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Saturday, Oct. 26, 2002

JAPAN LITE

Getting clubbed to keep up with the Satos


I have often thought I should "level up" my "life communication space" by joining one of the various clubs in my community, such as the pottery club or stained glass-making club. Although I would like to interact with my island community more, I hesitate because of the commitment. In Japan, people pursue even hobbies with such rigor there is little time left for things as sustenance, personal hygiene and sleep.

Japanese maintain a frenetic pace in everything they do. Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing compared to keeping up with the Satos.

So when my neighbor Kazuko asked me to join her "zeni daiko" group, I declined. With so many demands on my time already, I had no desire to sacrifice even my unborn children for the cause.

On the other hand, of all the clubs, zeni daiko -- baton-twirling for the elderly -- seemed to be the least time-consuming, as it only meets twice a month. Zeni daiko comes from two words: "zeni," which I suspect is derived from the English word "zany," and "daiko," which means drum. Zeni daiko has nothing to do with drums, but rather with hitting two bamboo sticks together to make sounds. These short sticks, with pompons on the ends and rattles inside, are tossed and twirled to music.

As Kazuko stood in my "genkan" holding another of her home-cooked meals for me, and pleading for me to join the club, I told her it would be impossible, as I was already so busy. Then she gave me that look that says, "Couldn't you find just a little time? What about those few minutes a day you usually spend brushing your teeth?"

And I found myself saying, "Well, I suppose, maybe, I could join . . ."

The practice room was full of "oba-chans" who welcomed me and gave me a pair of red bamboo sticks decorated with gleaming metallic stripes.

"Next month is the zeni daiko competition," they said. "Please participate!"

"Competition! But I've never done this before," I said.

"Just practice a lot and you'll be fine," they assured me, handing me a videotape to practice along with.

"Practice? I don't have time to practice!" As the only woman in the club who hasn't reached menopause, I'm also the only one who still works full time.

Then the "pausers" gave me that look that said, "Couldn't you spare just a little time? What about that time you usually use for chewing your food?" They did have a point. If I changed my diet to completely liquids, I would have more time. I could use that time to practice zeni daiko. Every morning I could just set out a bucket of liquid with a giant straw in the genkan and suck from it as I go in and out of the house.

"Well, yes . . ." I said.

"And the price for the bamboo sticks and the costume for the competition is 20,000 yen," another pauser said.

"Twenty thousand yen? But I don't have that much money!"

Then she gave me that look that said, "You do have a retirement savings account, don't you?"

"Well, I suppose it's OK . . ." I said, shrugging off the 25 percent penalty charge for early withdrawal.

The next morning after becoming a member of the zeni daiko group, I rushed off to catch the 7 a.m. ferry to go to work. At the port, I ran into Amano-san, the island's mayor. He approached me with great excitement. "We had an island meeting yesterday and decided we would like you to teach English lessons to the community once a week!"

Teach! But I don't have time to teach! But then he gave me that look that said, "You don't need eight hours of sleep a night, do you?"

And I found myself saying, "Well, I suppose I could . . ." As long as they let me take my bucket of liquid food to class.

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com


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