JAPAN: The Paper Theater

There is an old man who lives a couple of buildings down. He is in no way remarkable, really. I often see him walking his dog or riding his bike to and from the local supermarket.

On Sunday afternoon, though, he transforms.

He is the Kami Shibai, Paper Theater, man. He changes from his everyday clothes, drab blues and grays, into his yukata (informal kimono) and his geta( wooden sandals) and his newsy cap. He looks as if he walked right out of the Yokohama of the 1930s, the pre-war Japan of his childhood.

He makes the rounds of the supermarket, banging his hyoushigi (bamboo blocks) that same echoing sound you hear at sumo matches or on winter’s evenings when the volunteers go around the neighborhood, reminding us of hi no youjin, caution against fire.

He distributes tickets to the children. The Paper Theater starts at four. All good children will receive a present at the end, he says.

And come four o’clock, a gaggle of youngsters have gathered in the corner of the supermarket where he has spread a swatch of carpet. (more…)

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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