I've been in Japan for almost two weeks, and the best way to sum up my stay is, "I show up and good things happen."
I'm living with an English-speaking host sister, Maria, and her two cats. Maria is a member of Naruto-Za, a Ningyo Joruri troupe founded by her grandparents. Though I've observed other troupes, I spend almost every day with Naruto-Za. Despite the language barrier, the members have jumped in to training me for my debut in late July, when I will be operating a young pilgrim girl and a sword-fighting brigand (see the video below).
The troupe is made up mostly of older women, meaning that I have 4-10 Japanese grandmas fussing over me at any given time. I usually have only a vague idea of what's going on, so poor Maria has become my manager, babysitter, and best friend, fielding calls from the troupe members and writing down my activities on a large calendar in her kitchen.
At first, I was frustrated by this lack of agency. On my third day here, two Naruto-Za members took me to a dance lesson. When I showed up, I discovered to my embarrassment that I was the only adult on the team. I was frustrated that I was being babied, and annoyed with my own incoordination, my inability to communicate, and my lack of control over the situation. I almost said something snippy, but thankfully did not, because the experience turned out to be incredible. The dance teacher lent me her personal pair of platform shoes and worked with me one-on-one. The dance was unlike anything I had seen before, and I was so happy to be a part of it.
I realized in that moment that puppets might be the only thing in my control this summer, and that a huge part of this experience will be learning to be okay with that. My new, go-with-the-flow motto: trust my hosts, show up, and good things will happen.
Some good things that have happened so far:
- Maria taught me how to make okonomiyaki, Japanese potato pancakes
- I took the train by myself to my weekly Japanese lesson in downtown Tokushima
- I met a Canadian friend (also named Claire) on Facebook, and she took me to a pottery kiln and an indigo dyeing museum.
- The cats, Chiiko and Ginjiro, are no longer afraid of me and have taken to meowing incessantly to show their appreciation
- I opened and closed the curtain during a real-live Ningyo Joruri performance, and also rehearsed Ningyo Joruri several times
- I met my neighbor and her surly grandsons. She made me bunless hamburgers with boiled potatoes.
That's all for now! Stay tuned for more showing up and more good things happening. Coming up: a day trip to the mountains, kimono lessons, more puppets, and lots and lots of food.
Follow me on Instagram @clairederr for more photos! I'll also be posting on the theatre's Instagram, so check out @awajurobeyashiki