Monday, 12 November 2012

School festivals


You breathe in the atmosphere and can't help but enjoy it. The everyday walkways have become almost unrecognizably crowded with stalls and signage. The throbbing crowd bumps and grinds like a moshpit, at points becoming practically unnavigable. Every few feet you're assailed by an aggressive student asking you to buy some food. And the noise, it's a strangely harmonious cacophony of chatter, sizzling grills, and people yelling at you. Basically you're enveloped in a vortex of off-time dubstep. And it's great!

You're at a school festival!

As fall wears on, universities throughout the country invite students from other institutions as well as the general public to come on in and check the place out. (As a Canadian, I feel that the fact that holding an outdoor festival in November was even worthy of consideration is noteworthy in itself.) We have food! We have entertainment! We have stuff we've been working on and want to show you! They last around three days, for which period the campus is transformed into a carnival grounds. Well, not like rides or anything, but that kind of vibe, except without the feeling of needing to take a shower when you get home. There's really nothing comparable at most Western universities, I think, so it's a little hard to describe the mood if you haven't been. But if you can, go check one out!

My host university's school festival was a little while ago, and I spent an enjoyable couple of afternoons just wandering around, taking in the atmosphere, and stopping to talk with people I knew. I also ate a lot of horribly unhealthy food, including french fries, waffles, ice cream with pieces of toast, baby castellas with jam, yakisoba, yakimeshi, milk tea, yakitori cooked in miso, and anything else I could be convinced to buy. The portions are small for the price and it's nothing you couldn't make for yourself, but anybody who complains much about this is missing the point. I didn't buy my lunch at the festival because it was the smart choice, I did it in a show of support for my fellow students, and simply because, you know, it's fun! I don't see how anybody can go to a Japanese festival and fail to enjoy themselves.

We of the international dormitory sold World Karaage, the “world” coming from the various unusual seasonings to which we subjected it (Finnish salt, Polish sour cream, Korean spicy sauce, and Chinese soy cause, all bizarre yet tasty combinations in their own way.) Karaage transpired to be a deliciously disgusting kind of fried chicken cooked in a mixture of strange chemicals whose exact nature was never revealed to those of us outside the cooking station, thus preserving its secret. Instead, I was among those responsible for bringing in customers, for which the main technique is yelling into people's faces about what you're selling and extolling its virtues. I teamed up with Creepy Finn, one of my few maamaa Nihongo dekiru dormmates, and we started trading off until we actually had it down to a system: “It's World Karaage!” “There's four flavours!” “World flavours!” “Starting from 200 yen!” “It's good!” “Please try some!” “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” Then repeat for the next crowd.

The most effective technique is to actually try and engage them in conversation, though most passersby are not amenable to this because they know where it leads. But if you can isolate a group of two or three from the surging masses, your job is halfway done. If you hold their attention for more than thirty seconds, especially if you can entertain or gratify them, the sale is practically made. One of the best things to do is just start talking about the most absurdly irrelevant and pointless thing that comes to mind. The gimmicks of “World” Karaage (as opposed to the regular karaage being sold elsewhere on campus) and foreigners speaking varying levels of Japanese was usually pretty good by itself. We also resorted to having some people dress up as chipmunks, Pikachu, and Batman, so there's that.

Whatever we did must have been effective, because we ended up selling out three times, eventually deciding not to risk buying more supplies and continuing a third day. When we finally dispensed with the last plate late Saturday night, a cheer went up from our stall and several of us started spontaneously dancing, drawing the attention of every sane person within earshot and deeply intimidating the girl who had bought it.

The whole also had the ancillary benefit of dramatically raising my profile on campus, as I'm sure any number of people will remember me and tell me so later. I've also decided that I'm just going to throw awkwardness to the wind and just go up and start talking to people who seem like they might be cool, because damn it, I miss being at a school where every third person knows my name (even when I don't know theirs), and building up my profile here is just taking too damn long.

A professional and fairly sizeable stage was erected in the plaza. The second evening had a free concert (“live”) by a fairly well-known Kansai rock band, and the first one had a goddamn karaoke tournament. I mean how cool is that? I sat in the audience with Seven, Yoritomo of the Genji, and Zombie Nurse, because Hyeong was competing. I half-expected him to bust out Gangnam Style, because I mean, well because he's Korean, obviously, and has kind of the same body type as Psy, and because shit would have fucking killed. But Hyeong, see, he's way too classy a guy to go for that. He performed in Japanese. And I can sympathize with that, because fuck knows I hate being forced to sing in English when I do karaoke with some people. So Hyeong, he's got a great singing voice that he really knows how to use, so he did this real soulful romantic type song that I'm sure had most every girl in the audience either swooning or soaking, or both, yeah in fact probably both. And evidently that was the way to go, because he won! He straight-up won the whole damn competition. That's right, my man, that is how it's done.

Good times.

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