News Sushi: Morsels of News from Japan and Beyond #6

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”, now in it’s tenth season, as the host of the eponymous show likes to remind us in every interview, is about ‘the tenacity of the human spirit’. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final mirror message of the first eliminated contestant from it’s seventh season, Arizona native, Tempest DuJour:


“You’re never too old to dream”

Those words are so powerful. Especially to those of us in industries where we are told that there is a cut off time to when we are allowed to be successful. So, this week’s News Sushi is a salute to those dreamers who defy age as a limitation.

First up is my flatmate from when I first moved to Japan, Matt (yes, I know a lot of Matts)… he is a male cheerleader, who is now defying age doing Acoroyoga:

Playing in the park today was so much fun!

A post shared by Matt Fitzgerald (@juggernautcheer) on

Cheerleaders are often told to give up after university ends, and to let the new generation have a chance, but as Matt proves here, it doesn’t need to end. I’m not sure if he’s still entering competitions, but for a while, he was part of a mature age team that took on the younger teams and competed successfully. It reminds me a bit of the Australian Olympic swimmer Shane Gould [], who won five medals including three gold, at the 1972 Olympics. She trained and almost qualified for the 2000 Olympics Swimming Team just to prove to all of us the same thing that Tempest does, we are never too old to dream.

Springtime in Japan

Speaking of spring (you can see the cherry blossoms in Matt’s photo), to take a slight detour, I’d like to talk a little about why cherry blossom season is so special to me. In Japan, usually in mid-March or mid-April, there is a week period where the cherry trees go from looking like ugly gnarly twigs to a firework explosion of pink. And it barely lasts a week before the winds come and blow it all away and bring spring proper in with it.

The reason it’s significant to me is that back when I first came to Japan, I had a very difficult first month. Moving to a country where you only know eleven words, have no friends, and starting a new job isn’t exactly the recipe for an easy transition, but I wasn’t prepared for just how difficult it would be. How managing to buy something from the convenience store would feel like an insurmountable challenge (not getting lost, figuring out what something was, then trying to navigate a language you don’t speak except to say yes to everything). There was a time when I got lost walking the 18 minute trek it took to get from my apartment to the train station. The reason I was going it because I wasn’t familiar with any of the food yet, and I just wanted something I recognised, and so I decided to make the trek out to the local KFC (which was at the next station, and where I first met Matt). The reason why I chose the KFC over the local convenience store was that KFC had a picture menu that I could point at. However, navigating the way back to the station by myself proved too much, and I got lost. Lost in an unfamiliar town, in a strange country, where I knew no-one and didn’t yet have a cell phone. It was like those moments in the movies where the world just spins.

Luckily, however, a local woman who could speak some English helped me out, and as it turned out, I was very close to the train station, and I’d only made a minor mistake. All this is to give background to the time, one month into my first year in Japan, that I finally decided to venture out. The motivator was the famous cherry blossoms. When I first came here, I intended only to stay a year, so I wanted to experience as much as I could. So, I overcame my fear and went out into the city by myself. Aside from a minor setback (I couldn’t find the exit at Ueno station), I found Ueno Park, and I saw the blossoms. And it all came together for me, I felt like I could live and work in Japan, and I could make a go of it here. So, that burst of pink will always be special to me.

Of course it’s special in Japan because it heralds spring, and the transient nature of the blossoms ties in very closely with zen buddhism. But, mostly here, it’s an excuse to have a barbecue with your friends and colleagues and get raving drunk. And it’s also very good luck if the petals fall on you.

Yuko flying above the cherry-blossoms! #acroyoga #highflyingbirdpose #highflying #defygravity #trust #shinjuku #tokyo #japan #cherryblossom

A post shared by Matt Fitzgerald (@juggernautcheer) on

Japanese Spring Festivals

There are two major festivals in Japan in Spring. The first is Hinamatsuri, which translates as “dolls festival” but is unofficially “girls day”. Where parents of daughters will set up a stand of dolls dressed in Heian period (about 1000 years ago) costume. The Prince and Princess goes at the top, and their helpers go on the lower levels. This is a kind of wish that their daughters will marry well. And the parents no longer have to put the display out when their daughters do get married. Which brings me to this woman, who you probably hear about, but I’m going to talk about here anyway, because it goes in with the theme. An 82 year old Japanese woman developed an iPhone app based on putting the Hinamatsuri dolls in the correct place in the display:

Second up, is Kodomonohi or Children’s Day, also known as “Boys day”. This is where families set up kites of colourful carp in front of their houses. When I first moved here, I assumed this was “Ocean Day” and the Japanese were apologising for eating so many fish. But, it’s actually because when the carp migrate, they swim upstream, and the families hope that their sons will grow up to be strong and determined like the carp.

Speaking of spring festivals, I’m sure people are either gearing up or winding down from Easter. So, it might interest some to know that there is a small town in the north of Japan that believes, according to local legend, that they are the final resting place of Jesus Christ. According to the legend, Jesus escaped crucifixion when his brother swapped places with him, and he escaped to Japan, where he lived as a garlic farmer and married a local woman, had three children, before dying at the age of 106. You can see the sight on the following video:

Now, you might be saying, this couldn’t possibly be true… but, one of the families who live in the village has a family emblem that resembles the star of David. You can learn more about it here.

Happy Adulting on a Friday.

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