Although my normal crosswalk duty is from 7:30 to 8:00 weekday mornings, I was asked to join a city wide event promoting city safety. Yesterday I spent from 12:00 to 6:00 at the city culture center along with nearly 30 other crosswalk guards. I'm still not sure what it was all about.
Instructions were to come fully uniformed about two hours before the event for instructions. Since I am new to the organization I don't know anyone, so I just followed along and copied what everyone else was doing. (More of Tetsu's term... goldfish poop.)
All the of the men guards and a few veteran women guards were given parking lot and roadside duty. I have a feeling the top people had a time figuring out what job to give me.
"Let's see... Tanya has never done this before so we don't want to put her outside directing traffic. She's not so great at formal Japanese so we don't want to leave her in charge of ushering important guests. We can put her at the registration desk but she isn't going to be able to handle all the paperwork. I guess she can hand out fliers."
So I smiled a lot and handed out fliers.
What I thought was a public event (it was) turned out to be attended by the heads of all the neighborhood committees throughout the city and by school principals and PTA presidents. And roll was taken! This means that probably everyone was obligated to attend but not too many were happy about it... I think we had 8 people out of 400 who just walked in off of the street. And when they saw roll being taken they would take a step back and say
"Maybe I'm not supposed to be here?"
The first hour of the event was devoted to speeches by different politicians. The mayor was there, a city council member or two... I don't know who else but I have seen their posters up along the streets during election time. And the chief of police gave a speech for public awareness of mafia doings... I didn't know we had a mafia. And another police man gave a speech about the number of traffic accidents just in our prefecture. My prefecture rates second worse in the country... Each of those persons up on the stage, would stand up and bow to the people they were sitting next to and across from (it means "Pardon me for taking my turn."), and then bow to the flag ("I am honored to be Japanese.") and then bow to the audience. After the speech the whole bowing routine again.
It made me think about whether as Americans we do all this acknowledging of others and the flag. Japan doesn't have a pledge of allegiance as America does, but Americans don't go saluting the flag every time they see it either. Japanese will usually bow if they enter a room with a Japanese flag displayed. Even when my kids were doing Judo and Kendo, they were required to bow to the flag every time they entered or left the gymnasium. I got into the habit too whenever I'd go to their meets...
Back to the event... Finally a Japanese comedian gave a 30 minute spiel with safety as his theme. This is called Rakugo and is considered an art. The Rakugo teller can keep an audience laughing just by many play on words and stories using double nuances of Japanese terms and phrases. I have a hard time following all of it but Rakugo masters are considered to be brilliant and are revered. A very "Japanese" form of entertainment with little movement nor props.
As the program wore down we crosswalk people went back out of the auditorium and took up our posts again. A final assembly with words of gratitude for "helping" that day and we were all handed $13 for our time... and three boxes of body warmers for the upcoming cold winter crosswalk duty.
Interesting day from an outsider's point of view. Much too formal for my tastes. Not sure how "necessary" all that time and effort was but the city officials were satisfied.