But much of the charm of Mizuki-san comes from his hardworking, down-to-earth yet straightforward manner. He is known not to mince words but is very considerate of others and never fails to say “thank you.” In a 2006 NHK documentary (rerun shown last August 14) entitled “Yokai Mizuki Shigeru no GeGeGe Koufuku-ron” (Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe Theory of Happiness) he said those who has had two or three near-death experiences become strong leaders or good businessmen.「死にかけたって経験を2、3回もってじゃないとだめ。死にかけたっては、強いですね。死なないから。」 Especially in these hard times, people should not give up easily, people should learn to improvise. 「一工夫こらす必要ある。」

In another interview, he was asked (rather insensitively by an overly-curious journalist) about what he felt having only one arm, Mizuki-san answered “With just one arm, I have been able to do thrice as much work as any able-bodied person. If I had lost both arms, I would have worked six times more than anyone who have both.” Asked if he had ever wallowed in self-pity for losing his left (writing) arm, he replied “Never. Being alive without an arm is a lot better than dying.” 「思ったことはない。命を失うより片腕をなくしても生きている方が価値がある」

Mizuki-san’s life depicted in GeGeGe no Nyoubou (based on the autobiography of his wife, Nunoe Mura) inspires the average salary man wearied by bleak prospects for the future in these very uncertain times. A struggling one-armed manga artist in his late 30s, with neither a stable income nor job; and the only two things that were constant in his life were his passion for drawing and the unwavering support of his wife. One episode showed his wife troubled as she did not have any money left to buy supper. Mizuki-san disappears and comes back with a bunch of blackened bananas which he said was the only thing he could buy with the money he got for pawning some of his drawings. The couple now in their eighties is alive and well and in a TV interview last spring, they said those bananas were a feast. The wife said “The bananas looked hideous but they were not rotten-- just a little overripe.”

The positive, bright attitude of this amazing couple in the most trying situations is a beacon for modern-day young families. The GeGeGe fever seems to be catching on overseas as well. If you failed to watch the TV series, don’t fret: GeGeGe no Nyoubo, the movie will hit local theaters on Nov 20, 2010.

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