Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dazaifu-nishi Elementary School, Huis Ten Bosch, Commercial (大宰府西小学校、ハウステンボス、コマーシャル)

*Quick Reminder: You can click on any of the pictures for a clearer and/or larger image*

Sorry again for how long it's been since the last update. I've had exams in my Japanese classes this past week and have been fairly busy in general. Shall we...

Dazaifu-nishi Elementary School Visit

A few weekends ago JTW returned to Dazaifu, but this time we weren't looking at Sumo wrestlers, ancient shrines, flying plum trees or Zen gardens. In fact, we came to visit what can be thought of as the opposite of Sumo wrestlers: kids! We were invited to Dazaifu-nishi Elementary school to visit the classrooms and do fun activities with the 2nd through 5th graders.

Each of us were assigned two different classrooms to attend in turn that day. I was assigned 2nd and 5th grade. After a short introduction from the staff the students began to enter three at a time holding big signs with our names on them. My "guide" was an adorable girl named Kiwa (which I'm told is a rare name in Japan; noone I've talked to has ever met anyone with that name before).

Kiwa led me and the others who were assigned the same classroom to our destination. We arrived in the 2nd grade classroom and were promply seated in the front facing a sea of curious little faces.

Kids in Japan start studying English from a very early age so we were asked to use English with them as much as possible. We each stood up and slowly inroduced ourselves: our name, where we were from, etc. Then the kids asked us some questions that we answered, though we normally needed to translate our answers into Japanese. Give them a break! They're only in 3rd grade! ;)

Next we all gathered in a circle and sang "Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes" together. It was really fun.

We sat back down and watched 6 groups of kids individually introduce various games and activities to us. We then went to stations and tried the activities ourselves. These ranged from Cat's Cradle, Origami, bean bag "juggling" (although only two were used - I wowed the kids by juggling three), blindfolded "pin the eyes, ears and mouth" on the head, a weird game using flattened marbles (or something like that), and a wooden ball and cup game (sometimes called "Balero"). It was a lot of fun and the kids seemed to really like showing us all of these games.

Next we said goodbye to the third graders and were led to the 5th grade classroom. Here we once again introduced ourselves and then were immediately rushed to one of four prepared stations: adding and subtracting using an abacus, storytelling, calligraphy, and...a fourth one that I can't recall at the moment!

Next on the agenda was to attend the first part of the 30th anniversary ceremony for the school. Here we all sat on the floor and watched 7 or 8 pieces performed by a mid-sized orchestra. This was really great and they played wonderful music (including the theme from Ponyo!).

After the ceremony we had lunch with the kids. We actually sat at their desks which meant our knees were to our chests practically! Haha!
Finally we attended the second half of the the ceremony. We had to bear listening to several long speeches in very difficult Japanese that I don't think anyone in the visiting group understood. But, afterward we saw some of the older students perform a traditional Korean dance number, followed by a large musical ensemble performing a beautiful piece of music that reminded me of Uematsu or Mitsuda a bit.

When the ceremony had ended we went back to our original room, gathered our stuff and then got back on the bus to go home. It was a great experience and I look forward to our next school visit in Susenji a couple of weeks from now!

Huis Ten Bosch: The Holland of Japan

In the last entry I mentioned that I was going to be an extra in a television commercial. Remember?

On September 17th, I headed to Hakata station in order to meet the 28 other extras and Nick of Fukuoka Now! magazine and head by train to Nagasaki prefecture. Our round-trip fare was covered by the production company and a meal was provided on board. The train ride took a little over an hour and the country side we passed through, especially once we reached Nagasaki-ken, was lush and beautiful. We had to transfer one time to another train that only took about 5 additional minutes to reach the entrance to Huis Ten Bosch, the Dutch themed resort where the filming was to take place. I hear Michael Jackson really loved this place and stayed there multiple times.

We walked to the hotel that would be our central regrouping spot for the next few days. We were finally told exactly what the commercial was about and were given a brief description of the scenarios of the scenes we would be used for. Unfortunately we were told we can't post pictures of the production online (don't worry, I'll stick a couple pics that are mainly of me but have the set behind me), but I can tell you that the commercial was for the Aderans Wig Company, which is very famous in Japan for doing work in television and movies. The commercial starred a famous actress who was Miss Japan in the 1970s. The concept of the commercial is for the actress to be walking through a European city during each of the 4 seasons (first spring, then summer, fall and winter) and, no matter what the weather conditions, the wig would stay bouncy and healthy-looking. "Yay!" right?

It was fairly late in the day when we arrived so we weren't able to really rehearse to much that first day. We were taken to the sets and were able to look around a bit and see the construction that was in progress.

We headed back to the hotel and were given our room assignments. We stayed in these nice little two-story villas, three or four people in each, that had two bedrooms , a living room, 1 1/2 bathrooms, and a balcony overlooking a pond. We unloaded our stuff and decided to meet up with some of the others to find a place to talk and drink something.

We found a bar and 8 or 9 of us headed upstairs to an empty bar. We were the only ones there, but the waitresses must have heard us and hurried out from wherever they were hiding in the back. I ordered an 800 yen Guiness...I don't want to talk about it. It was good, but not worth 800 yen. We chatted a bit and then headed outside to watch a firework show that was happening over the water. There was a live saxophonist playing great tunes while the fireworks exploded overhead. It was a really nice end to the first night.

The next morning our meeting time was 5:55 in the hotel. We were fitted for wardrobe for each of the four seasons. They actually ended up just using what I had brought to wear myself: a black Element t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. For the summer scene they gave me this blue, hat to wear that I thought looked kind of stupid but they're the experts. I was fitted for the fall and winter as well and actually kind of liked what they picked out for me for winter. Unfortunately, not all of the extras were needed for the fall and winter shoots so this outfit will never be scene on TV :(

We gathered for breakfast. I enjoyed a few cups of coffee and some juice along with the obento breakfast they prepared. When breakfast was over we all headed downstairs to the set of spring and summer.

This second day there was a stand-in actress doing all of the rehearsing. I don't recall her name but I heard that she was a famous Japanese gravure model. The actual actress didn't arrive until the next day.

Spring: a European street with a cafe, fruit market and flower shop, a few people sit at outdoor tables talking, drinking coffee or reading a newspaper; a couple walks by, a man on a bike rides past; the actress walks delightfully through the street pausing under an awning to either window shop or look at her reflection in the window (I never figured out which). My role was to sit at one of the tables outside the cafe with a girl. We order from the menu and then continue talking after handing the menu back to the waitress. We had to do this take at least 30 times over the course of the two days so we had to come up with some way to keep our energy up. The menu was blank, white pages. So when the waitress would come we'd often say,

"Yes, I was wondering what was on special today? Oh, the white? How is that? Oh that sounds delightful, I'll have that?"

Or any number of variations of that. Sometimes we'd order a different color and would be told that they're out of that. I know it sounds dumb, but it kept us laughing and 元気-ness was kept high as a result.

Next was summer. Basically it was the same set bu the people were in different costumes and had different roles. This time I was wearing a smock/apron and that blue hat I mentioned earlier. My role was an assistant at a fruit vendor. It starts to rain and my boss and I have to cover the fruit with long tablecloths (which, by the way, in reality, would not protect anything from rain...). But it gave us something to do and I'm sure looked good on film. The rest of the extras were in various positions, walking with raised umbrellas in one direction or another.

Next we headed back to the changing room and put on our outfits for fall. The set consisted of a women walking a dog down a neighborhood sidewalk, a couple coming outside from their home, a man selling his paintings on the side of the street and so on. The crew brought a giant back of fallen leaves to lay all of the ground to give the illusion of a fall day.

Winter was the same street, but they made fake snow and, again, everyone's outfit was different and they were in different spots. I wasn't around for the whole shoot of these final two seasons so I don't know exactly what went on.

We finished rehearsal on the second day early at about 4:00 PM or so. We had some daylight to spare so we decided to get a group together and explore Huis Ten Bosch. I was able to see almost the whole resort and got some beautiful pictures of this Dutch oddity stuck in the middle of Kyushu.

The next day we had to meet at 4:50 AM. So early! We gathered for wardrobe and then a group of us were taken to the breakfast area...and the door was locked. We waited outside in the brisk morning air for at least 20 minutes before someone arrived with the key to let us in. I drank quite a few cups of coffee and ate breakfast.

We had rehearsed so much the previous day that when the actress finally arrived everything seemed to go fairly smoothly. We did multiple takes but for the most part it was fairly simple. The hardest part was having to pretend that it was a spring or summer day when in actuality it was really cold out. I was in short sleeves and some of the girls were wearing dresses or skirts and sandles. At least we were getting paid!

Since I wasn't used in the last two scenes I headed back to the meeting room of the hotel and chatted with some of the others. I met a lot of really nice people and am hoping to be able to meet up with some of them sometime soon. Most live in the Fukuoka area so it should be able to happen.

After the commercial was wrapped we headed back to our rooms, packed up our stuff, collected our payment and return tickets and headed back to the train.

The whole experience was really fun and I'm happy I was able to take part in it. The commercial should be aired sometime in January I'm told. If there is any way for me to direct you to it online I will, but no promises.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Missing Photos

Avispa Soccer Match


Shrine, Flying Plum and Camphor Tree

Zen Temple and Garden

サッカー、Dazaifu, and Commercial Opportunities

I'm having all sorts of issues getting photos to upload and format correctly so I'll post another blog just after this one with photos from the soccer match and Dazaifu. Sorry >_<

What's an Avispa?

I attended my very first soccer game (or football if you prefer...and the Europeans here definitely prefer) this past weekend. The Fukuoka team, Avispa (which means 'wasp' in Spanish), was going head-to-head with Ventforet (whom I believe comes from a place near Tokyo). The game was an absolute blast and our team won 2 to 1!


On November 9th, the JTW crew went on a field trip to the city of Dazaifu which is about a 30 minute bus ride from the kaikan. We departed at 8:00 AM, which was way too early for pretty much everyone. My tutor, Takafumi, came along so I sat next to him on the bus. Some literature was handed out on Dazaifu, its shrines and temples, as well as on Sumo. The itinerary consisted of visiting the Sumo stable, the shrine, and the rest was up to us.

When we arrived in the city it was still very early and the shops were just opening up. As we walked along the slightly inclined main street the tempting smell of umegae-mochi (a steamed rice-cake filled with sweet red bean paste) being cooked wafted past us; large, stone tori were our gateways to the beautiful city ahead, Dazaifu, home to traditional Japanese cultural artifacts in the form of ancient temples, shrines, 1,000 year old trees and gardens more beautiful than you've likely ever seen.

The large sumo tournament in Kyushu is about to happen so our first stop was the sumo stable where the wrestlers train everyday for the big event. We were privileged enough to be able to actually watch the men train from inside the stable. We lined the left and rear walls and observed a grueling practice for about an hour. Afterward, we were able to get a group picture taken with a few of the wrestlers. Best of all, we were able to talk with and ask questions to Harumafuji Kōhei who, in May of 2009, won the Natsu Basho Championship.

Next we visited the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. This shrine is sacred to the memory of Michizane Sugawara, the "god of learning", and was built on the site of his grave. The main hall as it stands today was built in 1591. Because Sugawara was considered the "god of learning", thousands of students come to this place to pray for their success in school. There were many students there the day we went and there was ceremony going on inside the temple that we could see from the shrine square.

Next to the shrine is the fabled Tobiume, a plum tree rumored to have flown from Kyoto to Dazaifu. Outside the square is an ancient and absolutely enormous camphor tree thought to be at least 1,200 years old. This tree and the other camphor trees surrounding the area have been labeled as one of the city's most important cultural properties.

From this time on we were on our own. A few of us decided to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant Takafumi recommended. I had ebiten-udon (shrimp tempura udon) and a delicious umegae-mochi.

After lunch we made our way to what would be the highlight of the trip, the Komyozenji Temple. This temple was built in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and is famous for it's beautiful stone gardens. Outside of the temple is an array of statuettes, trees, ancient looking bells, and other buildings, as well as a path leading to the temple entrance that is lines with a gorgeous stone garden on each side.

Upon entering the temple I was only a few turns away from one of the most beautiful havens of nature I've ever seen. The Zen garden is a paradise of moss covered trees growing amidst a river of raked stones, large mossy rocks upon a bed of green grass. Fall is coming and so the leafy canopy was a mix of brilliant greens, yellows, and otherworldly pinks. The only thing that broke the spell of this place was the number of students there who unfortunately caused this otherwise serene place to be somewhat noisy. I intend to return there some time soon when it will prove to be quieter.

On the way back to the bus I stopped by one of the shops, now open for business, and purchased a umegae-mochi. They are delicious, I couldn't help myself.

Why I'm Going to Nagasaki

My friend Tabea informed me that there is a commercial being filmed that requires 29 non-Japanese extras. I asked her to forward me the information. I sent them the required information (name, age, status in Japan, etc.) and two photographs and the next day I received an email back stating that I was picked to be in it!

The shoot will last 3 or 4 days (depending on the weather) and I will be paid ¥36,000 (about $350). My transportation will be covered, hotel accommodations will be provided, as will meals. I'm not sure of the nature of the commercial, but I was told that it will be shown nationally and will star a famous Japanese actor. The location of the shoot will be in the Dutch themed resort called Huis Ten Bosch. Here's a link to the website:

I find it really strange how much T.V. exposure I'm getting here in Japan. I wonder if something will come of it. At least I'm getting paid for this shoot!

Next up: film?