I think the summer had been getting me down a bit. The temperature is knocking on the door of the thirties now, but as everyone says, it's the humidity that's the real killer. Official guidelines for the Japanese public sector dictate that aircon may only be used to keep the temperature under a sweltering 28°C. In winter, heating may only be used when the mercury dips below 18°C. If I must have a masochistic 10°C operating envelope, I would rather set the parameters at 14/24 - you can always wear a jumper. But then I come from Scotland.
Furthermore, it turns out that mid-June to mid-July is tsuyu, or rainy season. This means that on any given day there is a roughly 50/50 chance of a torrential downpour, crimping my cycling ambitions somewhat. These combined summertime blues may have manifested themselves as a propensity to write long, boring, indulgent blog posts.
But it's not all bad news. Last night I was reminded of the main redeeming quality of the Japanese summer: festivals. As you'll see if you go back to the beginning of the blog, August is festival month, which is a bit of a shame for my visiting friends who will leave on July 30th. However, a few places buck the trend and go early. Yesterday I attended Onogawa's hotaru matsuri (firefly festival). Onogawa is a delightful little village just outside Yonezawa, with abundant onsen (hot springs), steep wooded hillsides, and a pretty little river. The characters in its name mean 'small', 'uncultivated field', and 'river', which is actually a pretty accurate description. If I ever have to live in a The Prisoner / Vanilla Sky / Truman Show / Dark City style artificial environment, I would want it to be like Onogawa.
As is my wont, I arrived a little early, so the friend I was meeting wasn't there yet. I strolled around watching all the festival attractions setting up, and trying to scope out good firefly-viewing spots for later. All the usual suspects were among the stalls: yakisoba (stir-fried noodles), konnyaku, crepes, chocolate covered bananas, candy floss, crushed ice drinks, and of course various games ripping off kids for the opportunity to win gaudy trinkets, most featuring blinking LEDs. However, one stall was decidedly out of the ordinary. It was staffed by lots of hip young adults in matching beige T-shirts, and had a projector set up playing some kind of movie trailer.
Curious as to what this was all about, I paused to watch the big screen. Within seconds I was being beckoned in. A conversation followed that I'm quite proud to say took place more in Japanese than in English, and I managed to gather the following rather complicated information. Admittedly, they had to speak extremely slowly and say each sentence about three times.
The beige-T-shirted hipsters were making a movie called Wonogawa (I think the 'w' is silent, but I can't be sure), set in that very village 1000 years in the future. In this vision of the future, there is just one global country, meaning that the population of 31st century Wonogawa is rather more multicultural than that of 21st century Onogawa. Consequently, they are in desperate need of gaijin to be extras.
Being an extra in a Japanese indie sci-fi flick seemed like just too good an opportunity to pass up, so I gave them my details. On a whim, I decided to support their project by buying a somewhat overpriced T-shirt. The guy who appeared to be in charge signed it for me, and I later worked out that he was the director. Unfortunately he signed it 'to Stewart' - even back home people frequently get confused about which of my names is my surname, and here in Japan where surnames go first, and Westerners sometimes follow this convention and sometimes don't, the scope for confusion is virtually limitless. But I actually think that makes my signed T-shirt slightly cooler.
Judging from the slickness of their promotional materials they seemed to have a bit of money behind them - following the success of Swing Girls, I think Yamagata might be trying promote its movie industry. However, filming a low-budget sci-fi epic in Yamagata still strikes me as ludicrously ambitious. I can only assume it's a post-apocalyptic future where people are forced to drive battered old Suzukis and attempt to eke out a living growing rice. Anyway, I think they said filming starts in September, so fingers crossed I'll get the call to make my big screen debut.
My friend then showed up and we watched the entertainment for a while. The highlight was a traditional musical performance by three generations of the same family. They played shamisen (sort of like a three-string banjo), did taiko drumming, sang, and danced, frequently switching roles amongst themselves. At one point the grandmother was doing a very graceful fan dance, but was upstaged by her three-year-old granddaughter (equipped with tiny yukata and fan) adorably trying to mimic her movements. The lowlight was a bunch of juggling youths who kept dropping their implements. I had to stop watching after a few minutes, I felt so embarrassed for them.
Once darkness fell around eight, we decided to go firefly spotting at the river. Never having seen a firefly before, I was quite excited. Sure enough, the bioluminescent insects were out in force. They looked just like green LEDs pulsing slowly on and off as they lazily buzzed around. I couldn't help but think that I'd missed a trick by doing a PhD that heavily involved tracking the flight of a non-fluorescent insect.
We had lucked out on the tsuyu lottery and it was a beautiful clear summer night; standing by the riverside with the green glow of courting beetles in the trees and the white glow of distant raging suns in the sky was a memorable experience indeed. Spoiled only by the morons trying to photograph the fireflies using flashes.