A Star is Reborn

When I first arrived in Ichinoseki, my foreign, white skin made me into an instant local celebrity (at least, that’s what it felt like at times). I was interviewed by a few different publications and a television crew followed me to a couple of my schools to watch the JET in action.

After the initial torrent of media hype surrounding the arrival of such a handsome and charming (and modest) gaijin in this sleepy town, the interviews halted and I was left to believe that I was just a normal individual. How gauche. We can’t have that.

But, thanks to the fine casting of Telebi Iwate and the zealous willingness of my Board of Education to get me out of the office for a day, I became part of Sunday-morning programming. The station was airing an informational piece about the foreign-language guides available for tours in Hiraizumi and they needed some fresh gaijin faces to act as hapless sightseers in the area.

Of course, I had no idea what I was getting into. One week earlier, my office asked me if I would want to do it while also telling me that Kurt was already signed up. I thought to myself, “Well, since I’m so clueless about what the production might entail, I’ll trust Kurt’s judgment on this one. Besides, it’s good excuse to get out of the office for a day and hang with a buddy.”

I signed up thinking I was going to have to do little more than follow some guide around the Hiraizumi sights with cameras trailing behind. I thought it would just be some sort of informational video for a tourist association.

When Sarah arrived home from vacation, the office enlisted her help as well. She made the same assumptions I did and decided to join the fun.

On the morning of the filming, the first surprise was that no one had ever actually told Kurt about the production. The organizer of the shoot herded us into his car while we protested that Kurt was being abandoned at his office. Confused, our new friend told us that Kurt wasn’t coming and we sped away. Text messaging Kurt only confused him and prompted him to come to City Hall to find out what we were going on about – of course, no one was there to help him.

We later determined that Kurt was probably a backup plan in case Sarah chose not to participate. We think they wanted Sarah and I instead of Kurt and I lest the latter be confused for some gay couple that would make the whole experience just a little too foreign for Japanese TV.

A duo instead of a trio, Sarah and I headed North. In Hiraizumi, we met the camera crew and out English-speaking guide for the day: Asai, a lovely Japanese woman who had lived four years in Vancouver. We were then carted to the station and got our second surprise of the day.
We watched as the camera crew set up in front of the station’s steps and started rolling. To our mild horror, one of the men we had met earlier had metamorphosed into a nauseatingly genki Japanese TV show host. He had the energy of an entire classroom of elementary students and was zealously overacting his way through his lines. Off to the side, we nervously anticipated what our role in this slapstick production might be. This was no informational video…

Now guided in front of the camera, we received instructions from the director and host while Asai translated. The host was meant to be a hapless Japanese tour operator whose language abilities failed him when the foreigners arrived looking to see the wonderful sights of Hiraizumi. Sarah and I were, of course, to play the role of the English foreigners while two Chinese women (dressed to the nines I might add) served as our more classy Asian counterparts.

Our instructions were as follows: The host would deliver a few lines then I would enter and give a big, friendly, “Hi!” We were to banter back and forth with simple English like, “My name is…” and so on. Then came my show-stopping line, “We’re here to do some sightseeing!” (Because that is, after all, how westerners talk.) Rescuing the hapless host from English hell, the Chinese contingent was to approach and deliver their lines. I can only assume they exchanged similar banter.

Then came the real star if the show. Sarah was to arrive on the scene and drop this bombshell: “I would like to go somewhere to learn about Yoshitsune!” And with that, the host’s synapses were to be fried, leaving him incapable of even the simplest of cogent statements and in desperate need of aid from one of Hiraizumi’s new foreign-language guides.

After a few takes, everyone had nailed their lines. Sarah and I stood to the side, bewildered at this bizarre situation and wondering how much more hammy acting we would have to do before the day was done.

We were soon back in front of the camera, but this time, we were little more than props behind the guides. Our director didn’t give us much to go on, so we never really knew if something was expected from us or if the host was going to freak out and start humping legs. (No, the latter never happened, but I wouldn’t have put it past him.)

Next stop was Motsu-ji. One of Hiraizumi’s star attractions, this temple complex oriented around a lovely lake was the scene for the guides to strut their stuff. This was more of what I had expected. The guides lead us along the paths near the temple while explaining a little about the site’s history while the cameras trailed behind. Again, unsure of what was expected from us, we just tried to act naturally and follow along. The genki host only had one episode where he could have required a slight sedative: as we entered the complex, he marched through the gate with high knees and lifted a flag like the grand marshal of a parade. As far as we knew, we were not required to mimic him.

Our whirlwind tour of the temple finished, we were then transported up to a temple dedicated to Yoshitsune where Sarah’s desire to learn more about the legendary warrior would be fulfilled. Again, the cameras trailed behind while we learned about the history of the area.

In order to wrap up the production, the director wanted us to give our feedback about the guiding experience. We were happy to tell them how interesting it was and how much information we had learned, but Asai had to translate our words back for the Japanese viewing audience. How terribly un-Japanese: She had to take our praise and repeat it about herself on television. I hope we didn’t damage her humility too much.

With shooting finished, the crew took us back down the hill to town where we all ate lunch together. We had a good chat with Asai before being escorted back to city hall.

When we arrived, both Sarah and I didn’t stop shaking our bewildered heads for hours. We wondered at how this production would actually appear on TV and whether heart and star graphics would be swirling about our heads on screen.

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