Where the taxes go
I am recuperating from a half day of boring fire-brigade ceremony, and a longer half-day of slightly less boring drinking with the crew (apparently it got less boring as the afternoon wore on.)
I know I post photos of the fire brigade every year at this time, but it just sucks up so much of my time and I have to find some way to make it more interesting. The novelty of how rigid and ridiculously structured everything is has worn off. There is a contest between hamlets to see who can put out the fire first. Of course they only use a target that has to be hit once with the high-preassure water blast. This I see as valuable - being able to assemble the equipment quickly and aim and manage the hose. But they are also judged on things such as the angle of their feet, and the order in which they adjust their uniform, and even the distance the hoses are from each other before they get around to putting out the fire. Above, you see a photo of them measuring to make sure. In the mean time, people are jumping out of the second story windows to escape the flames.
It is all worth it, though, even despite two hours of daily practice in the busiest time of the year for farming and One Life work. For one thing, just the fact that I show up (regardless of if I can play the trumpet or not) gives me street cred in the village, and I get to meet and drink with a lot of the other young people that I would normally not see. While we don't get paid for joining, I suppose it pays off in favors. A discount from the fellow trumpeter mechanic here, a tip on an event to take customers to see there, and lots of "free" booze and food.
I have yet to fight a fire in three years of service. The biggest thing I did was spend two days searching for a lost man in the mountains. We never found him, but we had a lot of fun and drinks afterwards. I can imagine something like this causing outrage in other places... why is tax-payer money being spent on parties for a few men in the village?!!?!? I see tremendous value though in terms of community building (the only reason I am a part of it). While the conversation at the drinking parties gets a bit boring at (more than a few) times, I can't imagine how, if I lived in Tokyo or Bay City, MI (my home town), I would have an opportunity to be forced to hang out with so many people without a specific unifying interest related reason, such as "I like manga" (I don't, by the way), or "I like raising chickens" (I do, by the way).
Every year I wake up and mutter "oh shit. I have to go to trumpet practice again tonight. I am just going to quit." (and I have a good excuse - I am technically not supposed to be in the group because I do not have Japanese citizenship). But every year I go back. I will go back again tonight...