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The Asian ApertureWater Taxi Memorial Ceremony for Tsunami Victims
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, July 31, 2011    Share

Driving on Kennedy Blvd with hundreds of other drivers cutting each other off around 6:15, I maintained an inner peace. I had no idea what to expect from this Meetup group. Generally, we get together to talk about Japan or go out to eat, but this was different. It was Tuesday, July 26th. I drove past University of Tampa and immediately after the bridge made a sharp right, just like Tron, onto N. Ashley Dr.

Arriving at the Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel, I found the office for Tampa's Water Taxi. I spoke briefly with Captain Larry Salkin. Then I meet another meetup members and went inside the hotel's restaurant for some coffee because we were all early.

Around 6:55, we paid our checks and went over to a nearby reception room were I saw some of my old friends from past meetup gatherings and some new faces. Inside the room were several tables with red plates with white paper bags attached. Someone was using a brush, dipped in ink, to write kanji on the white bags. Kanji are the Chinese characters used in written Japanese. There are over 80,000 kanji and luckily for us we only needed to know a few. I met the very funny and energetic, Kiyomi Taylor. Her husband was writing kanji on the bags. I also met her daughter who is studying to be a Conceptional Artist. We talked about favorite manga and I found out that we shared a mutual love for Anime director, Satoshi Kon, who sadly passed away in August last year. Kon created memorable anime movies, such as, Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers. We also both liked Gloomy Bears, a small violent pink bear that eats humans. Gloomy Bears was created by Mori Chack to go against the annoying cuteness of Hello Kitty.

After that I got my shot at writing kanji. This is a lot to take into consideration. The stroke order is important, where to start, how many strokes are allowed, everything is counted precisely and route memory is needed. I started out with some easy ones with minimum strokes like the kanji for power and then happiness. The more complicated ones I left for others. I did study kanji writing at the college level but that was years ago and I regrettably haven't kept up the practice mainly due to MS Windows and the Japanese language add on that writes the kanji for you by simply pressing the space bar.

Technology is ruining handwriting worldwide. When is the last time I tried to write Medieval calligraphy? I can't remember.

The biggest surprise of the evening was meeting two very nice members of the Japanese Self Defense Force, I'll call them the Japanese Navy to make it easier for readers and writing. They had on their white sailor outfits and looked sharp. I had to get a picture because it is not everyday that I go out anywhere with the Japanese Navy.

Then, while it was still light, we all walked outside and were helped into the boat by Captain Salkin. I spotted a list of prices and tours. One tour that looked interesting to me was the Historic Tampa Tour. You could tour several different areas of Tampa right in Tampa Bay by boat. It reminded me of seeing the boats in Venice.
Now it was time to set sailing and get everything in motion. We were participating in a ceremony to honor Tsunami victims. This is called Toro Nagashi in Japanese. We started out by taking the paper bags and opening them up. Next, sand was added to provide weight. Then we sailed around Tampa Bay, gawking at the University of Tampa, which is beautiful from the water, passed the grand Marriott hotel, the massive St. Pete Times Fourm, and Channelside. Finally, we got to the three Japanese battleships that was anchored near the Port of Tampa Authority. I have never seen a battleship from being on a boat. It was huge. I thought that if you ever fell overboard, you wouldn't have to worry about the sharks because the fall would kill you. As the sun set and it was finally dark, we actually began. A small bowl was set up with burning incenses. Two small candles were blazing on either side. A small framed plaque had a message written in Japanese. Then one of the sailors took a small candle, lit it, and placed it at the bottom of the bag. Then the bag was headed to anyone standing on the boat near the one of the edges, and the bag was placed in the water. The bag glided gently across the waves with the kanji on one side and the small candle lighting it up. It was beautiful and moving at the same time. This is typical done for the Bon Festival in August. The idea is the spirits of the departed see the candles burning and it guides them back to the other world.
The battleships were lit up with lights everywhere. We all waved to the Japanese Navy who were out on the ship. I watched the paper lanterns sail by for one last time and took a few photos and shot a brief video.

It was a moving experience but it was also fun. No one was gloomy, the Japanese and Americans both were joking around with good cheer in the air and both countries united in peace for the same cause.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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