そらんぶし (soran bushi)

Yesterday was a really slow day at work. Slow to the point of boring. I only had two classes, and in one of them the students were taking a practice test, which meant that all I did was hand out sheets. Most of the time I stood to the side and calculated how many meals worth of perishable food I have at my apartment to figure out if grocery shopping this week is a wise idea (it isn’t). The second class was slightly more stimulating, but still not mentally exerting. Back at my desk in the teacher’s room there was nothing to grade and no assignments to prep. 

Deprivation provides appreciation, and days like today remind me how grateful I am to have teachers who partner with me. Today was extraordinarily boring, but my first two years this hum drum was par for the course. That most days this year aren’t mind numbingly boring is a gift I don’t take for granted. Furthermore, because of so much experience with boredom at work, I know how to ameliorate it. First of all I study. This year I haven’t studied Japanese as much as I should. Today I reviewed flashcards for an hour and a half. Secondly, I read. Sometimes I forget how much I miss reading. I pulled out Judy Greer’s memoir during lunch, and read a chapter from Naomi Novik’s Throne of Jade while giving my brain a break from studying. Thirdly, I invited myself to other classes. Namely, P.E.

One of the ninth grade classes had P.E. fourth period, so I wandered up to the gym to see what they were doing. Last week I got invited to join them for table tennis. Yesterday the teacher came over and explained that they were learning a traditional Japanese dance called the soran bushi, and I was welcome to join them. I accepted gladly. While my Japanese isn’t good enough to track every command the teacher calls out, there was a video playing which I could glance at when I got lost. What’s more, I had a small background in this dance. Last fall at a different junior high the eighth graders invited me to participate in a dance they were doing as part of a larger skit, and the dance was this same one. The afternoon before the festival six eighth grade girls crowded around me and taught me the basics. Later another teacher sent me a youtube link so I could watch it a couple of times. While I didn’t master it, I was taught the premise: that many of the motions mimic the traditional Japanese method of fishing in honor of that popular vocation. This meant I at least understood why my hands were doing the gestures (pulling a rope, throwing fish over my shoulder, casting out a net) as opposed to aimlessly going through the motions. Yesterday I revisited that dance. 45 minutes doth not a master make, and most parts I still fumble through, but my thighs certainly got a workout, I got to hang out with the students, I learned more about a Japanese art, and I had fun. 

That, I thought, was the end. It was a wonderful experience, but not quite blog material. Until that afternoon. 

Yesterday afternoon we had a pep rally for a sports day coming up soon. All of the pep rallies I’ve been to here are the same: students make a tunnel, the athletes run through it in their uniforms and line up, the principal makes a ten minute speech, each team gets on stage and introduces every member, an all male cheering squad gets on the stage and runs through a dance/cheer with a big old taiko drum, we clap, we bow, and students leave. It’s fun, and I like Japanese pep rallies a lot better than American ones, but I know what is coming. There isn’t any variation. I know what to expect. 

Except yesterday there was a surprise. After the usual cheer, the squad of nine males began dancing the soran bushi. I was flabbergasted. They were good too. At least much better than I expected from a group of ninth graders who I had never before seen dance, who have never had dance lessons, and who aren’t guys lining up for professional auditions. Considering the parameters of this squad, this wasn’t a situation in which the teacher was able to be choosy, and the results were not too shabby. They had clearly had extra practice, as they were dancing much better than the girls I was dancing next to a few hours earlier. Come to think of it, I had noticed that the boys as a group were dancing better than the girls. Those extra practices would account for it. 

I wish I could post videos here of both the pep rally as well as the dance. However privacy dictates I abstain. Instead, I am including a link to the video we watched in class so you can see what the dance is like. Enjoy!

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