"This door will not open in conductor-less"
(Subject was written on the window of a train.)
There's a legend in Japan called, "Kaguya-hime," or Princess Kaguya. Inside each segment of a bamboo stalk is a hollow formed by a divine spirit, so that a bamboo tree is simultaneously both a tree and a divine vessel. Inside one such vessel was born a princess called Kagu-hime who's mother was the moon.
This was the last thing on my mind when I was ripping bamboo out of the side of the mountain a month ago, but recently some local people put on a play where Kaguya-hime isn't just a fairytale, but a multi-dimensional superhero sent from space to Earth to get everyone to stop polluting the earth and use bamboo instead of plastic.
Actually I first learned about Kaguya-hime from Sesame Street, although I didn't know it then. Before I knew anything about Japan at all, Big Bird went to Japan on a special episode of Sesame Street that my grandma in California recorded and sent to my house. There, he learned three things that I still remember vividly to this day. First, all Japanese people have black hair. I was very impressed by this concept, and was slightly let down when I came to Japan and saw people in all sorts of browns. Later I found out that these people were just dying their hair. I'd never considered that! When I imagined dying hair colors, I imagined my friend with blue hair, or blondies wanting to go black to fit their gothic natures, or that odd burgundy color that every popular girl had when I was in middle-school. To dye hair a purely natural, just slightly lighter than a person's inborn color, was beyond me. Big-Bird was right all along. Everyone has black hair.
The second thing Big Bird taught me was that the food on display outside of a shop is made from plastic. I didn't think much of it at the time, besides laughing at him trying to eat it, but when I went to Japan and was unfazed by all the plastic food displays, I guess that had really settled in my head. I suppose Kagu-hime from the future would want the displays made from bamboo instead of plastic. In the superhero play, she pulls out a bamboo cane and starts using kendo (which utilizes bamboo practice swords) to defeat her enemies.
A lot of things, maybe anything, can be made from bamboo. Building materials, dishes, pretty much anything. When Yokoi was holding out on Guam for 27 years, he made himself a whole living space in a cave and used bamboo furnish his home. I have a bamboo shelving unit in my house, bamboo chopsticks and toothpicks, a bamboo spoon, and some bamboo decorations to put on packages in lieu of bows and ribbons. You can eat bamboo shoots, which are starting to pop up just now! I think I could survive if I was stranded in a bamboo forest.
The third thing Big Bird taught me was that Japanese people always take off their shoes before going in the house. But Big Bird wasn't wearing shoes and he was pretty distraught that he couldn't perform the necessary action of taking them off. Once inside, he watched the play Kaguya-hime.
An old woodcutter and his wife find Kaguya-hime in the bamboo forest and of course having no children of their own, decide to raise her. Isn't that so typical of fairy tales around the world? And of course she grows up to be the utmost beautiful woman in the world and all the suitors come to court her. She refuses all of them and on long, lonely nights she speaks to her mother, the moon. Even the emperor asks for her hand in marriage, but she refuses. Eventually a brigade from the moon come down to escort her back. She gives a tearful goodbye to her adopted family and returns to the moon.
In the performance by the locals here, this was done with alien spaceships and a brigade of men with bows and arrows, all made traditionally from bamboo. Kaguya-hime gives a final plea that the love of trees and bamboo forests will be what saves our Earth and we will be protected from pollution and radiation if we first find peace in our own hearts.
You may be wondering how I went out and saw a play if I'm supposed to be staying home outside of working hours. Actually I didn't. After the play was recorded for television, they gave out copies of the DVD. One of the actors is a friend of a friend, so they invited me over to get my own copy, knowing that I'm a tree-hugger myself. When the woman handed over the DVD I told her I'm sorry no one could go see the play because of Covid19 and she told me, "I never think about the virus. I'm just happy to be alive each day. You need to stop worrying and be happy to be alive."
When the TV people came to record the play, they asked Kaguya-hime to cut the lines about pollution and radiation. She squeezed in a slight reference at the very end, but pollution and radiation were not mentioned in most of the play. "Using bamboo products will make your life better" was more of the focus. Instead of the true message of the princess coming from space to save Earth from mankind's follies, it became sorta like product sales. That was really sad to hear.
At the end of Big Bird Goes to Japan, he's on the plane talking about how he'd enjoyed his travels. Then he falls asleep. Through the window of the plane, you can see the moon and the shadow of the princess walks across it. That killed me as a kid. I remember telling Big Bird to wake up. He missed his chance to see the princess!! She really was there in the moon! Every time it got to that scene, I hope that just this one time, he'd stay awake long enough to see it. It was endlessly frustrating. I promised if I was ever in a plane, I would make sure to keep my eyes on the moon.
It's funny that I'm in Japan now, after all that. My childhood self would have been shocked to know that I'd be watched a scifi version of Kaguya-hime in the future, while reminiscing about Big Bird.