Magatama and the Eclipse
I'm having tea with a friend outside of a Magatama shop. We walked here from a cafe that had indoor seating, but I'd rather be out in the rain where I feel safer from catching diseases. Behind us, a glass display shows various stones worth more than my month's salary.
Magatama is similar to Yin-Yang. They are stones in the shape of a tadpole, with a hole through the center of the "head" and the "tail" curving inward. Kind of like one half of a yin-yang symbol. When my friends held the tea party for me, the fortune-teller who read my palm wore two Magatama, one as a necklace and one as a bracelet. He said they were his power stones.
I didn't really care at the time.
So suddenly these very lovely looking young ladies enter the courtyard. It's been decorated with a hundred colorful umbrellas both as an art installation, and so no one gets rained on. As they move together in a group, a filming crew follows them. They get their pictures taken and make some kind of an announcement. My friend and I watch idly, but we're engaged in other conversation. My friend went to a Magatama workshop where she made a necklace and she's busy telling me about how she doesn't like it and never wears it, but her husband wants her to wear it because he paid for the workshop.
She stops talking. Something's going on behind us. The filming crew has approached! Without any introduction or anything, a microphone is put in my face.
"We're from the local TV station. Can we ask you some questions?"
"Uhm, are you sure you want to? My Japanese isn't all that good. . ."
"Do you do a lot of traveling?"
My friend bolts. She runs to the next shop over and hides behind a pillar.
"Well, sometimes," I say vaguely.
"In the neighboring prefecture, four people were tested positive for Covid19 this week. How does that make you feel about going out?"
"Well, not exactly good, but I'm from the U.S.A. and it's a lot worse here. Matsue city is so much better compared to there."
My friend peers out from behind the pillar and starts taking pictures of the scene with her phone.
"Are you scared of the virus?"
"Well yes, I don't feel comfortable using public transportation. I either walk or go by car."
"Did you travel more before the virus?"
"Oh yes, I've been all over Japan, but recently I don't travel. Even now, I'm not traveling, I'm on a business trip."
The crew moves on after that. My friend has caught the attention of a woman on her lunch break. She asks my friend in fairly good English if everything's okay. My friend says she's hiding from the cameras. Now they're laughing about it. I approach them with my tea in hand. The woman says she has to go to work but she's glad to have met us anyway. My friend watches her go forlornly. I can tell this girl really needs to get out more and talk to people. I can tell she's going to be lonely when I go back to Matsue. I feel a little sad suddenly. A little guilty.
I think I completely forgot about the news crew after that. My friend invited me to her in-laws' house and I went and ended up staying there until well past 9pm. It was one of those houses where people are coming in and out freely, where there's always some kind of food on the table, where you can lose yourself in conversation, or go off into a quiet corner, and everyone is accepted just the way they are.
"I heard you like bugs," said an older lady in Japanese. I shot a glance at my friend and she shrugged because she couldn't understand the sentence anyway.
"Who told you that?" I replied defensively. I elbowed my friend. "Did you tell everyone I like bugs?"
"But you do like bugs!! I saw your art. . ."
I knew I should feel flattered, that I'd been talked about, that my artwork had been talked about, that I'd gained a reputation with people I didn't even know. But instead I felt embarrassed. I'm already the odd one out because of the color of my eyes and hair. I don't need to be the odd one out also because of my hobbies or interests. . .
"Jennifer-san, we are all mountain people here," said the lady gently. "My brother eats wild boars, shooting them and skinning them himself. We're not bothered by bugs."
"Really?" I asked tentatively, skeptically.
"My favorite bug is Dango-mushi," she smiled at me.
Dango-mushi are rolly pollies, or pill bugs, whatever you call them based on your location. They aren't the most aesthetically pleasing. I've had plenty of people tell me they like bugs, referring specifically to colorful beetles and beautiful butterflies, and then reel in disgust when I show them a picture of a moth or a bee I took. But people who openly admit to liking dango-mushi! Well that's another story. I relaxed. "Alright, yeah, I like bugs."
So I go in to work the next day, just a little bit worn out. It's raining, but the rain stops just long enough to let me walk to school without an umbrella. After I get there, the students start to arrive.
"Jennifer, I saw you yesterday!"
"What? Where??" I spent most of the day inside, talking, laughing, and eating with new friends. Unless they caught me walking in the morning. . . ?
I'd completely forgotten about that!
So I've been on TV now! A first in my life. Thank you, Matsue City, for so many experiences.
At the end of the day, a student gave me a parting gift wrapped in a small, pink envelope. I pulled back the paper to reveal a smooth stone in the shape of a tadpole. A Magatama! It occurred to me suddenly that I didn't have any actual souvenirs from the city, and that this would be my first.
My student explained that this area, once called the Country of Izumo, was home to a very old civilization, before the days of swords, temples, and tea ceremonies. This civilization worshipped the skies above. and the Magatama is a remnant of that ancient culture. The larger end of the Magatama represents the sun. The tail is the moon. Izumo once had mountains rich with precious stones and silver. Various magatama were made of different stones. The one that my student gave me is made of agate.
Speaking of the sun and moon, a few weeks ago there was a partial eclipse.
In ancient Asian cultures, and probably across the world as well, eclipses were seen as signs that something wasn't right and were excuses to oust a king or rebel against a leader. Obviously the usually unchanging Heavenly bodies were disturbed, right? But that day, I was outside playing with my shadow that the odd partial sunlight turned moon-shaped and curved, and no one around me seemed to notice at all. I wanted to scream at everyone - Look what's going on! Isn't this amazing? But I never got the courage to actually say it. It's like I was having a private moment being connected with the sun and moon, letting them influence my shadows and being aware of their crossing paths, and everyone around me was on another planet, going about their daily routine like it didn't matter.
Maybe it didn't matter.
Maybe that's why I didn't have the courage to say anything to strangers.
I was worried that it didn't matter.
But this Magatama I have can be like a connection to that memory.
It wasn't just something in my head, it's a link to the primal peoples to whom these things were important.