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Generosity is a man called Ootaku-san!

After a relaxing time spent in a quaint local hot-spring, we were suddenly faced with the depressing prospect of finding a place to stay in the middle of nowhere with the sun now beginning to disappear behind the mountains. At that moment, we received a phone call from Ootaku-san, the Elvis look alike who had caught us in our earlier trough, offering to take us to another of Aomori’s famous Nebuta festivals, this time in a town called Goshogawara. With all other options looking quite dire, it was not difficult to say yes and soon we were being treated to the charming conversations of a man whose outlook on life was about to teach us a thing or two about ours.
Over a much anticipated dinner of handmade noodles and tempura, we listened to Ootaku san’s story of how a serious illness from overwork had caused him to reassess what was important in life, resulting in him quitting his job and chasing his dream in construction. He was now his own boss, working for the love of his job, doing something that he valued and his face showed every bit of it. It was a simple message that so few ever really heed. Why do something if you don’t love it? Why do something if you don’t want to do it? The result of following a head full of dreams and a heart full of desire was a man who had found the true meaning of life in the routine of everyday. When you wake up excited about what’s for breakfast, you know that things must be going Ok in your life.

Our next stop was an unexpected treat. While we had spent the week before enjoying the Nebuta’s of Aomori city, little did we know that Aomori hosted three such festivals, each as big as the other, simultaneously in three different cities. Goshogawara as we were about to find, was the host of the ‘tachi nebuta’ or standing floats. The name however does little to convey the true scale of these creations. Made of paper and weighing up to 3 tonnes, these tachi nebuta on first glimpse leave you grasping for the right adjective to describe them. Perhaps Miki’s first words, in some ways, captured best the essence of what we saw.
“ I think I just saw Godzilla with a wig walking behind that building.”
But it was true, for when the tachi nebuta came in to full view, we all stood speechless. What was even more amazing was the fact that some of these things had been put together completely by the local high school students. When I recall the struggles I had trying to put squiggly clay hair on my clay face sculpture in grade 9 art class, it becomes obvious that my path doesn’t lie in the same direction as these kids. When we couldn’t imagine them getting any bigger, another would creep its way around the building, more massive and more impressive than the last until finally, we were faced with the big daddy of them all – a 27 metre tall monster than defied words. Otaku –san stood by with a smile, happy in the knowledge that it was going to be a night we would never forget. For in his mind, it was still not finished. There was one more trip to make and it was to be the best one yet.

Aware that the time was now quite late, Ootaku-san suggested staying at his house. It was closer, we could relax and sleep in, and in the morning he could take us back to our starting point. To him it seemed like the perfect solution, and to us, it seemed again like the better option. In fact, as we hadn’t secured any place to stay, it was really our only option. He smiled a big smile and headed in the direction of his house which, after passing through rice fields and weaving between forests of towering pines, ended up being right on the beach with the perfect view of the squidding boats, illuminating the horizon far out to sea. The smell of the sea air immediately breathed some life back in our weary bones and as we put our bags in the doorway, Ootaku-san said the words that I will never forget.
“Right. My wife is waiting so I’m off. I’ll be back in the morning to pick you up. You can rest here; get your legs back. Feel free to use everything that’s here. Oh and one last thing, look in the back room. There is a surprise.” And with one final grin, he was off, leaving us, two relative strangers, the keys to his beach house for the night. While Miki seemed to have cottoned on to the suggestion earlier, I was completely taken back by this most generous of offers. My inability once again to pick up some of the essential details, left me standing with my mouth wide, wondering if there was a catch.
We wondered to the back room and opened the door. A smile came over our faces as we now knew what he had meant by his surprise. Earlier in the evening when Miki and Ootaku-san had reminisced about their sporting backgrounds, they discovered that they had both competed in table tennis at the prefectural level, with talk of a matchup between the two soon bouncing back and forth between all of us. Now that matchup was etched in our near future. Before us stood an immaculate table tennis table with Miki’s name on it. Sleep was definitely going to take a back seat tonight. In twelve short hours Ootaku-san would be back to pick us up. Miki, with her title on the line, had some practicing to catch up on.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 6:58 AM,

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