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Muddy Mutant Ninja Turtles

“Oh my God! I can’t see!” “Jesus! It’s in my eyes! It burns!” “There’s mud in places I never even knew existed before!”

These were only the few of the many complaints and screams of anguish I heard yesterday during the annual Nakatsu Mud Volleyball tournament. We all gathered at the volleyball court, a flooded rice paddy, at 8:45 dressed to the nines in our home made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outfits. Donatello made an appearance. Michaelangelo was present as well. Leonardo and Donatello were ready to go. Splinter was there to guide the turtles as always, and April O’Neil and Casey Jones wore their Sunday best. Indeed, the TMNT were well represented. As coach I had opted to wear my pimping Nakatsu’s finest. We were indeed a motley crew.

As soon as we got out of the car in the morning we were blasted with a nice amount of “oh right, we’re foreigners and this is going to be a huge spectacle” realization. A nice Japanese man of 25 or so was changing into his costume right beside us, and as he noticed us he decided it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to take off his underwear and shake his junk at us. We simply thanked him and moved on. Everyone was staring as we made our way to the court, and we instantly had a gaggle of photographers following our every move, capturing our every motion. Striking a pose? Sure we’ll take a picture. Talking to a friend? Front page of the local newspaper. Eating a rice ball? OH MY GOD GAIJIN EAT JAPANESE FOOD? SEND THIS TO TOKYO!! I had previously been in contact with a photographer who had photographed us last year as well, a man named Mr. Kojo. He wanted to know if we were participating again this year, and asked us if he and his friends could come photograph us again. I agreed, having forgotten how invasive the experience really is. If you ever want to feel like a hollywood super star, come to Japan and participate in a mud volleyball contest dressed up as a ninja turtle. It’s a rather unpleasant experience which really changes your perspective on how privelaged the lives of hollywood stars are. The upshot of this is that we agreed he would send us all the photos they took of us, meaning that we’d have lots of semi-professional shots of us playing in the mud!

Our first game began right at 9:30, so after posing for a whole bunch of photos with various other teams we made our way to the court and got down and dirty! We were all a bit rusty since we hadn’t practiced our volleyball technique in 23-25 years, depending on the person. It showed too as we lost in spectacular fashion 32-10. We then had an hour or so wait until our next game (we were scheduled for only two) so we decided to toss a football around in the mud. As manager I had elected myself as the one to stay dry in case anyone needed something, so I tossed the football into the crowd of foreigners who then dove around and wrestled in the mud. Soon the entire bank was lined with Japanese photographers (literally, every single one of them) and we were having a great old time. Later we lamented taking so much of the attention away from the actual volleyball event, but it wasn’t like we asked those photographers to take pictures of us.

Our second game was fast approaching so the team got into a little huddle and sang the TMNT theme song to get pumped up. We then went out and lost equally as spectacularly, 35-20. No matter how many coaching instructions I yelled (“No, HIT the ball! Get the ball OVER the net! Serve it to where there’s NO ONE there!”) we just weren’t having much success. We did manage to score some more points though, which was welcome. With all of our games now over and with no chance of us moving on to the playoffs, we started a little impromptu mud rugby game. It started off as just our team and another team another JET (Brie) had set up. We were having so much fun, though, that slowly but surely the numbers grew as more and more Japanese folk wanted to come play rugby with us. I too could not resist and, taking off my pimp jacket, joined the scrum. Apparently this delighted a few of my fellow teammates who had been waiting for a while to take me out (since I was the only one not getting muddy and had been telling them how to do volleyball better all day…) and soon I was coughing up delicious brown water like the best of ‘em! Literally no part of our bodies were spared from the mud. It truly is a filthy, uncomfortable, amazing experience.

After rinsing off our mud caked bodies in the moat-like area next to the rice field we began packing up and heading back. To my apartment. Dragging mud everywhere. Actually everyone did an amazing job of being super careful and courteous about coming into my place and I was super thankful for that! Last year it was quite a bit worse! Most of the folks headed to one of Nakatsu’s best onsen to clean up, but Kimberley and I stayed behind and did some cleaning. We then headed to Pushkar for the traditional “when people come to Nakatsu we have to eat this” curry.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. In two years I’ve done and experienced a lot of things. I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji. I’ve hiked for 12 hours to one of the world’s oldest cedar trees. I’ve been to Korea. I’ve eaten raw blowfish, and whale, and horse. I’ve spent three days biking 300km around beautiful Oita and Miyazaki prefecture. I’ve organized a 3 day 250km charity bike ride which raised over $20,000 for earthquake and tsunami relief. But of all the things I’ve done, the most fun I’ve had in Japan is when I play mud volleyball. It brings together amazing people and bonds you through your blood, sweat and slippery mud caked bodies. It combines two of the greatest things to do in the world: sports and just getting eff-all filthy (which I firmly believe brings us back to our animal days.)

After this year I just can’t wait to do it again. Which isn’t much of a wait since my Taiko team will be doing it July 17th!! Once I get the pictures from Kelsey’s camera and the CD from the gaggle of photographers I’ll be sure to share them on here!

Until next time!

-Dash

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