Yesterday, my mom and brother and I went to Nara, a small-ish town near Osaka. It is filled with deer who roam freely around the town (though they tend to stay in the park-like areas more often than around cars, we definitely saw one jumping out of the street shortly after we arrived). On the train there, for our last transfer, we ended up on a train that was clearly filled with school trips, specifically elementary school class trips.
The train cars had normal people siting in all the seats, but the standing room was waist-to-chest-high yellow hats, with the occasional red or white PE hats. As the train arrived to one stop, the old lady sitting next to my mom got up and began squeezing slowly toward the door. However, the mass of children playing paper-rock-scissors and giggling almost nonstop did not notice her silent entreaty to allow her to pass. My brother solved that problem for her.
In Japanese and in his natural boomingly deep voice, he told the kids to move to the sides and make way. With a single lotion of his arms, the sea parted, and the lady easily hobbled through and off the train. What remained then was a still-parted sea, and about thirty pairs of staring eyes, gaping mouths, and seemingly paralyzed children around the ages of 7-9.
My mom and I chuckled openly at the tharn audience, whose minds had clearly been blown not only by the gaijin (foreigner) speaking Japanese, but by his general stature and look, as well. 5’9″, muscular, and shaved head make my brother quite the sight for kids, and even more so for Japanese kids. One brave soul dared asking my brother a question (tat least I think they asked first, hough I don’t recall what question it was), and suddenly they were off.
My brother’s frozen onlookers were suddenly utter giddy, complete fans (think fangirl style). For the rest of the ride, they talked with him nonstop, and the boys in the back who had pointed out my brother’s arm muscles even got to see him flex said muscles – he was labeled “macho muscly” by them.
When we all reached the station, – see, their trip was to the same place as we were headed for the day – the three of us went to the bathroom. Coming out of the bathrooms, my mom and I were greeted by the kids who’d spoken the most to my brother on the train.
‘Where is he? The guy with the coffee, where did he go?’ I was asked in adorable and excited Japanese.
When my brother came back up the stairs from the bathrooms, I made sure he said goodbye once more to the little guy, as well as to the whole class, which was seated adorably in a perfect rectangular prism on the floor of the train station, waiting for the rest of the bathroom-goers before heading out.
In the temple (or was it a shrine?) that contains a very large Buddha, there is a specific, well-known pole. It is one of the wooden post-poles used to keep the whole place standing, but one of the ones inside, just behind and to the Buddha’s left side. In the bottom of this pole, a few inches off the ground, is a rectangular hole, narrower than it is high. The pole is around four or five feet thick. The hole is the size of the Buddha’s nostril. Going through this hole is considered good luck, and, as a man standing nearby mentioned, also makes the passers-through Buddha boogers.
Naturally, the line for this hole was filled with children, topping out at about middle school aged kids, and only one parent and one teacher, each as supervision. We, of course, joined the line. As I watched a child be shoved through the hole by his teacher, and with some difficulty, I began doubting my brother’s statement that he was told adults could fit through the hole.
Slightly terrified and utterly uncertain, I slowly pushed my mom through, and my brother grabbed her arms on the other side and pulled her through. At my turn, we were still doubtful, as my hips are even wider than my moms. Kids watching around us exchanged expression of doubt with me as I squat down to attempt the hole myself. But, we carefully checked my hips before pushing me all the way in, and they had enough space. So, with a nice and strong pull from my brother and a relaxed body from me, I slid in through the pole, with only a bit of wood-burn on my right outer thigh. The relief and surprise was noticeable around us.
And then, of course, we cautiously evaluated the width of my brother’s shoulders. The faces around were shocked and enthralled. He would need to remain relaxed, but he would fit with his arms straight up in front of him, as most everyone else went through the hole. With a slow, hefty pulling on my part, strong arms from my brother, and pushing from my mom, we drew that boogie through that hole to safety and good fortune. As we sighed and laughed with slight exhaustion, the whole surrounding crowd – for there was, indeed, a crowd at this point – broke into applause and exclamations of joy and fascination. I mean, come on, they struggled getting kids through that hole, and we just got a truly full-sized, muscular man through it. That is something worth applauding, even for the shy Japanese. 😛
[I was focused on keeping my brother moving, and so didn’t even think about a photo for him until afterward.]
For the rest of the day, we had happy greetings, and in English, from hundreds of kids of various ages, who were all also on school trips for the day. I photo-bombed a group of middle or high school boys, and they asked us all three to join their photo. At one point, I got a sort of interview from one girl, where she read from a script that was clearly a ‘How to converse with visitors to Japan’ guide/assignment. I even got to write a little message at the end of her booklet as part of the interview.
Suffice to say, it was an English-filled, exciting, and adorable day.