Monday, October 30, 2006

House Fires and Halloween Parties

Last weekend was an adventure. I went to Kamakura with my friend Yuriko, who was down for a visit home. She volunteered to show me some of the smaller temples around, plus a cave of some sort or another that she insisted we go to. The cave wasn't really a cave, it was a place where a tunnel had been carved through a very thin ridge, so the actual ceiling of the tunnel was only a few meters wide. There was a danger sign for falling rocks, but that didn't seem to stop the hikers. I'm waiting for the earthquake that collapses it, although it must be pretty solid rock to have survived to now. It looked like part of a construction project, but when you walk through it, there are some carved-away places with small Buddhist statues placed inside. Altogether rather strange. What happened after was even more unique.

We went through the 'tunnel' and down the hiking trail and came upon a road. Just past the trailhead, there were some houses, all overlooking a small stream. There were some people standing on the side of the road, looking down into the stream. I thought one of the old folks had dropped something down and they were trying to figure out how to get it. But when we got closer, we smelled smoke and realized that they weren't looking down, they were watching the house across the way. There was smoke coming out from under the eaves on the top floor.

Some of the neighbors were around, and we asked if anyone was home. They said a woman in her 70s lived there, but she wasn't answering her phone. Yuriko, myself, and a Japanese couple ran around to the gate. The guy jumped the gate and ran up to the door, knocking and calling out, trying to see if anyone was home. He couldn't open the door, and came back out. Yuriko and I went in, and I promptly walked into a giant spiderweb that everyone else had been too short to run into.

I'm not arachnophobic, don't get me wrong. But I also don't seek out their company. And Japanese spiders are HUGE. I'm not talking those little orb weavers back in Indiana. I'm talking ginormous, brightly-colored spiders that sit in the middle waiting for a moth or small Japanese dog to get tangled up. So I wasn't pleased with the prospect of a big spider running around my head and down the back of my shirt or something, as spiders are wont to do. So I dropped to the ground, pulling silk from my hair, spitting it out of my mouth and in the process completely losing any of the manliness I'd hoped to exude by running into a burning building and saving some poor woman.

By now we could hear sirens, and I figured it's best not to be caught in someone's yard while foreign, fire or no, so we beat a hasty retreat to the road. When I glimpsed back, sure enough, the big-ass spider was still hanging there. Yuck.

The firemen showed up, as did a couple cops on mopeds and finally a couple paramedics. The fire-fighting equipment was interesting, since it's more compact and designed to fit in the narrow alleys they call roads here in Japan. Seriously, some of the roads here wouldn't fit a standard American SUV, let alone an American-sized fire engine. The engine rolls up, they open up the back and this guy drives out on what looks like an industrial-sized Segway and drives toward the house, while the hose unravels from the cart. Guess that's how they get into the REALLY narrow streets.

So while some guys roll up and prep the hoses, a paramedic and firefighter climb up on the roof and try to see if anyone's home. They broke the glass finally and got in to search the house. We hung around until they put out the fire and determined nobody was home. The neighbors had been calling around, they think they lady had gone up to Tokyo for the day and left the electricity on, which led to something or other overheating and set the place on fire.

Speaking of which, I was woken from my slumber one Sunday morning to siren blasts and people making noise. The Hiratsuka fire department had set some small fires in the park outside my balcony and were calling people together for a picnic and lessons on how to put out fires. It's all well and good, we need to be safe, but they could do it some other time when I haven't been out til 4am.


The day after the house fire, I went to a Halloween party. A month or so ago, I went to the culture festival at one of my schools, and met the mother of one of my students. She caught me off guard with her exceptional English, something I certainly wasn't expecting that day. Her family had evidently spent some years living in the US, California and Minnesota to be exact, which was entirely news to me, because her daughter had made no attempt to communicate with me in any way whatsoever. It wasn't until a couple weeks ago when I was doing conversation tests and spoke to her one-on-one that I heard her speak English at all.

Anyway, the mother, Rumi, runs a language school for neighborhood children, and invited me to a Halloween party. She asked that I bring some things related to Halloween from the US. Unfortunately, I had nothing besides a couple greeting cards and stickers from my family, so my roommate Tracey and I came up with "bobbing for apples" and "pin the stem on the pumpkin" to play. The kids went all out with costumes, while I was rather understated in my multi-purpose pirate hat. They went out trick-or-treating, then they came back and we played some games. It was fun to do something Halloween related, seeing as not many people are big on that here. I've only seen adverts for parties at clubs up in Roppongi, the foreigner section of Tokyo, something that doesn't particularly interest me.

Afterwards, the family treated Tracey and I to a nice dinner out, which was a lot more than I'd expected. It was pretty fantastic. I also got to see a more or less normal Japanese household. That's not something foreigners normally get to experience. I think it was the first time I'd ever been in a real house here in Japan. It was like your average American house, but about a quarter of the size. Everything was smaller and narrower (though the doorjambs were high enough I didn't crack my skull, like I do here in my apartment), but the quality of workmanship was higher, I think. I don't know if this is average or what, but it was nice to see how people live, and that they're not so different.

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