February 24 2001

Subject: When the lights go down…

Date: Saturday, February 24, 2001 5:03 AM

There I was, standing in my bathroom, doing the laundry, when SNAP!, the lights go out. Good thing I was wearing the glow-in-the-dark boxer shorts. 🙂 (Sorry, I’m way behind on my underwear story quota).

“Otorii.” Said the Sensei, sitting at the other end of the table.

The Kencho young’un sitting to my right groaned (sounded like the Japanese version of “oh crap!”) and dropped his head on the table, loudly. The young’un to my left started making ringing noises and fumbling for his cell phone. The Sensei looked at them and they stopped.

Okinawa is made up of many different islands, probably 40 or so, and thus there is distinct cultural differences between them. The Sensei is from Miyako, an island located to the South west of Honto (main island, where I live). It’s closer to Taiwan then Honto, and Honto is almost equidistant between Miyako and Tokyo. Miyako’s out there.

Miyako is also home to the April All Japan Strong Man, so Harris, keep reading…

The Sensei went on to say that Miyako is traditionally a very poor island, and has little in the way of natural resources. One of the few activities they do, he goes on to say, is drink. And liquor is very precious to Miyakans.

As he’s telling the story, I’m listening to the very quiet translation from my predecessor, nodding my head, and watching the Sensei take the bottle of Awamori and fill the water pitcher with Awamori. I know what’s coming.

Now, I’ve learned a thing or two since I’ve been here. 1) Okinawans like their drink. 2) Miyakans LOVE their drink. They are renown for their alcohol consumption in a land already known for their consumption. There is some discrimination against people from Miyako, as they tend to party very HARD when they come to Honto.

What happens in Otorii is the toastmaster fills up a glass from the pitcher, makes a speech, then guzzles the Awamori. He then refills the glass, passes it to the next person, who makes a speech, guzzles, etc. It usually stops when people “go to the bathroom” and decided that their bathroom at home is much better and thus leave. Or everyone dies of alcohol poisoning. I’m kidding, but the ritual is renown for it’s sheer drunken excess. Miyako men are also renown for their speech making ability, they talk more to forestal the drunk part.

The Sensei was invoking the Otorii ritual as our gathering was to celebrate the February birthdays of three Young’uns. By this time in the evening, the last birth person was swearing his head off, wishing he had left earlier.

We only did one round. Phew. I managed to drink my round without shooting it out my nose (they probably would have frowned on that).

After that, the Sensei left, and the birthday boy decided it was time to leave. So he told the party planners that he had to leave as “his girlfriend was going to call him at 12:00 so he had to leave.” (So I lied, I was tired) The girls started hitting me, all in fun (that happens a lot lately), and they announced that the party was over. Everyone got up and left. Like that (Please imagine Chris snapping his fingers loudly).

Next weekend, a student exchange group is going to visit Hawaii. Almost two weeks in Honolulu, and a couple of days on the Big Island. I’ve been helping out a little, and today was the final orientation. Twenty-three girls and five boys are going. It’s a really good group of kids, I have a wonderful relationship with one of the guys; he can’t stand me and I think he’s a disrespectful punk. His host family lives in Kahuku and he’ll be visiting Kahuku High. (Please imagine Chris laughing his head off. I really, REALLY wanted to tell him the “ufa mi kefi” was a traditional greeting. {For those of you that haven’t ever heard that phrase, it’s guaranteed to get your head and arms and other body parts forcibly removed})

So if you see any kids running around, looking lost, and muttering something about “Chris Sensei wa baka na desu”, be nice to them.


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