This evening during English class with a group of relatively excitable Japanese 'shakaijin' (company employees) I gleaned yet another sliver of insight - if not a slice of actual understanding - into this place I've come to call home.
Despite the depressing trend here toward westernizing anything that can be westernized (read: culturally decimated) it is still not only possible but rather easy to find a calendar in Japan with daily notations for the traditional six-day cycle of good luck and bad luck and...whatever you call what lies in between. The luckiest days are called 大安 (dai-an), when every wedding hall and fake church in the country can get away with doubling the going rate for a eye-stabbingly boring reception or a fake Christian ceremony (complete with gospel readings that no one involved has the slightest clue about - and that includes the person reading) because everyone getting married wants to do so on this, the luckiest of days. (It just occurred to me I should check into the divorce rate in Japan.) The unluckiest days in Japan are known as 仏滅 (butsu-metsu). On these days the wedding halls stand deserted as the immigration information counter at City Hall while the fake Christian priests go hit golf balls into a massive green net hung between the dental clinic and someone's home because that was the last remaining two-meter-wide swath of unused space in the entire city, and the priests needed something to do on butsu-metsu.
These things, though, are common knowledge for even the most disinterested of the 5,000 overpaid, underworked 22-year-old brat JET English teachers here on the archipelago. Tonight, however, thanks to my students, growing more confident each week in their ability to maim the English language in new and uncharted ways, I now possess perhaps one more salmon egg's worth of knowledge about the intricacies of Japan which, ironically, just serves to confound me even further. To wit:
Another of the six days of the cycle is 赤口 (shakkoh) which, translating the characters literally, means 'red mouth.' (This may or may not be good for a few interesting visuals.) Ever eager to firm up my mental grip on my adopted home, I went ahead and asked Toshiyuki: 'So what is a shakkoh day?'
What I gathered listening to his stuttering, syntactically-disastrous explanation was that shakkoh is a lucky day - but only at noon. At first, by 'noon' Toshiyuki seemed to mean that almost immeasurable sliver of time when it is exactly noon, according to the Emperor's personal atomic clock. But I pressed him on it and he backpedaled a bit, conceding that the good luck of shakkoh could conceivably extend an hour on either side of noon. But the rest of the day was most assuredly bad luck. The rest of the class chimed in with a chorus of sounds which, in any language, could only mean one thing: 'We actually have no flippin idea what we are talking about but please accept this as our answer so we can move on without embarrassing ourselves any further with our gross lack of understanding of our own traditions.' You'd hear the same sound in the States if you asked any random group of people the functioning purpose of the Electoral College. As of now, I can only say that in Japan on shakkoh days you probably want to eat your sushi lunch on time - and eat it quick.
Then Mihoko piped up and told us all about how her grandparents would never leave the house on butsu-metsu days.
I love Japan, for all its quirks and incomprehendability. It wouldn't be Japan otherwise.
Still, I'm glad some traditions are falling by the wayside.