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Private Parts in a Public Park
By Gillian Bland
Living and teaching in Japan can be many things: usually confusing, sometimes rewarding - one might even go as far to say heartwarming on occasion. It can also be frustrating and trying to the extreme (you try getting the Japanese McDonalds Crew Member to give you an extra BBQ sauce: the official rule of one sauce per one portion of fries - or per half dozen Chicken McNuggets - is strictly adhered to, No Exceptions). But one thing it never fails to be is entertaining.
My tale takes place during my first month in Japan. After a teenaged student of mine did a fine job of bringing up the rear in the local Nakatsugawa City English Speech Contest, to cheer her up, myself and Kato Sensei - Head of English Department and my boss - went for a spot of lunch, after which Kato Sensei suggested that after we go to visit one of Nakatsugawa’s most famous sights. Looking forward to the prospect of breathtaking scenery, or perhaps a beautiful temple or renowned shrine, it was with mystification that I got out of the car at the local park. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a perfectly nice park, but it was a park much like any other: flowers, a few trees, and bench complete with hobo covered in newspapers, that sort of thing.
Following Kato Sensei and the student, I came to a small tunnel, which they urged me to go through first. As I entered, a sensor was triggered and harp music began to echo around the walls. As I progressed through, lights twinkled all around me to form various pastel coloured star constellations. I was utterly enchanted, and had just made a mental note to petition my local council at home to construct something similar in our local park, when Kato Sensei told me that this was merely an appetizer for the main sightseeing course, and that the mysterious Holy Grail was actually a double treat: one was female and one was male, and would I be able to tell which was which? My mind wandered to antiquity and to Michelangelo’s statue of David or the Temple of Artemis, as I tried to imagine what could possibly outdo the Big Dipper in tasteful lilac hues.
For once in my life I can honestly say I was lost for words as we rounded a corner and came face-to-face with what can only be described as an 18 foot “penis rock.” Not knowing where to look in a very British way, I turned my head, only to get an eyeful of an enormous pair of stone breasts. I looked on in a state of bemused bewilderment as small children bobbed in and out of the cleavage, enjoying a game of hide and seek, and was only half listening as Kato Sensei explained how these were natural formations that had been specially transported to Nakatsugawa Park.
He and the pupil looked at me expectantly. I wasn’t exactly sure what sort of response they were looking for, and could think of nothing except the faintly ludicrous situation of me standing in the local park with my boss and a fifteen-year-old girl gazing at specially transported rock formations which happened to resemble sexual appendages, whilst all the time, small children darted in, out and round about.
Eventually I settled somewhat lamely for confirming that I could indeed tell which the male rock was and which was the female. Then, this being Japan, Kato Sensei then whipped out his mobile phone and proceeded to snap pictures of stunned me and the student, in front of said phallic rock.
Now I have to admit to being more than a tad stumped. I mean, on the one hand, my boss and the student were disarmingly Scandinavian about the whole thing: the thought of a similar thing happening in the UK brought the words “Teacher Disciplinary Hearing” swiftly to mind. Yet at the same time, the fact that they bothered to take photos - and that whoever had carted these stones here from god-knows-where had clearly not done so out of a deep and abiding interest in their mineral make-up - indicated at the same time that this was of more than passing interest.
It’s almost two years on and I don’t pretend to be any the wiser about that day in the park. Much is often made about the serenity of Japanese life, but for me it’s the surrealist nature of it, like The Great Boob and Willie Rocks of Nakatsugawa, that keeps things interesting here. And although life may remain confusing, I have learnt one thing about getting along here: whatever you do, just don’t get fresh and ask Crew Member for that extra BBQ sauce.
©2006 by Gillian Bland. All rights reserved.
Gillian Bland is still playing far too much tennis and has considerably expanded her karaoke repertoire whilst masquerading as an English teacher. She also writes a regular column about Japan and all things mystifyingly Japanese for a British newspaper, whilst doing other bits and pieces of travel writing for various publications.