How to split the watermelon, cleanly, brightly, ちゃんと

The other night we and a couple of other families were doing fireworks in the park, something of an annual summer ritual, especially for Japanese young folk. (As an aside, it was something of a tradition for me and my brother as well, growing up in Hawaii, to set off fireworks and sparklers at New Years and on the 4th of July, but I believe one can no longer do that anymore — those Chinese firecrackers were pretty dangerous, come to think of it). Do some fireworks with the kids and you’re guaranteed to hear at least one Japanese adult say 懐かしい匂い (natsukashii nioi, or “this smell brings back memories”) as fireworks smoke wafts past.

Anyway, after a while of the kids doing short-lived sparklers, a group of about seven young women showed up at the park near to where we were situated, and proceeded to enact another Japanese summertime ritual, one I had never seen before, called スイカ割り(suika-wari, lit. splitting a watermelon).

Young women doing suika-wari

As you can see from the photos, it’s similar to the Mexican tradition of the piñata that children try to crack open with a stick while blindfolded and which eventually yields a rainfall of candy when opened. (Coincidentally, another tradition that featured in my brother and I’s upbringing). I gather, from various internet postings, that usually this watermelon game is done at the beach, but these girls were improvising. Anyway, it was quite humorous to watch none of them come very close at all to splitting the watermelon, and I wandered over to take some photos, only to then be invited to participate.

After some prodding from Naoko and others I eventually joined in the fun, and was surprised to see how dizzy one can get from just spinning around the requisite three times (mind you, I had had a couple of beers as well up to this point achat cialis pas cher). I felt a bit like a madman with this stick and the blindfold, and I think I look something like one in the photo below that Naoko took. In the end, as the girls guided me with verbal “this way, no that way”‘s, I came within a few inches of the watermelon but alas, no cigar.

Looking like a madman, in search of a watermelon

Eventually another of our party successfully nailed the watermelon and split it in two. I thought this would deflate the girls but they couldn’t have been happier that one of the invited guests, as it were, had struck the watermelon. They proceeded to break it up into small pieces with the help of Kaika and the other kids (truth be told, Kaika was a bit wary of the whole thing, I mean, all those young women were a bit daunting for him) and everyone pigged out and enjoyed being a pig as well (see the rest of the photos here).

The scene of the crime

After the watermelon feast had run its course and lots of cellphone pics of kawaii kids and peace signs, the girls brought out some fireworks and proceeded to do those with the kids (sparklers only), and even did some limbo with the watermelon stick, and a bit later had a bit of fun with a variation of a water balloon fight. These girls clearly knew how to have some good clean fun.

I honestly couldn’t tell if these girls were junior high school or high school kids, or in college (except for the youngest, who was 9, I heard her say), but later someone told me they were high school kids. But what struck me was how, hmmn, what’s the right word for it….how mature they were, or how responsible. No, that makes them sound a bit cheerless, which they were anything but. Maybe “upstanding” or “decent” fits better. In Japanese, ちゃんとしている (chanto shiteiru). I wasn’t the only one who noticed this, others in our group commented about this as well, and one of the Japanese in our group suspected they were part of the same high school club or sports team from the way they acted.

For starters, they were organized. When the fireworks were produced, I saw one of them tell the nine-year-old (her sister, perhaps?) to get water, and this young girl grabbed the bottom half of a two-liter plastic water bottle — prepared just for the occasion? — from her bicycle basket and filled it up at a drink faucet, so there would be a receptacle to douse the sparklers in after they finished sparkling. (I had to smart a little at that one, considering our group had just been putting them on the ground in a central area). When they left a couple of hours later, there was no trace of their presence, everything — the watermelon, the sparklers — had been cleaned up and disposed of.

They were responsible, in fact. And they really looked after the kids. They seemed to me to take selfless pains to make sure each of the kids (there were three, including Kaika) got to try the sparklers and that no one was feeling neglected and that it was all being done safely so no one would get accidentally harmed. Any of them would be an ideal babysitter.

Later, a few minutes after we had said goodbye to them and thanked them for including us and our kids in their fun, they came up to us as a group and bowed en masse with a chorus of こちらこそ!’s (kochira koso, or “No, thank YOU,” or more formally, “The pleasure is mine.”). Very touching. Maybe these were the squarest kids in Japan (I kind of doubt it, of course), but there was something quite heartwarming about a bunch of high school girls, hanging out in a Tokyo city park at 9, 10 o’clock at night, doing nothing more untoward than smashing open a watermelon and lighting sparklers for kids.

One needs these little “makes you glad to live where you live” moments once in a while….

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