Friday, November 9, 2012

One Crazy Day in Kyoto - Part Three

We'd been to temples; we'd had monkey encounters; and now evening was drawing close. New Year's Eve. What to do?

We both knew this would be our last New Year in Japan. My first year there, I saw in New Year avoiding cockroaches at my landlord's house as I fielded the advances of his drunken son-in-law and the conversation of his senile mother. The following year, I celebrated in New Zealand, having spent the day before (my birthday) stuck atop a volcano during a cyclone. It seemed I had created a trend of interesting ways to say goodbye to the year and this would prove no different.

Despite being in historic Kyoto, Nic and I thought it would be fun to have a little English-speaking company. A glance through one of the free tourist guides led us to a country and western bar, which was, according to the paper, very popular with gaijin. Perfect!

And so we made our way to Hillbilly Heaven. Yep, that was its name.

Sadly, our only picture of our country and western escapade.

It looked promising, even the signs on the door were in English. We waited outside for a while, hoping to see some other non-Japanese but soon decided to just go on in and join the fun.

Remember the famous phrase from the movie Field of Dreams? "If you build it, they will come." Looking back, I wonder if that was the inspiration behind the signs. If we put up signs in English, foreigners will come. 

The marketing trick hadn't worked.

As we entered Hillbilly heaven, the music stopped and all eyes turned upon us. All Japanese eyes. All dressed in the most elaborate and no doubt expensive urban cowboy gear either of us had ever seen. Hats, spurs, waistcoats, top to toe designer duds, complete with the obligatory (and so practical in the Wild West) fringe. I do not believe a Westerner had ever set foot in Hillbilly Heaven until now...and boy were they overjoyed to see us. 

The owner's wife bustled over and showed us to a free table, conveniently within view of everyone. Feeling that it would be incredibly rude to leave, we ordered a few beers and a pizza. Conversation resumed and soon the excitement began to grow. It was time for the promised New Year's Eve live musical entertainment. I cast an eye around the place, not seeing any signs of a band nor the space for them to set up. What was I thinking?

After a quick announcement, our entertainment arrived. Onto the tiny stage walked a little Japanese woman, dressed in a silver sequined cowgirl outfit, with matching hat and fringe. Her accompaniment? A small electronic synthesizer. 

There then followed a series of well-known Western classics, sung in terrible English. It was only 8 o'clock. Could we really stand another four hours of this. Worse still was the fact that everyone kept looking to us to make sure we liked each song and found it authentically American. 

After an hour or so, our musical star performed a rendition of Dolly Parton's "I Wiru Aruways Rub Youuuuu" that haunts me to this day. It was getting increasingly hard not to laugh and we desperately did not want to offend anyone. Making our excuses about another party, we thanked everyone for a wonderful evening and left, waiting until we reached the car to burst out into a quick verse or two.

Back to the ryokan, only to spend time hiding in our room from the owner who desperately wanted to feed us mochi. (Small children can choke on that stuff!)

By eleven, we decided to head back out in search of revelry and entertainment, or a temple. Yet we could find nothing. We wandered aimlessly through the streets of downtown Kyoto when suddenly we chanced a purely magical scene. A choir in the middle of a square. We decided to join the small gathering of onlookers. As the countdown to midnight and a new year began, the choir burst into song. Fireworks erupted at midnight to the exquisite strains of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Nic and I hugged and kissed, while those around us, amused by our actions, wanted to hug us as well. They handed us mugs of warm amazake and we shared traditions in a beautiful moment of friendship that remains with me to this day. 

A perfect ending to a perfect day. A joyful start to a joyful new year. 

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