For whom the band plays
At the center of the dusty field, a troop of six-year olds stood in tight formation, dressed in Western style marching band outfits. It looked to my eyes like a tribute to UCLA marching in the Rose Parade, only I stood on elementary school grounds in Ashikaga, Japan in Tochigi prefecture.
The six year old boys and girls banged their drums and cymbals and spun around. A line of children stood stationary, playing little trumpet riffs on old school Yamaha keyboards. A particularly powerful six-year old boy pounded his gigantic standing Pearl drum so hard it jolted from its stand and into the dusty field below. Teachers scrambled to get it set back up. The show went on.
Beyond the intricately white-chalked infield, a bank of tents provided shade to clusters of parents and grandparents sitting in folding chairs. They slurped yakisoba noodles, incurred brain freezes over rainbow colored shaved ice and sipped their cups of tea. The ones who weren’t eating were holding video cameras. Capturing the moment, the moments, all of them during the 8 hour event. There would be hours and hours of footage and their kids will have only been in a 15-minute segment of it. That’s respect.
Beyond the orderly row of tents lay the concession stands. Fashionable teenagers with awkward English phrases on their shirts like ‘Crosed for Season’ devoured the festival fare. Leather faced college students with tidal waves of spiked hair walked through the proceedings, smoking and squinting and remembering their now distant childhood in the marching band. Ah, memories.
At the very back of the proceedings sat clusters of fathers and grandfathers. Detached from the rest of the community. Scowling faces and random limbs peering out of a constant haze of cigarette smoke. The band did not play for them. They snorted and wheezed, becoming one. The mothers with small children held their breaths and walked quickly through the area. The old men spoke loudly and brashly, letting everyone know that the elders of the village were still on patrol.
The marching band was building to a crescendo. The six-year old maestro flapping her arms with gusto, exactly on time. The band doing a decent enough job of keeping that time. And then it was done. The band closed. They quickly discarded their instruments onto giant blue tarps and formed a human pyramid under the supervision of their teachers. The camcorders captured it all. The village elders missed it all. And then the next act took the center of the field. Fathers lined up to jump rope, ten at a time. And so sports day ebbed and flowed. Our duties done, we headed offsite for lunch. The village elders could not leave. Bound by familial and community duty. Although, they could leave at any moment if they really wanted to. And everyone knew it.