The Japanese Tsunami Drill

Sunday dawned cool and sunny. It was a perfect day for our early-morning Japanese tsunami drill, so when the sirens sounded we all strolled up to the park and watched the fire department explain how to use a fire extinguisher for half an hour. Then we played some “ground golf” and sat around eating pig soup and drinking shochu. I was like, man, if this is what tsunami’s are like, I can’t understand why people aren’t more enthusiastic about them.

Japanese Pig Soup

Pig soup, by the way, tastes exactly as delicious as it sounds. It’s a staple of Japanese neighborhood festivals, where a bunch of witches stir up a massive cauldron you probably don’t want to gaze into. Inside are trace amounts of carrot, burdock, and onion, plus plenty of unfortunately identifiable parts of Wilbur the Pig. Anyway it was both free and compulsory, so when the witches came around with bowls I obligingly took one.

Ground golf was a little better. It’s exactly like real golf, except with all mental and physical challenges removed. You just lope around hitting these big colored balls with wooden mallets and every hole’s a par four regardless of distance. So it’s basically golf for retarded people. Anyway it was good to be outdoors and at some point beers started being distributed so I was completely happy.

A Rough Saturday in Japan

The Saturday before also dawned cool and sunny, but it was far from perfect. It started off well enough though, with my girlfriend and I getting Vietnamese sandwiches from the little shop that sells, well, Vietnamese sandwiches. We took them to the park, played frisbee, and had a picnic. We spread a yellow plastic sheet on the grass, the sky was blue, I had a couple beers, then we came back home and our neighbor was dead. So that kind of sucked.

Actually, Kato-san had died a few days before and had already been cremated, so everybody was going in and out of his apartment to pay respects to his wife, plus adult son and daughter. So my girlfriend and I quickly changed from shorts and t-shirts to funeral wear, then hustled to 7-Eleven for special funeral envelopes and the special funeral pen. Then we used the wrong end of the stupid double-ended pen and the ink was too dark, so we had to rush back out and buy two more special envelopes. Celebrations, black ink; funerals, dark gray ink. Everybody knows that.

Buy a Black Suit

Now I don’t give a whole lot of advice about Japan, but I will say this: if you plan to live here a while, buy a pure black suit. I only know this because I never have, so every time this happens my girlfriend’s like, You can’t wear pinstripes to a wake! And I’m like, Well, it’s this or the Speedo, take your pick. And apparently my white shirt’s too shiny, although I’m pretty sure Kato-san would appreciate such fine Pima cotton. What can I say, I’m fashionable. Anyway, Ken Seeroi always ends up being the only guy at the service looking like he’s ready to make you a screaming deal on a new Mustang.

Whatever. I knelt on the black cushion before a smiling portrait of Kato-san and laid my envelope with a measly few thousand yen on the small stack of other envelopes, then lit a stick of incense and the floodgates opened.

A Japanese Wake

It was pretty sad sticking the incense it into Kato-san’s ashes, and he wouldn’t stop smiling so I couldn’t stop crying because damned if he wasn’t the only guy from our bunch of neighborhood drunks whose Japanese I could actually understand. He spoke clear, polite Japanese and treated me like one of his own. He was just a really nice guy. My girlfriend and I knelt and talked with the family for a while, and they gave us food, tea, and gifts, then we went back to our apartment and changed into jeans and headed out to the park where the old men and women were already drinking shochu.  

In the Gathering Darkness

We sat around the picnic bench and laughed and cried and got drunk and talked about the next day’s tsunami drill and festivities, until after a while Kato-san’s wife, son, and daughter came by with two massive bottles of shochu and we all laughed and cried together and got more drunk until the sun went down.

Then we sat in the quiet of the night until the old dude at the head of the table said Let’s go home and we all did, drifting apart in the darkness. And that night, I dreamt of a crashing tsunami that we’d leisurely outrun, then play some ground golf, eat pig soup, and relax with beers in the park. Everyone, except dear Kato-san, who for some reason got caught up by the wave. Japanese folks say God’s fickle, and I guess that’s true. Because why some of us make it while others don’t, I sure can’t understand.

The Aftermath of the Tsunami

But then Sunday rolled around fresh and bright, and everything was, well, kinda all right. The Kato-sans came to the tsunami drill in shorts, and although they didn’t play any ground golf, they ate pig soup, which one would assume has at least some nutrition. So that was good. The sun was out and soon the dew dried up and it felt good to be alive. Japanese children were laughing and chasing each other in a circle on the grass, and life, life moved on. The world sure is strange like that. Or maybe it’s just Japan, although I assume not.

15 Replies to “The Japanese Tsunami Drill”

  1. My condolences, seemed like he was a great guy.
    I find it slightly strange though that his ashes were just on display and people even sticking incense into it, instead of it being in a urn or something. Is that customary in Japan?

    Hm, I had a similar pork soup recently I think but there were traces of lotus root in it. I actually didn’t like it very much but hey got to try it all out. Great description of ground golf, still seems like a very weird “sport” to me though 😀

    1. Thanks for your condolences. Yeah, he was a good man. It was like, one day he was healthy and cracking jokes, and then he was sick, and then gone. Jeez. I’m kind of in shock, really.

      My guess is the ashes hadn’t gone into the urn yet. That, or they were some other ashes—somebody else’s ashes? That’d be weird. I certainly didn’t ask; I just kind of assumed if you’re holding a ceremony for somebody who’s recently died, and there’s a bowl of ashes, well…

      Yeah, I think the pig/pork soup (豚汁) also had ginger in it, and lotus root would also make sense. None of which seems to do much for the taste though.

      1. Sorry a out your loss
        It feels odd about here one day gone the next.
        Kato-san is playing the eternal ground golf.
        Or whatever it is that people do.
        Call me if you wanna talk.

        1. Thanks much. I’m all right—it’s just strange, you know, because when I used to imagine a future in Japan, somehow this sort of thing never entered into the picture. Guess I wanted it to be all geishas and sushi and convenience store sake. And for a while it kind of was, but then it’s like Knock, knock. Who’s there? Real life. Uhh, hang on while I put on some pants.

  2. Condolences Seeroi-san. It makes me think of the Japanese movie “Departures” which had quite an emotional impact on me when I saw it. Have you seen it? It’s about the life of a nōkanshi.

    Ground golf sounds easier than real golf!

    1. It is so way easier, and it’s actually pretty fun.

      Thanks much for your sentiments. Yeah no, I’m aware of that movie but I’ve always avoided watching it. I’m sure it’s good, but it seems pretty heavy. I had enough trouble getting through The Lion King.

      1. Quick grab a tissue “Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe with you”. Yeah it’s heavy, but light hearted, and you wouldn’t need to read the subtitles.

  3. It’s bland, and I grant you comedic license, but there are plenty of bland vegetables in there to keep you happy, unless the witches and to persnickety for that.

    And, as far as I know, this is the first time you’ve had a girlfriend survive an entire post! Are wedding flutes in the air already?

  4. Yeah, that’s always very shocking how quickly things can take a turn for the worse. But still, I think it’s nice that he had an impact in what seems like many people’s lives and will be fondly remembered. I feel that events like these also make you appreciate all the small things more (like bad pork soup) 🙂

    Hm, maybe you could assist the old ladys on soup duty next time to make something more tasty 😀

  5. My condolences Mr. Ken. It seems like death always takes us by surprise, especially when it’s a loved one’s time to go. I hope you recover from this loss.

    By the way I decided to try your champuru recipe. I just need to finish up my pot of curry before trying out anything new.

  6. The captcha code strikes again!

    I ended up buying a black suit for my time in Japan. Good for weddings, funerals, and singing in the chorus of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy for your town’s end-of-year festivities.

    But what are those three guys in the photo doing calmly sitting next to an archery target being shot at by a man on a moving horse (of all things)? One false move, and one of them could quickly find themselves the subject of memorials in a black-suit funeral ceremony.

    1. Fear not, those arrows have a soft tip, so it’s actually not as dramatic as it seems. But still pretty cool.

      There was one small bit where they did a demonstration with a real arrow, one of those with the massive barbed metal tip. And when the archer pulled back the bow, he spun around and aimed it straight at me. I was like, let’s assume that’s just a coincidence. Either way, I was grateful his fingers didn’t slip.

      BTW, wrote a new ending to this story, so check that out.

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