I make no secret of the fact that I live in the American bubble here on the Rock. (That's the old-timey name for the big island of Okinawa, on which we live--did you know that Okinawa is not the name of the island, just the prefecture? I don't remember the island's name. How about you google it for me. Correction: my friend A let me know that the word "Hontou" that I keep seeing on maps means "main island". It really is called Okinawa, but sometimes they put that to clarify.) I used to take Japanese (don't anymore), shop at the off-base grocery store once in a blue moon, don't have a single Japanese friend, and can't answer any of my visitors' cultural questions. When we lived in Italy I totally judged those people who lived in the American bubble, and while I do maintain that Italy is an easier place than Okinawa to escape the bubble, I sort of understand now. You have a kid, you get forced into living on a gigantic base, you are living in a country in which you have had minimal interest, you get desperate for American friends who understand--life changes. Sometimes the American bubble is a very nice thing, as long as you respect the local culture and don't bring shame on all of our heads...
So I was driving home from American band practice in an American post chapel to my American-style house on the base with the thousands of beige buildings when I saw a couple of cars parked alongside the road. This was a narrow back-country feeling road, with a few houses and fields on either side. Now, Okinawans love their stop-along-the-road habit. It's usually for vending machine visits, but also for cell phone talking and often for no apparent reason at all (well, not one an American would understand anyway). These roads are narrow. Many of them make Italian roads feel wide--but I digress. Two cars stopped along the road, flashers on. I thought nothing of it until I pulled up behind the first one and had to stop to let someone pass the other way (they were going around the car stopped on the other side of the road). I got bored, my eyes wandered, and I saw a couple of large dark shapes moving around the field to my right. It was sunset, so it was a little dark. But it was obvious that I'd stumbled across some kind of bullfight.
No, don't cue the opera music. Okinawans have bulls fight each other. A guy had each bull on a rope and was following them around the field as they grunted and shoved heads together. I drove around the truck I was stuck behind, and pulled over directly across the street from them. I considered getting out, but...there were bulls fighting a few yards away. I did the usual hesitation before whipping out my camera, but luckily Okinawans are generally totally cool with having their picture taken. They prefer it, even. For example:
I took this picture of the bulls:
The bulls soon shoved each other over almost on to the road (actually, to the spot I'd briefly considered standing on.) Their heads made a furry thunk when they collided, and their horns made a clank like thick, hard plastic. They'd take little breaks and only sort-of fight, then have a resurgence of rippling muscles and dancing-away handlers. Their eyes flashed white and their hooves rumbled.
That's the great thing about the American bubble. Sometimes it just gets popped without anybody trying. We were all just going about our daily lives, and then bam! a gaijin, a sunset roadside bullfight, and some guys that were maybe more excited to be in my picture than to be in that field:
If you want to see a real picture of a real bullfight, go here.
(I braved some serious fingernail pain to bring you this post!)