And Now Here's the News (End of June Supplement)
Funeral - Pt. I
The funeral for the student who died was held on June 23. Our school sent the entire 7th grade class to attend as well as all the homeroom teachers for the grade and the administrators. As for the assistant homeroom teachers (like yours truly), however, they imposed a strict "Only if it doesn't conflict with anything else" policy. I had two senior high classes at that time, so it was game over for me. I had to stay behind and teach those classes...not that the students really appreciated it all that much.
However, as with all Buddhist funerals in Japan, there were actually two services, the main funeral and the Tsuya (lit. Night of Passage) held the evening before. I decided to attend the latter. I was there together with most of the 7th grade staff and administrators. It was very sad, but it was also kind of awkward. There had been, and may yet be, some issues with the family. I won't go into details, but Ye Olde Academy has had to take some special precautions as a result. As the boy's assistant homeroom teacher, I was warned that there was a certain amount of risk involved in my attendance. The fears turned out to be unfounded. I went through the motions with my coworkers, paid my respects to the boy, bowed to his family, greeted them on the way out, and went on my way. Hopefully we can all find closure - and go through the legal necessities - as smoothly and painlessly as possible.
Yes, there are definitely some issues with that family, but I would never wish that on anyone.
Funeral - pt. II
By strange coincidence, the one-year anniversary funeral (aka funeral #5) for my mother-in-law was held on Saturday the 13th. Quite a number of relatives attended, but not the huge crowd that was there for the main events last year. It was a short, simple service followed by the usual placing of incense at the grave. After that was a feast at the nice, little seafood restaurant half a block from my house (at which I rarely eat for some unknown reason...perhaps the close proximity to my house). It was all rather typical, a nice family gathering despite the somber occasion, and there didn't seem to be anything unusual...except that there was.
You see, my father-in-law's rather large family is currently in the middle of a heated feud. I won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say it has to do with the way the old family homestead is divided up among the siblings now that the patriarch is long gone. For much of the past decade, the clan has been divided into two factions. One, headed up by my father-in-law, decided to do something very kind, noble, and, in my opinion, totally correct. The other, headed up by an uncle that lives up north in Sapporo, decided to be greedy and take advantage of the others' generosity for their own selfish gain. For a long time there was just a lot of quiet ill will, and the two sides weren't so clearly defined. Then, especially since the start of this year, the issue quickly became more heated and more serious. Clear sides were taken, lines were drawn, and ultimatums were issued. Now it's in litigation.
Not surprisingly, most of the members of the "other side" haven't been on speaking terms with "our side" (including my wife and I even though we're not really involved) for several years. However, one aunt who recently switched to the "other side" (and has become one of its most vehement members) showed up at the anniversary funeral on the 13th. She asked my father-in-law to provide parking for her (meaning I was asked to park my BLUE RAV4 elsewhere for the day), showed up with her husband, participated in the events as actively as a close relative should, and was all sociable with everybody like nothing was wrong. After it was all done, she said her goodbyes, hopped in her car, and went home. Meanwhile, she's in the process of suing my father-in-law and at least one uncle and one aunt who were present at the time.
Everybody is wondering how she had the nerve to show her face there. Frankly, I'm amazed her presence was even tolerated.
The Minstrel's Mood
I finally got the results back from Torecon, that home recording contest I participated in. I didn't get any awards, obviously (and almost all of the winners were of a suspiciously similar style which is different from mine). However, my instrumental "Herald of the Dawn" got quite a good score and was given judge comments that were very detailed, constructive, positive, and encouraging. The other tune I submitted, the acoustic folk song "Quite Enough", didn't do nearly as well; in fact, it was all but panned. The score wasn't really bad, but it wasn't good either. The judge was pretty direct in his criticism (which is what I wanted, anyway). He said the tune was clearly an unfinished product that had been slapped together without a whole lot of thought (which I suppose is a fairly accurate description). I promised a lot but wound up offering little; certain good ideas weren't well utilized, so they wound up going to waste. Most surprising of all was the judge's rather harsh criticism of my vocal style, which he described as "raw and colorless". He suggested that, instead of belting it out the way I did, that I try singing more controlled and musically and layer the tracks for power.
For what it's worth, I think I hear where he's coming from. The trouble is that I thought the tone and meaning of the song called for "belting it out", but whatever. Next time I'll try to keep in mind just what kind of contest it really is.
I'm actually very happy with the results. Even if "Quite Enough" didn't do so well, "Herald of the Dawn" exceeded my expectations and gave me encouragement to keep going. Besides, I think I learned a lot, which is what I hoped for when I entered the contest (and I intend to go for it next year, too).
I have also invested in some good mastering software and am currently remastering all the tunes on the Blue Taxi CD. I'll try them out on a few trusted individuals before I commit the revised versions to disk and my websites.
For more information on these and other tunes of mine, refer to my "Minstrel's Muse" site.
Day before yesterday, former fellow Ibaraki ex-pat Coleman Sensei (known more on Facebook than here) came to visit together with his wife, Kar3n. After having fun running around Kashima Shrine and driving on certain infamous roads in the Kashima area, we had dinner at Sushiro. Then they crashed at my place. The next morning (yesterday), we headed out to Mt. Tsukuba for a climb. Unlike my last visit there, it was sunny. It was bloody hot for the first part of the climb, but once we were into the forest it wasn't so bad.
Finally...at the Myotaisan (female peak) summit: The little shrine, the newly-built stone rail with the names of contributors, Coleman Sensei and Kar3n examine a map post, their friend Yuko ponders a boulder.
Also unlike last time, we actually had a bit of a view from the top. It was hazy, but at least we could see out to some distance.
Perhaps the biggest problem was my son, who begged me to let him come along. Lazy slob that he is, he started moaning after the first five minutes of the climb and continued griping and holding us up with frequent stops till we got to the top. Once there, when I mentioned we were going to have lunch at a restaurant in the cleavage of the twin-peaked mountain, the word "lunch" apparently acted like Popeye's spinach with him, and he suddenly had ten times as much energy as the rest of us. He ran almost all the way to the restaurant (after having said he had "no energy left at all" in his body only ten minutes before).
My son struggles to tackle the last climb before the summit...
...and fails yet again.
Oh, well. It was worth it.