The Daily Mumble June 2005 Archive
Crikey oh riley I never knew it was possible to do so much in a month. Finish my first year of uni, fly all the way across Siberia to Japan, and proceed to have a most challenging time trying to sort out my head and heart and get up to all kinds of mischief...
shattered beyond words
the BIG exam is over and done with, and I'm happy to say that despite the fact that I haven't been able to revise, it went extremely well.
All I have to do now is get 40% on Tuesday. That will enable me to
I am shattered, and simply must sleep.
If you have Broadband, why not take a peek at a video I made a couple of days back. It's called High Speed DIY Haircut, and you'll find it at the bottom of this page over here.
oh dear I'm in such big poo-plop. I don't know if I'm going to be able to pull this one off. And I was responsible for the drowning of a spider this morning.
At least I didn't get completely hammered yesterday and eat several beer-soaked A4 sheets of Japanese grammar notes, as one of my classmates did. Washed them down with beer as well. It was quite a sight.
I did however pop over to the other side of Sheffield to see a friend, codename jj, who very kindly gave me the keys to his Tokyo apartment.
oh crikey I must read.
During my break from today's 1,100 years of Korean History (that's 17 pages of notes), I decided to switch from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox, a far more secure AND foxy internet browser. It's free, and it's even got a built-in Japanese to English dictionary. Download it here.
ho hum I don't think I need to tell you anything else at the moment.
a little while later
ooh I've just realised I've not left the flat today. Hmm, I might have put the rubbish out this morning. Or was that yesterday? No, it must have been this morning. Oh, it's tomorrow already. 1.11am in fact. So it was yesterday. I had an afternoon kip so I'm not feeling very tired. I am feeling very surreal though. wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo in a wobbly way. Feeling a huge urge to burst out there into reality away from the Mongol invasion of Koryo in the 13th century.
soometimes paragraphs really piss me off, they are so - constrictive.
This is perhaps one of the most embarrassing photos of me that is in existence today. It was taken 9 years ago in Switzerland.
God knows what I'm doing with that T-pot. and I'm sure my legs aren't that long anymore.
Ooh mind is jumping all over the place. I'm in New York now, age 18 I think.
That background doesn't look real. Looks painted in. But it's not you know. What a poser. I loved that hat. Used to like wearing it backwards. I loved being 18, it was all so exciting. Not that life's not exciting now, I mean, it positively is. I'm so happy. And so happy to be happy.
jefhsd jdsjagf l csLJDHDWOQRPEWT Jko;vfoj j` dk 'l;dgsiuj s`iyf p;kp'k shcshhsa. `j lfjc
oh yes indeed.
ok look I'm really losing the plot now.
I think I'll open the packet that contains my new toothbrush, and brush my teeth, and go to bed, and feel happy and surreal and spaced out and be a Buddhist Monk in 12th century Korea, making some woodblocks.
IT haS to Be sAID:
ugh ugh ugh
-- start techno talk -->
just don't try chilling your wine in me because I'll get drunk and fall over
Have you seen my purple pen? I put it down when I went to get my spaghetti and now I can't find it...
the Mill House Park Festival in aid of Sheffield Children's Hospital
I spent the day with such lovely lovely people, helping raise money for a local children's hospital.
Friendship, love and laughter - the most precious things on Earth.
I found my purple pen. It was under a chair in the kitchen.
If I don't think about my exam in 13 hours it will go away, right?
are they talking to me?
The other thing that's changed quite a bit is my Japanese language ability. I was just talking to a Japanese friend who I talked to quite a lot last year, and they were saying how much better my Japanese is now than way back then. It's still pretty crap, as I am constantly reminded when with my Japanese friends, but nonetheless, I am delighted. What a huge positive impact it has had upon my life. Look at the wonderful people I have been brought closer to through my language abilities.
It was funny though, my Japanese friend was imitating me tonight, that is, speaking like a gaijin (foreigner). It really struck me how foreign I sound. One is kind of unaware of it when one is doing all the talking, but listen to yourself on tape or through the mouth of another, and it just makes you realise.
So tomorrow I take a three-hour exam. Give presents to my teachers and the staff of SEAS. They have no idea what a huge impact they have had on us. They really don't get the recognition that they deserve. Thus the chocolates. Pack up the remainder of my stuff. Pick up a letter from the doctor for Japanese immigration re. all the purple pills I'll be carrying with me. Get a taxi from here to Accomodation and Campus Services up the hill, hand in the keys then down to the station. Train to Hereford, start sorting through all my stuff that dad took down for me last week... then re-pack my rucksack. That'll take a day, then Thursday morning I'm off to London. Meet a friend for a bit, then off to Heathrow Airport. Paris, then Tokyo.
This morning Coldplay released their new album. I am sort of annoyed that they are receiving such a lot of media attention (especially in America where some record stores are opening at midnight!) because this for some stupid reason seems to de-value their music in the minds of people who appreciate 'real' music. You know? Makes me feel guilty - as if I was listening to Britney Spears (popular in Singapore I understand... :-p ) or Boyzone or some shit like that. But, the fact is they are mighty fine musicians, and there songs are bloody great me thinks.
Got a bit of a shock when I heard the second track. Are they talking to me? Made me realise that my mind has been running away from me recently, and that no matter what happens the next few months are going to see me feeling all sorts of feelings that I haven't felt for a long time, passionate feelings of happiness (whether they be brought on by meeting old students / colleagues / friends in Tokyo or simply being surrounded by Japaneseness). The past two years have been relatively calm in terms of the Ocean of Emotion. It's time for few waves, although I think I'd prefer it if they weren't on the Tsunami scale.
Masa and I try Salsa Dancing
There are a few non-songs (my opinion as of first listen) but there are also a few which are so rich - I can tell that they will have the power to move me even when I'm an old old man, like some Pet Shop Boys songs, such as Being Boring Do I detect a bit of U2 in the track 'low'?
I am so stuffed for tomorrow. I have been revising as much as poss, but I just feel so tired all the time. I really hope that I pass this exam after second marking (that's when they'll take my medical notes into consideration), because I'm sure I'd fail it again if I had to do a retake in August, as it's just after I get back from Japan.
I've felt very loved this week. A few people have said some bloody nice things to me, and I really appreciate that. I have been vocal with my feelings of appreciation too. Yesterday I felt so happy when myself and someone who I really really like (as a friend) finally gelled. We've been a bit sort of wary of one another, not sure where we stood, but then yesterday, it was just so nice, just laughing and falling all over the place... just moving on to that next stage where you can do away with the niceties and start pulling each other's legs.
Anyway, I'm really in big woopsy for tomorrow's exam so I'd better go to bed now, and get up at about 6am to go through what ended up being 36 pages of notes!
That's it, all done.
The exam was, as predicted, an utter disastor. We had to answer 3 out of 8 questions. I could only answer 2. There goes 33% straight off.
The 2 answers I did give were utter rubbish.
We all agreed though, it was a nasty exam.
In other, somewhat happier news, all that remains for me to do is scrape the last few blobs of blue-tack off the wall, and hoover the floor. The taxi should be here in a bit. No more Red Light Cupboard for me.
It's going to take a while for it to sink in that I've finished. I think I'll be in Japan before that happens. And everything will be different.
Must remeber to buy a load of PG Tips before departure - just got an email from a friend saying that their annual supply of British T-bags has just run out!!
from Sheffield, until September,
ben a long day
Started off in the bright sunshine in Herefordshire, West England, I think, about, erm, 32 hours ago.
Finishes here, in this cosy little apartment in western Tokyo. It's pissing it down outside, but I don't care. Because I'm warm and dry in here.
Inbetween, I said hello to Big Ben, I met my friend by the London Eye, I got to Heathrow Airport early and was put on an early flight. That took me to Paris, CDG airport, which had a very sexy roof.
I then got on a plane which brought me here, to Tokyo. It was a very big plane with two wings and engines that made a lot of noise and pushed the aeroplane forwards very fast. I decided, after about 11 hours of sitting on that plane and having only stood up twice, that I didn't like long-haul flights. And then my video-screen packed up, but I didn't really mind because I was able to watch the lady's next door. You know what, that Boeing 777 with over 230 passengers on board was able to land on soaking wet runway, that's like as slippy as a baking dish full of washing-up liquid, without falling over. I was very impressed.
back in japan
It's over two years since I was last here. So how have I found it so far?
Immigration was ok - I loathe immigration at Narita as that's where I had a really tough time a couple of years ago due to the number of times I'd entered the country on a tourist visa (they are pretty hot on people working black). This time no problems though. Customs was actually a really pleasant experience - the guy was very nice, really chatty, interested in me, apologetic for looking through my baggage, and very complimentary about my basic Japanese.
I tell you, being able to speak Japanese (a bit) has made such a huge difference already. On the train, I can understand a lot of what is said. I understand signs, I can express myself without struggling for vocab or grammar - I can even understand what is said back to me when I ask for directions!
It's weird though, all the places that used to be so familiar to me, were so foreign. I think that this was partly due to
The tiredness fazed me out. The rucksacks made me feel like a tourist. The darkness robbed me of familiar landmarks.
Still, I was able to make my way across Tokyo, to Koenji, my hometown within the metropolis, where my dear friend Kaechan lives.
For various reasons, which for privacy's sake I shall not divulge here other than to say we had not seen one another for over two years, it was quite a sort of momentous meeting, one that both of us approached with trepidation. I must say though, considering the huge weight of our history, it was not really that awkward.
It was, however, completely surreal. I mean, we were the same people as that couple years back, and yet we were not. We were in exactly the same place geographically as before, and yet, our relationships towards the space that contained us was very different to what it was back then. The atmosphere around us was swirling, wondering what form it should take, as we experiemented with words and gestures; creating a whole new mechanism of interaction based on old beacons of familiarity.
So my concerns on that score, which have at times overshadowed this whole Japan trip, have been relieved to a great extent. Things will be ok. It's so good to see her again.
A few hours ago I moved on down the JR Chuo line to Kichijoji, home to the infamous jj who is currently in England and has entrusted me with his apartment keys.
Stepping into the blacked-out luxurious shoebox, I was welcomed by the sound of scuttling. Turning around, I saw, to my horror, a HUGE cockroach, about the size of an elderly sheep, running at about 350kmp/h across the tatami. Ah, yes, jj had mentioned the cockroaches. Thankfully, he had also mentioned some nasty toxic spray thing that kills everything. I was quick to locate it: here's just some of the results (with a pen so you can appreciate just how big they are:
I got four of the blighters. There's another small one crawling around here somewhere.
I have just attempted to run a nice hot bath, but it would seem that the gas has been cut off, or I'm forgetting some vital part of the running-the-bath process (plug in, rotate hot tap, right?). Hmm. Oh well, looks like I'll have to brave a cold shower. Good for your health aren't they, cold showers?
So how am I feeling now? Hmm, bit better than I was before. I must admit, when I landed at Narita everything felt so foreign (due to the lack of the filter through which all my previous trips have been passed) that I actually thought, " why am I here?". Its so strange coming back to a place you have such fixed ideas about, and finding yourself unable to pick up exactly where you left off. Foolish to think that you actually can, too!
You see, I knew that my relationships with other people would not be picked up where they left off, but I have been caught off guard by discovering that my relationships with actual places - we're talking solid concrete, shops, tarmac, these kinds of inanimate objects - I've been shocked to discover that the emotional relationships I have with these places in my memory, do not fit the realities that I have been faced with tonight on my 2-hour journey from the airport to this apartment.
I think I'm in a very confused state generally at the moment though, so it's difficult fo rme to pinpoint exactly what I'm feeling or why ...so I think I'll stop trying. I'll just roll with it, and see how things go over the next few days. Tomorrow I'll try and get a mobile, thus allowing me to easily plug into my network of friends (most of whom are yet to arrive, but some of whom are lurking down various metropolitan railway lines).
Overall though, I'm content, although I really would like a hot bath to wash off 33 hours of international sweat. Nevermind, I am very very lucky to have this place - jj, if you are reading, you are an absolute star, and happy birthday for the week after next, 33 years young are you not?
Right, time to abandon myself to the shrinking effects of a cold shower. Good for your health joseph, good for your health.
day 2: tomodachi no pan ya (a friend's bakery)
hello! It's me. It's just after half-seven in the morning, and I'm sitting here eating some delicious cheesy garlic bread stuff, watching a TV documentary thing about water (http://www.nhk.co.jp/wakuwaku), looking forward to getting in the nice warm bath I have managed to run, and thinking about the name of the new shop that has opened in Kichijoji - another classic surely worthy of Engrish.com fame! Do you reckon the person who came up the name for this doggy-clothes shop knows that in English 'wiz' is slang for 'wee'?
So, yesterday I carried out an enforced familiarisation and settling-in program. This involved writing a big Things To Do list (including such exciting things as buying an 18 quid mobile phone, getting hold of a text book for next year, checking to see whether or not I really DID have over 100 pounds in my Japanese bank accounts (as indicated by my passbooks)), then doing everything on the Things To Do list in Shinjuku, the area within Tokyo that I'm most familiar with, having worked there / lived near there a few years back.
Hmm, it was quite successful. Not much has changed. The construction work on Shinjuku South Terrace (a huge platform stretching from Takashimaya Times Square to Shinjuku Southern Terrace, right across the railway lines) has not changed one bit in 27 months. I swear the diggers are still parked in exactly the same places too. I guess the construction workers have been too busy waving glowing red sticks at pedestrians so they don't try and walk through the blindingly obvious 3 metre high safety fence that now divides the construction site from the pavement... (warau) (that's japanese for lol). I would tell you about the chap at Koenji Station that I came across yesterday, but then I'd start to sound bitter and twisted and just like all those hypocritical gaijin that continuously slag the Japanese off and yet insist on staying.
Anyway, I was, unfortunately, unsuccessful in procuring a mobile phone as I don't have a Gaijin Card and I'm on a temporary visitors visa. Kaechan has however very kindly agreed to let me use her as my front-woman, so we'll toddle along later to pick up the afore-mentioned piece of technology which will hopefully lead me to many meetings with friends in the region. The banks, alas, were not concealing a mini-fortune of mine - 6 quid in one, 50p in the other.
view across shinjuku gyouen from Takashimaya Times Square
Following a couple of hours of footwork I felt much more at home: everything was where it should be. There was however, one more area that I needed to check out - Koenji Minami, home of my favourite family-run supermarket and stationary store. Walking down the Koenji Pal shopping arcade ("Since 2003" the signs proudly proclaim), I noted that according to the window display in the Pachinko (slot machine) parlour 'Today Is You Luck Day", and that should I enter it I would "Enjoy relax time in our comfortable entertainment lifestyle". I resisted, and continued on down the road to the supermarket where I bought a delicious water-melon.
You may recall that a few years back I lived in Italy with Kaechan. During that time, we were visited by one of Kae's university friends, Shisou (sp?). Since then, Kae had not seen her, so it quite coinicidental that I should arrive only the day before Shisou invited Kae and couple of other uni friends to her new bakery which is due to open in a couple of weeks. Naturally, I gatecrashed the party.
What an amazing place. They've got a great location on a main street near the station in a town not far from Tokyo. Inside, they've created a really nice bakery, I mean, it's so sexy, with huge great old beams allegedly holding the ceiling up (and from which the shelves are hung). They have all the latest equipment which muct have cost an arm and a leg (I think Shisou was saying they could have gone a long way towards buying a house with the amount of money they forked out on ovens etc). Shisou's fiance, the master baker, studied the art of bread-making in France, and I tell you, his skills are something else...
They very kindly treated the four of us to a meal in the back room - wow - I have not eaten such delicious bread for a very long time. Tried all different sorts of croissont too - each one unique by virtue of the fact that they were made with different butters etc.
Astonishing how much interest the bakery is generating even two weeks before it opens. Virtually EVERY passer-by stopped and looked in. One bloke even came in the side entrance asking if he could buy some bread, despite the sign that read 'junbi chuu, open 06/26' (under preparation..) , it looked that delicious. I have no doubt that it will be a great success - watch out for it in Tokyo's food magazines in a year or so.
We were kindly despatched each clasping a bag of freshly made bread. Crikey, that sentence sounds so Japanese. Maybe that's a good sign - thinking in Japanese and translating into English... Sounds pretty daft though.
The evening was a great personal success for me too, as I was able to follow most of what was said. Mind you, I can't understand the TV news at all, really, it's like a completely different language. Hahh, the more you understand the more you realise you don't understand - such a long way to go. Tell you what though, my kanji is really bad. If any of my classmates are reading this, I tell you, you have to keep practicing the kanji coz it will make such a big difference when you get here. I'm going to have to devote at least an hour a day to Kanji.
The demystification of the Japanese language is having a profound effect upon my impression of Japanese people. I do feel really stupid when I think about this, and it's a bit embarrasing to admit, but I have actually been surprised by the 'normalness' of people's conversations here. Yes, I know, it's ridiculous, what exactly did I think people were talking about? ...Ah, the exotic throw is being pulled from the armchair, to reveal a bog standard DFS white leather sofa with 2 years interest-free credit.
Anyway, we (almost) close today with a photo I took yesterday, of a crane holding up a rainbow. (People who have taken the Understanding Japan module at Sheffield: note there are 7 colours, although you may only be able to see 6...)
I think I was right about track 2. It's for the best, I know it is.
Gosh, it really is an emotional experience being back here.
Oh, I got the hot water fixed, or at least jj's neighbour did. Good job I put the safety catch on the door last night, as this morning he came down here to water the plants. Having just got up, I had no clothes on when I heard the locks turning. He's a shy guy at the best of times, minimal eye contact etc...
The hot water problem proved to be a good ice-breaker - he was able to point out the boiler control panel thing on the wall outside the bathroom ...he then went on to tell me that he's met half the lecturers in my department at university. Common ground established, we had a nice chat.
My jet lag is taking a strange form. It kicks in at about 8pm (12pm back home) and lasts for an hour or so. In the mornings i'm waking up early (about 5am here, 9pm UK time). I forgot that they don't have Daylight Saving over here - what a waste! It's getting light so early, but it's dark shortly after 8pm. Ker! I dunno. If I was PM... (I wouldn't be able to do a damn thing about it due to Japanese 'democracy'...) Oh the cynicism!
Today I'm going to pop into Shinjuku to meet Kaechan and get this phone sorted, then back here to see Tomkun, my dear Tom, what would I do without him?
day 3: inokashira koen (Inokashira Park)
Yesterday afternoon I found myself with a couple of hours on my hands before I had to meet mr Tom, and so decided to take a little stroll down to the big park that lay not far from Kichijoji Station. I think I'd been there once before with jj a few years ago, but didn't remember much about it.
IMAGINE MY SURPRISE when I found it to be a veritable fountain of Sunday afternoon entertainment. Highlights included
- These HUGE fish. I honestly don't think I've ever seen such big fish in real life outside of an aquarium. Some of them were almost a metre in length, and as fat as overfed fat fattys.
- Numerous musical performances.
The guys top left were bloody excellent I thought. So good I NEARLY even bought a CD! I'd hadn't seen one of those beat-box things the guy in the middle's sitting on before - Tom was telling me that they've been getting quite popular recently. It's essentially an entire drum-kit-in-a-box, clever stuff. Other performances included the happy clappers seen top right, these two blokes wearing geta who I think were telling stories in a musical manner, oh, and then this father-and-son comedy duo - freestyling, telling stories about when he went to the pub and such and such happened.
The musical highlight though had to be this guy:
He certainly had his Mojo Working, as can be seen in this 600kb (low quality, .wmv) video that I shot.
It was really nice to see a park so full of people chilling out, and all these unticketed performances. That's something that can be seen right across Japan, often in city parks and outside railway stations on the pavements. There's a certain (wide) pedestrain bridge in Osaka that is rarely without some kind of live performance. I really admire the communal creative energy of the Japanese - and lack of stupid regualtions like we have in the UK. Crikey, imagine if some Jazz band struck up outside a London railway station at 10.30pm (as they did outside Koenji two nights back), the police would be there within minutes, no doubt arresting them for causing a disturbance.
What a cute bunny wabbit. Some guy had a whole load, half of which looked like they'd only been born this week as they were but tiny pink blobs of flesh. Not quite sure if he was selling them or if he'd just brought them to the park for people to look at.
The background to the photo on the right: Japan has quite a big homeless problem (as in most countries these days), and a welfare system from the dark ages. As a result of this, many homeless seek to make an income through selling second-hand Manga comics that have been dumped by people once read. You'll find these guys in parks, on the pavement in busy shopping areas - everywhere. Usually they are very quiet, just sitting by their displays waiting for someone to stop. This guy however, was not so passive. Here, we see him in mid-GAAAAAAAAAA!! as he reads the Manga to his audience in an animated fashion! He was very funny!
There's an 8 second video of him over here.
However, it was not any of these performers that made the biggest impression on me yesterday. It was a girl whose name I forget but might have been Saeri, who was selling little wooden owls that she'd carved, and other traditional Ainu (the indigenous and much discrimated-against Japanese people) artifacts.
Turned out that not only had she done Wwoofing in Japan, but that she's on her way next week to join a Greenpeace campaign in Okinawa where the US are attempting to build an air base on top of a precious coral reef, a reef that is home to the few remaining (we're talking less than 50) Sea Cows in Japan. I've been following the campaign from the UK via the net for some time now, doing my bit with letters and emails etc. I think the link for more info is http://prefs.greenpeace.org/mail-links/clicks/6339.1536516.372866 although I can't check that right now as I have no internet access. Anyway, it was great to meet someone who shared my concerns for the environment, and to hear first-hand from someone on the front line of activism over here. She reminded me of Frances K in many ways.
We must have been chatting for an hour or two, Tom, Saeri and I, until it finally became dark. Hmm, that was a fortunate meeting.
Following that, Tom's fiance joined us, and off we trundled to a local cafe place. There, we continued to drink and talk and, well, it was all really nice. I am very fortunate to be able to count them amongst my good friends.
It's SO hot here, I don't think I've ever been anywhere that's this hot and humid (and I'm told it'll get much worse!).
I've been debating which is worse - Japanese or British TV. I've decided that it HAS to be British, with it's endless gameshows and Reality TV bollox (I noted with glee that the latest two offferings in this category had the plug pulled after only 1 episode last week, due to verybad ratings). Yes, Japanese TV does have a glut of cringeable daytime TV chatshows with various celebrities commenting on current affairs with an air of wise authority (to a background soundtrack of some cheesy piano music), accompanied by endless illustrations in the form of A4 boards covered in writing which the presenter holds up to the camera. For dramatic effect they often have half of the board covered up with strips of paper which are pulled off to reveal the vital (and shocking) result of whatever survey has been done. However, on the whole Japanese TV is far more pallatable than its UK cousin, much of which I simply cannot bear to watch. Stay tuned to see how my attitude changes over the years as I aquire a better grasp of the language.
It's also reassuring to see that they still have those excercise programs on. They nearly always take the form of one girl sitting down, and another one or two standing up carrying out various gentle excercise routines which I suppose are aimed at the older generation. It's all quite surreal though.
Oh, something else I noticed yesterday which made me smile: no-smoking signs on the pavemnets around Kichijoji. I don't know how widespread this practice is, but it certainly seems to be well-accepted here. Outside the railway station there's a 'smoking area' which has always been absolutley packed when I've been there; if only more countries would adopt this kind of practice.
Anyway, it's now almost midday so I'd best get on. The cheesy piano music is starting to get to me, and the sushine is beckoning.
day 4: coolest pooch in town
I went to see my old boss / colleagues today whom I worked with back in 2001 (as described here). And what nice people they are too. Haven't changed a bit. Shame their office has. The company has moved them into a ridiculously narrow building, so narrow the elevator has similar dimensions to a slightly larger-than-usual envelope stood on its end. Flat Stanley would have been happy there.
There's barely a dog about that isn't sporting some summer dress or golfing sweater. It would seem that over here a dog without some form of additional clothing is now considered indecent. Today though, in addition to seeing my first pushchair designed specifically for dogs (not just a converted shopping trolley as many are), I saw the coolest pooch in town - check out this tie-dye mongrel:
Killed another BIG cockroach last night. Woke up today with a baby one on my nipple. Killed that too. No mercy. I know, not good for a vegan. Mind you, nor is eating chicken, pork and beef. I seem to have slipped back into my old caniverous ways. I'm so ungrounded though that I can't quite remember who I am. Also, I'm so broke I'm just having to go for the cheapest food around. I've given up on breakfast altogether; lunch tends to be something like Chicken Curry - only 290 yen (about £1.50).
photo of the day - women in kimono at a local shrine
Found an Izakaya (traditional Japanese bar) today that looked pretty dark. It occupied the ground floor of this building - few bricks missing to let a slither or two of light in.
So anyway, why have I been watching so much TV? Well, the thing is, everyone's so busy during the week that I have no-one to hang out with! I've got a busy weekend ahead though, so I don't really mind. Also, socialising is expensive, and I am soooooo broke. I won't tell you how much of my money I've spent in my first 4 days here (because if I told you that I've spent a third of my entire budget for the whole 10 week trip you probably wouldn't believe me).
Thus the phone call I made this morning. I have to get out of Tokyo and work for a living. Monday then, I'll head north to an organic farm (sounds much like Riverford in Devon, UK) and stay there for about ten days, before returning to Tokyo for a few days to see all my friends who will be arriving around then from the UK.
This trip is turning out to be pretty revolutionary for me. My focus has undergone a huge shift. My relationship with the country has not seen such changes since my first visit back in 2000. It's rather unsettling, as is all change, it's disillusioning too - a good thing, right? Unpleasant - but it takes you closer to the truth, yeh? Hhm, really it's like starting from square one again. Not only am I not having my hand held to guide me through pretty much everything, but also, I no longer have the comfort provided by blissful ignorance of all that is going on around me. It's all quite exciting in a rather depressing way. A necessary stage I believe. Damn glad I came here, and very much looking forward to coming back next year for 14 months or so when I'll be far more settled with a place of my own, a base from which to reach out - an important factor when seeking to form any kind of long-term relationship me thinks. If you don't know where you are in youself it can be tough to figure out where you are in relation to others, right?.
caw I'm bloomin starving. Let's see what 2 quid can get me tonight.
day 4 part 2: natsukashii sore ha (a blast from the past)
It hadn't occurred to me to go to a supermarket to save money on food, until it was mentioned to me today, and then I happened upon one whilst on my way to somewhere which I didn't really know where it was because I didn't know what it wanted.
Oh oh oh walking into that depa-chika (department store basement - traditional location of food departments) was like walking into heaven on Earth. I'd forgotten exactly how many Japanese foods there are that I absolutely and totally love. We're talking stuff like Japanese yoghurt (unavailable in the west and packed full of sugar and additives ), Japanese chocolate (much richer and packed full of sugar and additives), dirt cheap noodles which I bought loads of saving me a packet on food expenses for the rest of the week. Of course once I realised how much I'd saved I was able to buy 2 litres of Sake, so the next few evenings will probably be spent in a drunken stupor...
It's still taking some getting used to, this being able to speak to people business. I do like it (understanding their responses still proves to be a bit of a problem!).
Oh dear, this releasing doves business because Michael Jackson has been aquitted is a bit tragic. I prefer the other news article today that involves a sloping roof falling off some building somewhere in Japan. More dramatic.
Oh I tell you I'm getting addicted to this Japanese TV. It is horrendously repetitive and utterly ridiculous at times but so much better than most of the clap trap on British TV. Can't say it competes with the better BBC output though. One thing I would point out though is that the lighting is way-overdone in the dramas. So spaketh the TV critic.
Bloomin' good for my Japanese though, this TV-watching business. I have a whole list of new TV-inspired vocab.
I think my favourite show tonight was one which featured a shoe-cleaning competition, with teams of celebrities pitted against one another and some grumpy old granny telling them that they were all doing it wrong.
Now I'm watching a program about how to convert a Welsh Dresser into a drum kit. And no, I haven't started drinking yet. Oh, no, it's changed. Now it's about a laundrette and its owner who draws portraits of famous people in charcoal and sticks them to the ceiling.
day 5: goggle eyes
I can honestly say I don't think I've ever watched so much TV in any 24-hour period. Think I must have had it on for about 30 hours in the last 24 hours.
A concern that I will run out of money very soon led me to spend the whole day indoors. Oh, apart from a stroll around Kichijoji. Guess what I found!! A shop selling nothing but natural organic stuff!! Organic food, the Weleda range and all that! Doesn't come cheap though - 6 free-range eggs are 2 quid.
Hmm, I'm beginning to really like Kichijoji. It never really appealed to me before. It's weird, I think of Kichijoji and the colour orange comes into my head. Maybe something to do with the Chuo Sen - but that runs through loads of places, hen da naa.
I wonder how much TV I have to watch to really benefit linguistically.
One highlight from today was an insight into how we, the British, are being portrayed through the NHK education channel (the NHK being the equiv of our BBC). Here we see a complete twat in a tweed jacket standing in the pump room at the Roman Baths, in Bath. He's talking to his American tourist friend in an upper class accent that even Hyacyinth Bucket (that's Bouquet!) would be proud of. That program was followed by an episode from the S Club 7 series!
Ohhh I'm really looking forward to the weekend...
day 7: futsukayoi (hungover)
I blame Stu san. Ah, but it was so good to see him. Used to work with him in Hokkaido you know. First met on a bus. He had my dungeon after I moved out.
Anyways, last night was a right laugh. We met at Roppongi of all places, well known for its gaijin population and meat markets. However, we had no need of outrageously sexy women, no, all we needed was one another. And beer, lots of.
I must have been completely drunk though, as when I woke up, I found myself on the wrong subway train, heading in the completely wrong direction, the other side of Tokyo.
In the midst of the merriment I receieved a phone call from the Wwoof host where I was going to do voluntary work as of Monday. No longer possible I was told - they would be too busy (huh?). Quite how I managed to carry out a conversation in that state I don't know. I remember the guy laughing a lot.
So, that's that plan sunk like a soggy duck...
No panic though - I sorted out another place this morning. I know virtually nothing about the place I'm going to (haven't had a chance to check out their home page yet), except it's an organic farm / camp site / charcoal shop in the middle of the countryside several hours north of Tokyo. It's run by Mr Oiwa and his wife; also living there is their son, and two dogs.
That should keep me out of trouble.
I must remember, next time I go to Roppongi and try to enter the Mori Tower, I have to take a bicycle with me.
Wasn't allowed to go up these steps yesterday as I didn't have one with me.
day 9: end of part one
Well then well then. So ends my first stint in Tokyo this year. Tomorrow morning, I am heading into the outback possibly never seen to be seen again, although that's a tadge unlikely.
Anyway anyway let me tell you about my weekend.
Caw blimey what gorgeously nice friends I have and how sublimely fortunate I am to have them in my lives. Today was, in parts, idyllic. For example. this evening I met dear Y (code name '44'), a long-suffering friend who had to put up with all sorts of shit stemming from my breakup with a fomer love. Oh the trauma I put her through, how unfair and selfish I was in amongst all that emotional turmoil that had absolutely nothing to do with her - but she bore the burden and continued to listen and be there for me even when I made impossible demands upon her. So caught up was I in the end of the affair that I failed utterly and totally in terms of maintaining sensitivity towards her feelings, and consequently almost drove her off the cliffs of sanity at the Isle of Wight Festival.
Prior to Okonomiyaki with 44, I'd met another old friend who has been very dear to my heart for some years now. I can't remember the last time we met - late 2002 perhaps? We've maintained contact via the www - what a gift email is. Anyway, it was so lovely to see her again, she really is gorgeous, and so funny ...and indeed, now a married woman. We sat in the sun in the grounds of her old university, not far from the famous Ramen-shop where we'd had lunch, and talked non-stop. So exciting to share our stories, our lives, with one another. Hmm, precious times.
It was Saturday night though that was the highlight for me.
Saturday afternoon at about 6pm-ish I'd arranged to meet an ex-student of mine, who, for anominity's sake we will call Naomi. It's been over three years since we last saw each other. On a train that was, late at night. I was very drunk, and am yet to forget the highly embarrasing things I said to her and another ex-student at that time - wait for Tame Goes Wild: The Movie for more on that. Anyway, as I blindly stumbled towards the alloted meeting place, a cafe not far from where I'm staying, I made out a face that seemed somewhat familiar (without glasses I can't focus on much more than a few metres away these days). A smile arose within me; I sat myself down beside her.
Well, it felt just like I'd seen her yesterday. I felt so at ease in her company, there was no awkward bullshit or anything like that. Just laughter and happiness. We share traumatic histories of transnational love you see, and have at times exchanged emails on the subject. Thus, common ground. No need to Talk About The Weather.
Unfortunately another ex-student who we'd invited was unable to join us, so it was up to the two of us to do all the eating and drinking. I say 'we', but I think I did most of the drinking actually, although I would add that I was cajoled into doing so. Sort of.
Following our prolonged (delicious) meal, we decided to go and do some Karaoke, until about 3.30am. Oh that was fun!! I love Karaoke, I really do. I sang my first ever Japanese Karaoke song too! Exciting! Supitsu it was. I want to make that my 18ban.
I felt so happy.
I haven't felt that happy for a long time. Don't get the wrong idea though, she's a friend.
Naomi's timing could not have been more fortunate, as this week I made the conscious decision to move on from an emotional episode which passed some time ago - an episode that I have been unwilling to relinquish my hold of.
That really scares the hell out of me. It's 1.17am, and we've just had an earthquake, the epicentre of which was a few hours East of Tokyo (Chiba). It was only 5.4 on the scale, and I'm sure most Japanese probably slept right through it. But it scares me so much when the whole apartment, we're talking a solid concrete block, turns into a wobbling jelly. You think you can rely on concrete walls to stay stong no matter what - but really, they move all over the place. The TV creaks, the lights swing. Is there anything on shelves above me that might hit me on the head? Next thing to do is of course to switch the TV on to channel 1 (NHK). Within a minute or so they broadcast a detailed breakdown of the earthquake: location of epicentre, strength, affected areas, initial damage reports. Tonight we're ok, it wasn't that strong. Certainly woke all the birds up though. Those bloomin' crows (Karasu) are making a right racket now.
I need a wee, and bed.
day 11: life in early 19th century Japan
Astonishing how much life can change if one gets on a train in Tokyo and travels for two hours in a northerly direction, somehow manages to catch the right bus from the country-bumbkin station one has got off at to somewhere that is literally in the middle of nowhere and then walks up the road for a few minutes on the advice of the poor old granny whose door you knocked on who looked like she'd never seen a foreigner before, but who seemed to like the experience after talking to one for a while, gold teeth shining from under the traditional female-farmer's bonnet.
So yes, here I am at Nasu Camp-jo. It actually has a longer name but I can't remember it. I'm here courtesy of Wwoof Japan by the way.
Anyway, yes, so having got off the train in a town called Ujiei/Ujiie (?) I made my way to the police box (no, it wasn't very big on the inside) and enquired as to where the bus stop was. Having found that, I then realised I had no way of knowing which of the two buses that apparently called at the town about once a month to catch as I had no idea what the kanji (Chinese characters) were for the place that I was going to, and out here, Hiragana (phonetic alphabet) is something only whispered of under the sheets late at night when talking about the immorality of city folk. Thankfully, that day there happened to be someone else at the railway station, so I asked them for help. I then asked the bus driver to give me a nod when we got to my stop ("Agh! I used the verb for 'come' instead of that for 'arrive'! My teachers would be SO dissapointed!), which he did, then I approached the old granny in her kitchen that I mentioned above - thus I managed to arrive here, at the farm / camp site / charcoal shop / bugs heaven. You'd be amazed by the variety of bugs (most of which I have never seen before) that have landed on my laptop screen in the last half-an-hour.
Oh shit. I've just realised what that noise is. It's not someone using the loo, it's that bloomin' mouse that also happens to live here (and no, it's not a pet, it's the wild variety). Well, I'm not going to get up and shoo it away as I'm scared of mice. I think the reason for that is because I like elephants. I know I really should, but I don't have the balls for it (they fell off a long time again due to my longer needing them...).
Here's the house where I live. I'd read that it was quite an old house, and upon arrival I realised that I'd never been inside such an old Japanese house ...so I asked the owner, "How old actually IS this place?"
"Oh, very very old" came the reply.
Gosh, I thought, I'm living in something out of the Meiji Period (think Last Samurai, mid/late 19th century).
"Hmm, yes", he continued", I think it was built in the 1960s!"
I tried to mask my smile and turn it into a look of amazement.
It used to be a silk-worm farm (the above-right photo shows one of the barns where the silk was hung), but about 15 years ago the market dried up, and so it became what it is today, a camp site, a farm, a charcoal shop. They make ends meet, with volunteers like myself and the two others that are here helping out.
I was told that I would be sharing a room with another volunteer, Naturally, my mind immidiately started to wander off into a land of silent yet heated, sweaty, passionate sex - (Why silent? Remember this is a traditional Japanese house, and so when they say that 'the walls are paper-thin', they mean it, the walls ARE paper-thin, being made of (rice) paper). I needn't have worried though. My room mate is over 60 years old. And male. From Kyushu, Japan's southern island.
Our room (futons folded for the day).
Yes, had this been my first time in Japan I would have been quite shocked by the bathroom and its lack of privacy. However, I've got quite used to waving my willy in public, so its not a problem for me to wash my naked beauty watched by mother in the kitchen who is being particularly vicious with a big knife and a cucumber.
The bath (right, covered to retain the heat) is a lot deeper than it looks, being one of those ingenious sunk-into-the-floor gas powered things. Usual rules: wash body completely before getting in bath, which must remain clean for the rest of the gang (that's another four people). There doesn't seem to be any hot water here, so I'm getting used to throwing buckets of cold water over my head, then jumping in the tub before my nipples crystalize.
The toilet is unusual in that there are two of them in the same room - right next to each other (and this is a private house remember). One is Japanese style (hole in floor to squat over), and the other is western style with a heated seat and built in massage gadget thing, like the one we had in Koenji! Nice contrast me thinks.
The table I'm sitting at now is a traditional Japanese table - it stands about 40cm off the floor, but when you put your legs under it (table cloth to the ground) you find there's a hole there, enabling you to sit western-style at ground level.
What I didn't realise when I was feeling around in the hole with my socked-feet and thinking, 'hmm, this feels like ash down here! I wonder why, must be a thick soft rug...' was that in the middle of this pit, a bit lower down, is a fire place. Yes, one lights a fire under the table to keep yoru legs warm on those cold winter days!! Of course I know all about the electric versions (Kotatsu), bloody good idea too - but isn't having a real fire under the table just a little dangerous?! It's not a big table either - 1 metre square.
Not that that's a problem at the moment. Bloomin boiling it is!! Today, in Toyohashi (a few hours west of Tokyo) the temperature reached 35.5 degrees centigrade!
Here we have one of the many HUGE bamboo trees around here - and the log cabin which everyone's been helping build here for the last few weeks. For my part, I've ground off all the sharp nail-ends in the ceiling, and applied sealant between the logs. Oh, and given my room mate the idea to put a big crocodile on the wall by the door (or at least a piece of wood that resembles a crodile, ne). Tomorrow is the Opening Party!! We might sleep in it tomorrow night!
The food here is delicious! Tradional Japanese dishes only. For example, breakfast was rice, pickles, miso soup, more pickles, bamboo, oh - some gorgeous sweet-pickled peanuts and seaweed. As I'd told Mother that I didn't like Natto (a petrid dish - essentially rotten beans), she had added something extra in its place - a raw egg! Well, I couldn't exactly say no now could I after the the trouble she'd gone to. It wasn't that bad, I poured it on my rice and hoped that that was the right thing to do. No one blinked so I guess it was ok. I hope they don't have salmonella over here!
Anyway, it's now midnight and we all get up at 7am (then work for 12 hours), so I'd best get to bed. Oh, I'm trying to get into the Japanese work wthic, that is, looking very busy even when there's absolutely nothing for you to do. Think I did it really well today, for about two hours! I have lots more to tell you though, so don't go away. Like about granny who came round for lunch and told us many tales of when she was young and trying to buy a house (even though she was a woman)... the dialect round here is pretty damn difficult, especially considering the fact that all my new friends have spent over 6 decades perfecting the art of making it their own!
day 13: it's just a case of history repeating
Three years ago I found myself in the sweltering heat of a Japanese summer, strimming for hours and hours on end...
And so it was today.
However, there were a few differences. For a start, there were three of us strimming together, not one. Teamwork - it makes all the difference. Secondly, my mind and heart were free of emotional turmoil. Thirdly, it was all very rewarding, as the people around me today were appreciative, they didn't shout at me for throwing away carrot peelings, AND I could follow pretty much all the chit chat around me. That's DESPITE the fact that they all speak in Hyogen (sp?) which could, I suppose, be translated as Herefordian - i.e. a language that differs somewhat from the norm. In the way that French differs from Arabic. My speech is appalling though. The gulf is widening.
Oh, I needn't have worried about that mouse by the way...
God knows what was in that poison, but whatever it was, it resulted lying here for hours, still breathing, and occasionally having great spasms. Not a pleasant sight.
What WAS a pleasant sight yesterday however was this, our grand BBQ to celebrate the completion in 33 days of the new Wwwofer's log cabin. Here it is, and the gang who made it.
I got so completely rat-arsed. No-one noticed though... In fact, myself and my fellow Wwoofer whose name I'm ashamed to say I still haven't been able to catch (and it's too late to ask now!)
In addition to being my room mate, he's also the most genki 63-year-old I've yet to meet. He worked in the electronics industry for years, but in 2000, he was told that all the stress of his job had given him heart problems, and he'd have to retire. Since then, he has turned his life around. Him and his wife (of 35 years) have decided to spend some time apart so they can each do the things they've always wanted to do (their interests differ you see)... they still phone each other every day and write love letters - it's all very sweet! Anyway, one of his dreams is to build his own log cabin, so here he his, learning how to do it. Next week he'll move on to another wwoof host where they are about to begin construction.
Anyway, last night the two of us were up until midnight, drinking horrendous amounts of beer and sake, and exchanging stories of this and that. He was telling me about a previous Wwwoof place he'd been to (No.48 on the Japanese list for those of you that are interested)... was telling me how they are entirely self-sufficient, that is, the father and his 6 children. His wife died a little while back. None of the children (age between 14 and 25, the oldest three being boys, the youngest three being girls) go to scholl, but instead work on the land and in the house. He's put a water wheel in the stream that runs through the field, and with that generates the electricity for lighting. For gas over which to cook - get this - he puts the poo from the pigs into a container, to which a hose is attached. The hose runs to the cooker, and hey presto! Free gas! I would love to go there, but sadly, no time this year.
Anyway, having been here almost 4 days, how am I feeling? A mixture. Happy to be here living a simple country life with no concerns or responsibilities. Amazing how country life differs so drastically from city life. Also, I have not spent any money at all since I bought my bus ticket last Monday. Nothing. There's nowhere to go and spend it! That is a great relief as money has been stressing me out a bit. On the down side, I'm feeling pretty lonely. Apart from the 3 in their 60's, there's the son (22) who is very withdrawn, shy, hardly says a word, and my fellow wwoofer, who is also the quiet type. I do like him, but he's very close with his emotions so forming a meaningful friendship is difficult. So yes, it's a bit tricky to not get flashbacks to Milky House! Still, in 4 days I'll be returning to the Big Smoke, so I'm not feeling that bad at all really. If I was supossed to be here for another month though, I think I'd have to run away.
Anyway, on that happy note I shall leave it for now!!
day 14: it was 31°c today ...so I spent 6 hours in a charcoal oven to cool off
Well, what else does one do when the temperature breaks through the 30°c for the millionth day in a row? 80% humidity too - and it's set to get hotter for the next week at least. I tell you, it was cooler in that oven than it was outside, although the fact that it wasn't lit might have had something to do with it.
I say A charcoal oven - there were three actually. Huge great caves. Today's task was to empty them of the tons of charcoal that had been made a month or so back, and pack it all into sacks and boxes. I tell you, I have never felt so Charles Dickens in my whole life. The soot was incredible, it just got everywhere. The photo top-right was taken after the first short stint in the oven - thus the clean t-shirt. Zoom in on my face however and you'll see an attractive moustache that shows where I was breathing (despite wearing a cloth round my face). Bottom left photo was taken whilst I was working. As you can see, the soot is so thick that I am barely visible to the camera despite being only three metres from the lens.
I'd never really thought about how charcoal was made. I just assumed it sort of appeared in paper sacks outside garages. I will never take it for granted again, at least not when I know it's been made using traditional methods. Imagine it, scratching around in a pitch-black bunker for hours on end, unable to breath. Nice. Still, being part of an excellent team it was, I must say, a pretty enjoyable, rewarding experience overall.
Having emptied the bunkers we then had to refill them...
What a sexy conveyor belt!
As well as falling madly in love and having a passionate never-ending heavenly relationship with the most gorgeous girl in the whole world, (the type of relationship that is rarely seen outside of Notting Hill), one of my dreams has always been to operate a conveyor belt! Today, that dream came true (you can't really count the one on till 15 at Sainsbury's as that was only 1.5 metres long, and pretty much operated itself). THIS provocative rubber-clad protrusion just demanded that I volunteer to be the one to push it's buttons (forwards, backwards, stop. I didn't have a chance to press the backwards button today, but who knows what tomorrow may bring). Oh what fun. I was a happy boy.
Took me ages to scrub my pretty skin clean tonight. In the end I had to resort to scratching it harshly with my nails, there being nothing but a toilet brush to hand that might otherwise do the job.
So that was my day today. Ooooh I went to the BIG city tonight (couple of convenience stores, one set of traffic lights, bus stop). Bought some origami paper so I did, what with it only being 50p for 100 sheets, and Japan Soc holding an origami event in September. Got some strawberry flavour chocolate too.
Anyway, it wasn't the origami that really excited me, or the three high school girls sitting in the car-park by the vending machines, legs splayed, mobiles in hand, sweets all around and eyes on the foreigner (a rarity around here)... no, it was the sunset over the rice paddies. Gosh, I wish you could have been there with me
There's something about rice paddies that I find very romantic. Maybe it's their history. I know it's not the water-courses that run between them, as they make me think of corpses dumped from the boot of a car. For that reason, I don't think I'd like to be in a rice paddy at night, by myself, especially if I've just had a ride in the boot of a car. During the day though, with you, it would be lovely.
Another piece of Japan I love is bamboo (yes I know it can be found elsewhere, but my only experience of it is in Japan, OK?). Is it a tree or not? I don't know. I love the fact that it is so lightweight, and yet grows so tall and strong (unless hit by a steel-toothed petrol-driven strimmer as a few were the day-before-yesterday, by me). I love the fact that it grows quickly (at least I believe that to be the case). I love its compartmentalised nature, ridges on the outside hinting at its unseen hollow secret.
Here's my favourite bamboo-photo from today. It's called Detail of Bamboo.
And just for the hell of it, here's my second favourite. You may name it yourself.
Check out the amazing variety of colours that it sports. Clever thing.
So yes, I suppose a house made out of living bamboo in the middle of a load of paddy fields that don't have irrigation ditches running between them would be good.
I discovered today that in addition to a dead mouse and a chicken called Sesame, the farm on which I live is home to three other animals. One of them is a wretched dog that insists on licking you, yuck: I only came across him today, in the barn, barking. Perhaps it's due to that habit that he no longer lives in the dog kennel pictured below, which is situated in front of the house. Seems to be quite happy though. in a wretched-doggy manner. The other two pets are these two terrapins (?) who live beside the tap where I brush my teeth. I imagine they're pretty miserable, living in a a (large) aluminium bowl from which there is no escape.
Another character I came across today was this flat tyre. Isn't he cute?
Friggin' bloody flies. 11.30pm and it's still 28 degrees C, no wonder there's so many about.
So anyway that's all I've done today. I'm now entering that critical time period (after 11pm) when I start wanting people to be nice to me. having a mobile phone is a dangerous thing I know. Damn thing never makes a sound though, and that's even when it's not on Manner mode (silent mode). Everyone's just tooooooo busy. Sigh. You can send an email to my mobile if you want, and if you are my friend. I'm not going to publish my mobile's email address here though, so here's the tecnique of figuring out what it is: If you are my friend you will know my normal, Yahoo email address that ends in '.jp', right? Ok, so take that email address and do the following:
I was talking with my permaculturally-interested Wwoof-mate yesterday. He was saying that most Japanese are not at all aware of the problems of GM food, in fact, they don't even know what it is. He went on to tell me that the majority of food that we eat here is probably GM, what with Japan importing almost all of its Soya from the USA where the politicians have screwed the planet for all it's worth. Let's face it, if they can get Bush elected twice without the people even voting him in then they can get away with anything. So yes, not only have I stopped being vegan, I've bypassed the vegetarian stage and become a carnivore, and to make matters even worse I'm now supporting the GM industry. Morals out the window. If only I could do away with those other morals related to my treatment of others...
It doesn't have to be like this though, I know it doesn't. Organic shops do exist, as do farmer's markets (in the countryside). Kichijoji even has a health food shop with a sign written in the font used by most Steiner Schools! And it also happens to be home to Japan's first Steiner School! Mind you, there you pay an absolute fortune, I mean, really silly money. What was it, 90yen / 45p for one organic egg!
Anyway, it's nearly midnight and I have to be up at 7am. We're filling the two remaining charcoal ovens in the morning, and I need a good night's kip.
Awaiting your response.
day 15: aaaaaatsui!! (it's hot)
friggin' bloody boiling today it was. Even by 7.30am, when I met the caterpillar below, it was scorching outside. About 34°c in the shade ...and I spent the whole day in the sun. Thank heavens for my Tilley hat.
I realised today that I'm actually starting to feel quite at home here, a part of the family, and the prospect of leaving in a few days makes me feel a bit sad.
The father is a quiet man, but very kind, and very funny. The mother, who initially was rather intimidating, is also very kind, and funny too. She never stops talking - excellent for listening practice. My listening is really coming on I feel, my speaking is shit, and has, quite possibly got worse this week for some inexplicable reason. Yes, she is very kind, and repeats a lot of what she says for my benefit. The son, who initially I took to be a lazy sod sponging off his parents at the age of 22 is actually very hard working, willingly does all sorts of stuff to help his parents out and is very, very polite. Tonight, for example, because we had some campers arrive mother couldn't prepare the bath or the food for everyone - so he did it all. He also went and bought our lunches today, and sorted out snacks and drinks for our tea-breaks.
I'm learning about a whole differnt way of life here. Never experienced it before. Sure, the early mornings and regular healthy meals (am beginning to quite like raw egg, especially now I've discovered that one is supposed to mix it with Soy Sauce before pouring it over your rice), and working all day long on the land remind me of the dairy farm in Switzerland (2001), but this is different, because everyone interacts in a very Japanese way. I've never been a member of a Japanese work-team before, and I find it fascinating. Perhaps it's the same the world over, but anyway, here, one has to maintain the uptmost sensitivity to others at all times. The undercurrent that exists in any relationship, no matter how shallow or brief, is much stronger here. Unspoken of course. Secondly, one must always appear to be busy, doing one's bit to achieve the communal goal. It doesn't matter how ludicrous one's actions are (I mean, come on, look at the millions employed in the construction industry whose sole responsibility is to stand at the end of a road that has been closed to repairs, holding a glowing red batton in case any car driver attempts to drive through the barricade...), in fact, one's actions may even be counter-productive, but that matters not. As long as hyou're busy.
Having said that, it is astonishing how much has been achieved here in the last few weeks. I can hardly believe that the construction of the log cabin took under 5 weeks, including the felling and bark-stripping of trees. And just look at today - we finished filling all three charcoal ovens, and got them all going. We then strimmed a huge area of farmland, and all of this in the baking hot heat.
So yes, it's a strange combination of efficiency and inefficiency. And, there's not much in the way of stress - wonderful.
I never realised just how important a part the bath plays in the daily routine of the (traditional) Japanese family. It is at least as important as the evening meal. Today, I had two baths actually, as after my first here in thoe house (during which I actually managed to get some hot water out of the tap - ironic for the hottest day of the so far) I was invited to join my two fellow Wwwoofers in the Rotenburo - an outdoor bath that accomodates about three people. Ahh natsukashii sore ha... (was just like an onsen, except the water was heated by oil-power not volcano-power!)
Today's picture of the day. Tree Climber.
At lunchtime today I was mauled by a dog. Thankfully it was only about 25cm long, and it's mouth was so tiny that it had no chance of puncturing the skin on my leg. Its owners were a family of four from Saitama, who are camping here for one night.
After that brief incident which occured when I popped into the camp-site reception cabin to say hello, word got back to me that the two children, age 4 and 10, wanted to see me again and talk English. So, following my first bath I toddled along to their tent and made complimentary noised about the food they had cooking, by way of breaking the ice. About 15 minutes later I was seated in a circle with the girls of 4 and 10, and their mother of 30-ish. Papa was looking after the food on the campstove, and preventing the dog from tearing me to bits.
Wow, what amazing children! So young and yet so damn good at English. The elder of the two, who had a million-and-one questions for me, had perfect pronounciation (that is, perfect if one was to believe that American English is a proper language). But no, what words and phrases she did know, she said as if she was a native (American) speaker. Astonishing. The kindergarten-aged girl also had quite an impressive vocabulary behind here, including 'elephant' and 'giraffe'. Oh, she was so cute, and hardly said a word I didn't understand! Yes, just about my level!
The older of the two must have been using really easy Japanese for me. She is destined for great things.
The innocence and trust that children have is such a wonderful thing to behold. Oh, if only we had more of it as adults!
I shall be keeping in touch with this family. They made me supper, and gave me the gift of great happiness. And the impression of dog teeth on my leg.
Hmm, if you have a copy of Donald Richie's The Inland Sea, read page 98 (Century Books, 1971, reprinted 1978). The feelings that he had during that meeting, I too had tonight, although I, of course, did not make the mistake that he did.
Anyway, I must leave it there for now. I will be woken early in the morning as Papa is going to go cut grass (kusakari) at 6am with a whole bunch of locals. They do it every year to get the town in shape for the annual festival - isn't that nice?
day 17: all done
my work here is done - tomorrow morning I head back to Tokyo.
In Angry News, I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning strimming weeds on disused rice paddies. Rice paddies are rectangular, and so theoretically (and practically), the most productive tecnique one should adopt when stripping them of their protective coat of green entanglements is to work in straight lines in a clockwise direction, starting off at the edge of the paddy, with the grass you have cut being pushed to your left, out of the way. This works very well when employed by a team of three, as each member can work behind and to the right of the leader. Everyone knows where everyone else is, and one can make most use of the 180° sweep of one's strimmer. Like combine harvesters on those huge North American farms.
So imagine how infuriating it is when, having started off in this manner, one of one's two team-mates suddenly starts going off and doing his own thing, such as suddenly deciding to strim right across the middle of the paddy, or for some reason which defies all forms of logic known to me, decides to leave a patch, walks around it, then continues. Images of me chasing him with my steel-toothed blade ran through my mind. You bastard! Why do you have to stuff it all up? I'm gonna strim your head off if you don't get back in line.
Could have disposed of the body in the drainage channel.
Two earthquakes last night. Woke me up and frightened me. The farmer and his wife slept right through them.
No photos today. Been busy in the sweltering heat. Over 30°C again. Sweat-drenched clothes changed at every opportunity. Funny though, my sweat doesn't smell over here, it's just wet. Arms stinging from the sunburn, legs and stomach itching from mosquito bites. Looked down at my forearm tody and saw a huge great mosquito of sorts, 2cm long, inserting its prong into my flesh. Bastard didn't last long, I squashed it. Saw two dragonfly shagging as well. Looked a bit painful if you ask me, stuck together like that. Flying at the same time.
So anyway, my week of traditional Japanese farm-life is over. I tell you, it really is not an easy way to live. The people in the city think they have it tough, but that ain't nothing compared to the amount of work these folks have to do just to put rice on the table.
It's been a really good experience. In addition to learning all about traditional charcoal-making and finishing off the construction of log cabins, I've learnt quite a bit about interaction between Japanese people. Degrees of formality. Sensitivity towards others, selfishness, and freedom to do as you choose - it is not just a gaijin bubble it would seem. Stereotypes have been broken, others have been reinforced. The crapness of my speaking ability has shone brightly, as has my lack of vocab. My listening has improved. I've learnt that a Steiner School is being started in Yokohama, 30 mins south of Tokyo. I have given at least one Japanese man the joy of sharing a bath with a hakujin (white person). I soaked my willy in cold water beforehand though so as not to make him feel inferior.
Well, I'm off to go and cry in the corner now. See you soon. That is, whenever I manage to get access to the internet again without having to take out a bank loan first.
(p.s. I'm very glad to be here really!)
day 20: modern methods of torture
I met up with my classmate, Jon, yesterday. He has just a few days in the big city, so it was important that I made sure he had a memorable time whilst here.
I don't think he'll forget the torture I put him through.
What better way to relax after a long stressy day in the office other than to sink into a nice comfy chair, and tell it to give you a nice massage? Such is the thinking behind the Massage Chairs that can be tried out on the 8th floor of Japan's biggest electronics retailer, Yodobashi Kamera.
However, it would seem that the Japanese are built of stronger stuff than the average westerners. These chairs, with their built in hammers and shopping-trolley wheels that run up and down yoru back with the force of a steam-roller, certainly do it by halves. I think Jon's expression says it all.
The other Must See for any traveller to Japan is the latest offerings from the toilet seat department.
Check out what they can do now! >> Video: 1mb, 25 seconds, Windows Media Video format <<
A couple of days ago I met up with an old Japanese friend whom I've helped out now and again over the past couple of years in the UK. She got back to Tokyo at the weekend, and shortly afterwards invited me round for supper at her sister's place where she's currently staying.
Wow, Japanese hospitality cannot be paralleled. Once you are established as a part of the group you will be on the receiving end of unbelievable acts of kindness. I was treated to endless food, far too much alcohol which I thoroughly enjoyed, and then told that I was more than welcome to stay the night, rather than make the long trek home in the dark. This, depsite the fact that four of them (my friend, her sister, her brother-in-law and 2-year-old cousin) are all living in a shoebox the size of a very small shoebox. I was also given clothes (which they said I could keep when I mentioned the fact that I really needed to buy some more T-shirts having wrecked a couple on the farm last week!), and a toothbrush (which I broke). I was then told that their mother wanted to meet me and thank me for all I have done for her daughter ...so it's been decided that we are all going to make the 5-hour journey north to their home-town - my fare being paid by the mother! I think I'll be there for a few days, we'll see how it goes. Haven't been to that area of Japan before, apart from a brief stop when hitch-hiking to Hokkaido 4 years ago.
It seems I have a new little sister too. My friend's cousin calls me "onichan" (big brother)...
isn't she cute?!
In other news, the rains have come. 40cm in one hour in the north. Unbelievable scenes of flooding on the TV (More concrete!! We need MORE CONCRETE!!). I was woken at 4.30am today by a downpour the likes of which I have never ever experienced before. Absolutely extraordainary.