The Daily Mumble July 2005 Archive
July 2005 saw me spend my first full month in Japan since 2003, and boy was it a full month! I spent some lovely times with old friends all over the country, as well as making lots of new ones wherever I voyaged...
This page last updated: 8/10/05 16:07
day 27: Beware of the Frog
Just watching a video of myself singing John Lennon's Imagine, accompanied by Katsura on the piano, she being my friend whom I've known for a couple of years, and who I've spent much of the past week with on the rice-paddy plains of Niigata, north-western Japan. As mentioned in last month's Daily Mumble, I was invited by Katsura's mother to spend some time with the family up north, a few hours by bus from Tokyo, all expenses paid, as a thank you for looking out for her daughter whilst she was in the UK.
Wow, it was really great.
I was forbidden from spending any money at all for the entire duration of the trip. I was treated to the most delicious Japanese food (we were greeted at 5.30am after our 6-hour night-bus journey by a delicious meal consisting of all sorts of tempura, freshly made that morning by kachan's mother); day trips every day to hot springs, the sea-side, restored castles, shopping etc. I was introduced to what seemed like over half of the population of that rural area (foreigners being rare in those parts) - word quickly got around once I'd been spotted carrying the two-year-old Nijichan into the local bank accompanied by her aunt kachan, and kachan's mum.
The hot-spring resort was just beautiful, nestled at the foot of a misty, forested mountain range. Oh, and the vineyard! I almost forgot about that, with its delicious locally made ice-cream, gorgeous bread and of course, wine! Kachan's older sister is possibly the kindest person I've ever met, in addition to being very interested in Steiner education and all things wholesome. I had some wonderful conversations with her, and she was very sensitive and caring when Kachan and I had a difficult day. Kachan's younger sister (age 22), a diva whom I was quite scared of at first, turned out to be very welcoming, generous and kind, and very keen to learn English. Nijichan (age 2), pictured at the end of last month's Daily Mumble, provided us with endless laughter - and made me really feel like a part of the family by insisting that I be the one that carry her around!
Japan's not all Big Cities and Skyscrapers you know...
The rice paddies of Niigata stretch for miles and miles. Rice farming in the region goes back a long way, historically as continuous as the greeness that dominates the landscape.
Uninterrupted that is, apart from one harsh reminder that this land is situated in Modern Japan...
The Shinkansen (or Bullet Train as it's known in the West) runs in a dead straight line, right through the heart of the paddy landscape. Raised above the rice fields on earthquake-proof concrete pillars, the track reminds one of the hectic city lifestyles that the majority of the Japanese lead in the huge cities that lie at the ends of the continuously-welded steel lines, cities such as Tokyo, or Niigata, the only large city on Japan's Western coast (pictured below, as seen from the top of the tallest building). One can't help but wonder if those salary man, shooting through these rural areas, raised above them as if the speed and silence of the trains weren't enough of a barrier, ever stop to think about the reality of the world outside their triple-glazed windows, or merely see it as a series of emotionless images, such as those flashed up upon the banks of high-resolution widescreen TVs in Akihabara.
The dragonfly in that area are quite a sight to behold, as are the frogs - absolutely everywhere, the little green blighters! In the evening one has to be very careful about where one puts one's feet, to avoid splatting them. Even worse though, when picking plums, one has to be sure to keep one's mouth shut - the trees are just full of them! I even had one jump down my T-shirt!
oh, and I came across the ultimate bird-scarer one day whilst taking a stroll.
There's plenty more photos in this month's album.
Anyway, it is now almost 4am, and I really should head home.
Goodnight, dear loved ones. Do take care, wherever you are in the world.
day 32: lotus petal in a lotus leaf
it's about 2.32am exactly here in Osaka, central japan. I'm in a hostel type place with two lovely ladies called tomochan and akichan. It's bloody boiling despite being the middle of the night. Sweating like a sweaty mongoose.
This is called LOTUS petal in a LOTUS leaf.
Spent the weekend in Shimoda with dear Emmie and Russ, and John. Had a bloody good time. Very lovely hosts. Very lovely house. Went beach combing, that was, after admiring the contents of the fishtanks in their English school.
They are called OOPAH LOOMPAHs in Japanese, I kid you not.
Delicious food, overdose of monthy python, duraibu shita, foot onsen, cave exploration, relaxation, party type gatherings, beer and more beer, Colin McCray rallying, It was all really great. Thank you thank you thank you.
The Shimoda Crew
Today then, a lack of choice led me to take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Osaka, at a cost of an arm and a leg. Worth it though, as it meant that I was able to meet up with Sadako, an old friend who I first met several years ago in a Swiss hotel, then, entirely by chance, another two times in Japan. Well, fate decreed that we be friends, and I'm very happy it did so. Went out with her, her two crazy friends and her dear brother. It was good, really good, really fun, nice, got to talk about everything I like to talk about namely relationships and sex.
Earlier in the day, by the way, Sadako and I took a trip up the Sky Building. It had a beautiful escalator. The type I wouldn't mind conceiving my children on.
I think it's worth pointing out the location of this escalator. It's not just any old escalator you see. No, this is one of two that are wedged between two great big bits of skyscraper, as highlighted below!
Well well well it's now 4.44am. I've been talking to Tomoko all night about the world and stuff, and jolly nice it was too. But now I'm pooped.
Anyway look I don't know when I'll next have internet access. It may be a month or so from now. But fret not, I'll be back.
much love, me
the next morning...
I woke up this morning after my 3 hours sleep and wondered,
Where the hell am I?!!
Have I Overslept?
Am I supposed to be Somewhere Else?
Having reassured myself on all of these points, my mind then thought
Who am I supposed to be with?
...And then I realised, I am by myself.
I am FREE!
I have no-one to answer to.
I AM FREE!!!
Today I am going to a place that I have never been to before. An island. An island village, a long long way from here, where they have no convenience stores - a miracle for 21st century Japan.
I should throw my mobile phone away, not leave myself open to invasion.
I am very much looking forward to heading into the outback.
I will leave this wonderful hostel today with an open mind, an open heart, welcoming all challenges, (like the one that involves getting to this remote village, a 10-hour journey from here by bus and train). I am tied to no-one.
day 33: from one extreme to the other
Yesterday I was in a BIG city. A city that is so big, busy and crowded, that every milimetre of land has to be fully utilised. For example, in most cities, if there was a motorway where you wanted to build a skyscraper, the chances are you'd be dissapointed - you'd have to build it somewhere else.
Not in Osaka, Japan's 2nd largest city.
No, in Osaka you simply build your skyscraper around your motorway, that is, the motorway tunnels right through the heart of your erection.
Example 2: you have a school, and you have a lot of children in that school that want to swim. So, you put a swimming pool on your roof. Look carefully and you can actually see the children!
So yes, that is where I've come from. That's where I had a great night out with Sadako, Shinji and co, and then spent an hour trying to find my way back to my fantastic youth hostel. Whilst feeling very drunk, and wanting to be wanted. Oh the curse of Human Nature! Still, as I wrote above, I met a couple of lovely folks when I finally did make it back to the hostel (where a pair of plastic slippers had been specially prepared for me - they had my name written on in dry-wipe pen...) I was provided with wine, and company, way into the early hours, thus meaning that that later that day (that day being yesterday) I spent 7 hours on a bus with a cracking headache. Oh, but the view, it was just beautiful.
You know, at one point I actually thought, 'my god, this is so beautiful I feel like I'm back in Switzerland'. Mind you, if you start thinking things like that you know you're asking for trouble. Sure enough, the illusion was shattered when we rounded the next corner...
Yes, erm, I finally reached the last stop, a wee little railway station in a little-known coastal town. The kind of place that only sees a few trains a day. Where old men spend hours sitting on benches watching the Sumo Wrestling on a tiny TV, Sumo that is being beamed live from the big city that lies a couple of days travel and half a world away.
How did I get by without Japanese before? I ask the man in the little ticket booth when the next train for Uwajima leaves, as I can't read the Kanji (Japanese-Chinese characters) on the display. Ooh, that he doesn't know, he'll have to look in the book. I find this a little odd considering there are so few departures that even a goldfish, given the proper hat, could remember when they were. I have an hour to wait. My phone vibrates - it's an email from mum and dad. I read the subject line: "Exam Results!" I scroll down to find out if I've passed the dreaded Korean History module or not, but suddenly the battery dies and the phone shuts down.
I wander over to the kiosk where I've just bought an Onigiri - a triangular ball of rice containing a dollop of tuna mayonaise - and say to the lady in my politest Japanese, "I know it's terribly rude of me, but would it be at all possible for me to use your electrical socket to recharge my phone for ten minutes. I'm terribly sorry for troubling you". She continues to pretend I don't exist, just as she did when I bought the Onigiri. I am a ghost that she is afraid to look at. Foreigners are rare in these parts, but not rare enough to warrent open curiousity and helpfulness. "Over there" she says, pointing at a socket in the wall above the porno mags. I thank her, and plug my mobile in.
It's good news, I got 59 for my Korean exam that I was sure I'd failed (40 being a pass). I've also done well in my Japanese language exam, meaning that overall I got something in the region of 75% for my first year at uni. I'm pleased with that; it was all worthwhile.
I make my way to my platform, saying hello to a few giggling schoolgirls in their short pleated skirts and sailor shirts on the way. The train finally turns up, it's a fast one, and soon I arrive at my destination. Not my final destination though, no, that's another hour away on a school bus.
In this small town, noted for its sex museum (I may pay a visit on my way back), there are no signs in Romaji (English characters). I have the name of the town I have to get to written in English, but that is absolutely no help if the bus timetable is all wriiten in Kanji, Kanji for which you don't know the readings. A homeless man in a purple tracksuit sitting on a bench is watching me. He's old and dirty, but has a friendly face. I can feel him trying to sum up the courage to talk to me. He watches as I ask a few people to help me - no, we're not from round here, sorry, we don't know.
He stands up and shuffles towards me, hand down trousers, firmly attached to scrotum. I see the other Japanese at the bus stop feign disinterest as they try to distance themselves from this embarrasing spectacle. Ooh look there's a cloud in the sky, gosh what an interesting pavement, they didn't have that colour chewing gum when I was a girl.
"Where you from?" he asks me. I tell him.
"Ahh, Beckham!" he replies. A strange feeling of de-ja-vous creeps over me, although I must admit, Wayne Rooney has now taken over from Beckham as the favourite topic of conversation for Japanese men when they meet English people on the street.
I soon realise that grandad is far too intoxicated to help me; I politely excuse myself, thanking the drunken homeless man with his fingers round his penis for his kindness - I do this more to spite those around him who refused to move out of their comfort zone, rather than to make him feel good. Evil, I know.
Back in the station, the bus counter is closed, so I ask the young man at the train ticket window for help - does he know which stand the bus for Karihama leaves from. He looks at me gormlessly as if I am speaking a foreign language. I think over what I have just said to him, and yes, my grammar and vocab was correct, I didn't accidentally ask him if he'd like me to give him a blow job, I did ask which stand the bus for Karihama leaves from. Behind him is a man in a suit, possibly the station manager. He quickly ascertains what I want, and very kindly comes out to find the right bus stop for me. He checks the timetable, don't miss it, it's the last one, you're welcome, take care.
What a kind man.
By this time it's dark. I haven't a clue which stop I have to get off at as I still don't know the Kanji (as displayed at the front of the bus), and being on the back seat (the bus is full of school children, some reading, some playing a game where every sentance has to end with the syllable "shi", some sleeping, heads knocking against windows), I can't hear the recorded announcements properly. I do know that it is about an hour away though.
An hour passes. The bus is now on a very narrow, winding coastal road. One by one my fellow passengers dissapear. Eventually I decide to go and talk to the driver when the bus next stops. "Excuse me, I want to get off at..." but I am interrupted, someone is there in the dark at the bus stop, "Joseph?".
The bus driver then almost bursts out laughing, "oh, I was getting really worried!" he said. I was thinking, what's this foreigher doing so far away from anywhere, I was wondering where he wanted to go!" I am touched by his consideration - or fear of what he'd have to do with this tall white-skinned person at the end of the route!
It is one of the staff from the farming co-operative where I am now living. He guides me up the pitch black main street of this little coastal village. No shops here. I can just about make out a few buildings - they remind me of Gion, the old part of Kyoto where the Geisha were stationed. Little wooden houses sitting right on the edge of stone-lined streams. I can't quite believe that this is 21st century Japan. We continue up the road, and I hear chanting, and a gong. It's the monks inside the temple - and right next to that, is Muchachaen, my new home.
There I will leave it for tonight, as I have to be up at 6am for work, out on the stone terraces that make up the steep slopes that are so typical of this area of Japan.
day 34: Minna san Ohayogozaimasu! (Good morning everyone!)
I recall, several years back when I first lived in Tokyo, asking my girlfriend what that music was that played at 5pm everyday, transmitted across the suberbs via a network of loud speakers atop very tall poles. I think she told me that it was so that children knew that it was time to go home for tea - at least it was in the old days. Now, they are far too busy in cram schools until 9pm to think about playing in the park.
Here in Karihama, and I assume in many other rural farming communities too, this method of communication plays an important role in establishing the rythmn of the day. It begins at 6am, when the good morning tune (actually a synthesized version of the Big Ben chimes!) is played. Not only is it blasted across the village from loudspeakers, but also every house has a special radio strapped to the wall. You never touch this radio, and it is almost always off. But, at 6am, it switches itself on, wakes you up, then switches itself off again.
Fast Forward to 10am - Kyukei (break time). Today, I was way up the terraced slopes of the steep hills surrounding a neighbouring valley, when the sweet electronic melody of Edelweiss came wafting up from the village below. Everyone stops work, gets out their thermos' filled with kocha (chilled tea), and, wiping the sweat from their brows says "atsui desu ne" (hot isn't it).
Two hours later and it's lunch time. Not only do we get a lunchtime melody, but also a news broadcast, telling us all that is going on in the area. Reminding us about the farmer's meeting that night, or informing us that the trip that our children were going to go on the following day has been postponed due to a very depressing weather forecast. 2.45pm - announcement about a festival and fireworks tonight in a local town. 3pm - radio gymnastics, as done by every school child every day for years on end - an important part of growing up in Japan!
There is a final broadcast at 5pm, signalling to everyone that it's time to come down from the terraces.
It all makes for a wonderfully strong sense of community.
As do mad festivals, such as the one held here every year. It begins at 6am, and goes on until dusk. It basically involves the town's strong-men carrying a huge dragon around all day, dressed in nothing but loin clothes, and drinking a lot. Every now and then they stop, extend their head and tail and spin at great speed. Houses are damaged, children scared, and in one case, people killed by the force of being hit by the huge wooden monster. There's an 8-second video of it here: (Windows Media Video, 82kb).
My daily routine doesn't involve big wooden monsters, not in the sense as described above, nor in any other sense at the moment, unfortunately. I am woken up by Big Ben at 6am. I lie there, thinking, bloody hell the sun is bright (this place is more window than wall. My hearing is the next sense to switch itself on. Water. Secada's, birds. That is all. No engines, just beautiful nature, and my own breathing. I get out of my Padding Bear sleeping bag, splash water on my mosquito-bitten face, and go down to the kitchen where I snoop around for food. This morning all I could find was one piece of white bread (nothing to put on it) and a bowl of plain white rice.
At 7.30am I am picked up by a local farmer; yesterday it was Mr. What's-his-name who has some Mikan's (tangerines) on a terrace by the sea a few coves along the coast, today it was Mr. What's-his name who has some Milkan's on a terrace above the neighbouring village. Yesterday it was stripping the trees of half of their fruit in order that they produce a smaller but higher-quality crop, today it was weeding around the base of the trees with a hooked knife.
This morning I was actually working with the farmer's mother, who has lived here all of her life. She's a typical Japanese countrified Obasan (Supergran); aged about 65, short, with a kind wrinkled face, and a wide-brimmed straw hat, curved around the face, with a flowery cloth attached to teh back to protect the neck. We talked about this and that, this being the history of the area (used to be rice paddies etc, gradually changed over to mikan's in the mid-20th century), that being the current state of affairs. It's very sad, for there are no young people in the area. The schools in the neighbouring villages have closed, now all the children are brought in by bus, all 49 of them. What future does the area have?
My lunchbreak is almost over, so I'd best get ready to return to the terraces. I'm not sure what I'll be doing this afternoon, and I don't really mind. I'm happy to be here, just being.
day 34 part two: new member
There's a new member in the gang as of today. Meet Grommit (that wasn't my idea). She's one month old.
As for the rest of the bunch, well, let me see. There's a very friendly chap from the Phillipines who speaks English, two Vietnamese girls, and a great big gang of young Japanese blokes. I think we're about 15 in total. Our boss is Keiko-san - she's really nice, very approachable. Oh, there's another Japanese women here too, V polite and always caring. (Bit too polite for my liking but there you go.) I haven't managed to remember her name yet.
Spent the afternoon with Supergran then. Got some very impressive blisters, conveniently positioned just where I hold my chopsticks. Nicely sunburnt arms too. Another reason I like Japan you know is that it's sexy to be as white as a sheet of white paper covered in Tip-ex. None of this burnt skin malarky that us Brits go in for. No, to be a hakujin (white person) is to be exotic, at least, according to some. I'm keeping my beard too, following the reciept of further complimentary remarks from a loved one, and the discovery that it doesn't really get in the way in bed.
Was also thinking today about desires to be in other places, and came to the conclusion that it's got nothing to do with places, just people. Some of my happiest times have been in butt-ugly cities, accomanied by gorgeous people with beautiful butts. On the whole. I can't say I've seen them all. Or that I want to see them all come to that.
Gosh it was sooooo nice up on the terraces today. A little stream bounced its way down the slope to the sea. A tanuki (First time I've ever seen one - a racoon I think. Wasn't pink though and didn't have an uncle called Cyril Sneer) snooped around in the shade of the trees. The track of the Mono-Raku (like a little single-rail railway, on which a petrol driven engine runs pulling a couple of mini-carriages, just big enough to fit a few boxes of tangerines on) twisted and turned on its way to the road below.
Haaa, this is so far removed from any Japan that I have ever known before. I really love it.
All along the coast, a couple of hundred metres out into the water, lie buoys marking the position of crates containing oysters - this area is well known for the cultivation of pearls. Ahh, so romantic...
Hmm, I really should study a bit.
day 35: What is Muchachaen?
Last night I stayed up until midnight chatting with, er, gosh, I think her name's Ayumi, and Tami (from Vietnam). I had been shocked earlier in the day when the son of Supergran whom I was working with on the organic mikan terraces turned up with a backpack full of insecticide, and proceeded to speay the baby trees, and so wanted to know exactly what 'organic produce' meant in Japan.
In the UK, for food to be sold as 'organic it has to have the stamp of approval from one of several organic organisations, such as the Soil Association. They have strict benchmarks (regarding factors such as how long the land has been chemical free) - it's not simply a case of one day deciding to call your farm 'Organic'.
It would seem that in Japan the word 'Organic' can be applied to a far wider range of growing tecniques. For example, around here there are some farmers who use absolutely no chemicals or inorganic fertilisers whatsoever, whilst alongside them, you will find those who spray their young trees a few times a year to fight off disease etc. However, in order to encourage more organic methods Muchachaen pays farmers different prices for their produce - more chemicals, lower rate.
All this talk led us on to Muchachaen's role, Muchachaen being the name of the place I'm staying at. It would seem that Muchachaen is not just a farm that accepts Wwoofers (me) and foreigners on government exchange training programs (such as my three colleagues from the Phillapines and Vietnam). It is not just a school that welcomes Japanese people who wish to learn about traditional farming tecniques. It is also a limited company, and buys all of the Mikan's for miles around. They all pass through here, before being sold on to distributors in Tokyo and Osaka. Muchachaen also makes fruit juices (with the fruit that is not fit for selling), in addition to being responsible for the pearl producers. Recently, they have started experimenting with vegetable production, although the fields are over 2 hours drive away from here, so I've yet to see what kind of scale that's on.
So there we go, that's Muchachaen, the place where I am getting HUGE blisters on my hands, two of which I stuck a needle in this morning. Very satisfying.
day 37: antennaaaaa
perhaps ten to two in the morning is not the cleverest of times of times to write, especially when one has drunk a considerable amount of beer and sake (rice wine), but hey, you only live once, and I'm sure you'll all be on my side when it comes to court.
I'm sitting here in the living room then, alone. Oh, apart from my friend Big Bug with the improbably big antenna
I mean, come on, what practical use could they have? Just ridiculous.
Hmm. I'm in a bit of a mood, a lonely mood, a want to cry mood. Hmm, yes, the last 24 hours or so has seen a bit of a comedown for me. You see, for the past few weeks, I've been with someone who gives me a great deal of attention. Here, I am still the outsider. I have a spider for a bed-companion (bloody scary, didn't sleep much last night), and the greatest form of affection I receive is when I try to wash the middle of my back in the shower by wrapping my arm around myself.
I was thinking about it today whilst working on the terraces above the deep blue sea.
They remind me of Turkey and Greece you know, the terraces you know,
Put me on Desert Island Disks and I'd be a right disastor. Moping around. Mind you, maybe if I WAS on a desert island, and time had no meaning, then maybe I wouldn't feel any pressure to be happy, like, you know, no 'before it's too late' poo out of a male bovine bottom. Are bulls bovine? I assume so. 45ryytrert4rer54r565t4rew3r54red65t4re45rt7654re354r3r3rerter4rer54eter5frdfcfrdfrt Woops. I just dribbled on my keyboard. The above is my attempt to mop up the mess. Perhaps that's why I am unable to get unhitched. I mean hitched.
Yes anyway so I was thinking whilst sweltering in the 32° heat today, erm, what was I thinking, oh yes, oh, no that wasn't it, I forget.
I met a really nice person tonight. Ten of them actually. Students in their early twenties from around Tokyo, on some kind of Farming Workshop Weekend. I talked with one of them for ages, although I have completely forgotten what we talked about. Nope, can't remember a thing. I know that it was environment / nature related - she further confirmed my fairly recent discovery that the environmental movement is alive and kicking over here.
Anyway anyway this is not the point I want to make. The thing I want to tell you about is the screeching halt that our brief freindship came to - it was quite spectacular. A bit like an aeroplane plumeting from 50,000 feet into a very hard mountain in about 5 seconds flat. It was quite a shocking experience. Personally I blame the reputation that foreign men have over here. Leeches, sushi-hunters, cheap whores, seeking to shag any Japanese woman with a pulse. Or without if neccesary.
It was a really nice evening, but Muchachaen was pretty noisy, and I was getting a little tired of talking. I thought how nice it would be to go for a walk down to the seaside. I love the sound of waves breaking on a beach; timeless beauty. I thought how nice it would be to listen to rythmn of the ocean, whilst gazing at the stars on this clear night.
"I'd like to take a walk down to the sea - would you like to come?"
She looked at me as if I had just told her that my greatest desire was take all my clothes off, zip myself up inside a lifesize see-through dolphin suit and spend the day walking up and down Central Avenue shouting "Ohh someone please throw some tinned tomatoes at me". That was her reaction exactly.
"Yes, it's beautiful, and not too far..." I continued.
"You want to go to the Sea now?"
I was angered a little by her reaction, and could only guess that she thought I was making some kind of indecent proposal. Being somewhat drunk, I seriously considered saying to her, 'look, I don't want to shag you, I just want to go for a walk down by the sea, ok, and I'd like some company'. Instead, I simply replied, "I'll go by myself if you don't want to come", in as non-agressive fashion as I could muster, which was pretty non-agressive.
She was not to be persuaded. Somewhat surprised, I stood up, said goodnight and wandered off down the dark street alone.
Thinking about it today, I suppose a walk by the sea at 12.30am following the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol is quite suggestive. Didn't seem like that at the time though.
Mind you, the story has a happy ending. I'd gone not 50 metres down the road when a big stone in someone's driveway spoke to me. "Is that Joseph?" it said in Japanese. No, I was not going mad - it was another of the ten girls from Tokyo, a completely crazy one whom I'd talked to earlier that night. Bit of a wild child she was. I was very happy to see her. I lay down on the warm tarmac beside her and her equally mad friend.
What a beautiful sky. The Milky Way (Ama no Gawa, 'Heaven's River') shone clearly - and we saw three shooting stars! It was a nice end to the evening.
Wiggedy wiggedy oyasumi nasai xxx
day 38: The Great Koen Cleanup
We kick off tonight with a story about an event that happens every year not far from where I live. It's called Koen wo souji suru, which could be translated as The Great Park Cleanup. (It could also be tranlated as "I love you and I want your babies", but that would be slightly incorrect).
Every July, members of the farming community that is Muchachaen give a day of their time to the local populace, and carry out The Great Park Cleanup. Armed with white vans, strimmers, brooms and sexy summer bonnets, they descend upon the hedgrows, monuments and gravestones and give them all a jolly good polish. This year, I was a member of that community, and so I went along to help.
I'd just like to take a moment to comment on the White Van situation, because it's really something worth getting excited about. Imagine a town, a whole town, where every single car is a white van, the type of which you see above. They are all identical, except perhaps for the headlights - there are a few rebels out there who favour the rectangular type as opposed to the circular. At one point yesterday, I was sitting outside the village hall watching the traffic, and thinking, 'I really should have my camera with me', as white van after white van rounded the corner, nothing but white vans, interupted occasionally by the odd white van.
I was really impressed by just how many people there were taking part in the Koen Cleanup. About 87.9% of them were over the edge of 60, but you've never seen such a dedicated workforce. Every fallen leaf meticulously swept into the bank (only to be blown back onto the road a few seconds later by a passing car), every speck of dust removed from the gravestones (soon to be replaced by a nice covering of earth whipped up by a gust of wind).
My cynicism was soon to be dispelled however, for I discovered that actually all this work was just a cover-up, an excuse to have a party at the expense of the local authority. This is more like it I thought, as after about an hour of moving leaves from one side of the path to the other and then back again in an attempt to look busy I was ushered into the town hall. About 50 old men of the Japanese variety, and me.
The food was delicious, the supply of beer, endless. There was a team of six old geezers who spent the entire two hours ensuring that no-one's glass was ever less than completely full! I kid you not, as soon as you'd put your glass down it was topped up again! Such is the way in Japan. My plan to not drink (having got completely wrecked the night before) went straight out the window, and I got absolutely plastered once again. I seem to recall having quite a lively conversation with the woman doing the washing-up - by that time my job was no longer to entertain the local farmers with lively conversation about, oh god, I can hardly bare to think about it now, so I won't... no, my job now was to put the big dishes away in the bottom left-hand cupboard (just in case you were wondering). I remember doing something with T-spoons too. Can't remember where I put them though.
So yes, all in all, it was wonderful. I felt very welcome.
Mind you, as the day went on (finished drinking at about 5pm), so my mood dipped, and I felt myself slipping into a state of mild depression. Ah, it was the loneliness, the revival of memories of a time when I lived in an isolated dungeon.
Today, however, saw what I believe was a breakthrough. The turning point.
I have Settled In.
So that's 1 week - not bad eh? Today, for the first time since I arrived, I felt fine about being myself around my colleagues and housemates. There's one woman in particular who has helped me a great deal, just through talking to me and being utterly approachable, in addition to being that kind of person who enjoys being made to laugh. Then there's Supergran and her son, both of whom I continue to work with on the terraces. A bridge of trust has now been formed. Oh, crikey, except today she gave me a right shock.
"Have a look at this insect", she said, holding out her hand, on which perched the most beautiful big shiney yellow and black beetle you've ever seen.
"Yes, they do terrible things to the fruit trees" she continued, "so we kill them."
And with that, she twisted it's head off, right in front of me. Internally I reeled in shock and horror, but tried not to show it.
I must be careful to always walk behind her when we're climbing the slopes with our little razor-sharp sickles...
There's one colleague who has been a bit wary of me until now, a Japanese lad in his early twenties, but tonight we had a bath together, so all's good there (a public bath, by the way. In fact, it was a Green Tea bath! Apparently very good for the skin. Certainly very green, but leaves you smelling of tea).
Quite a nice onsen really. Situated right by the sea, I was able to relax in all my naked glory, and watch some fireworks that a group of holidaymakers had brought with them - they were setting them off on the beach. Saw a shooting star too...
Hmm, so yes, it's all happening you see, here in the Japanese outback.
Anyway, it's now nearing midnight, and I must be up at 6am for another day of hard toil with sadistic-gran.
Nighty night, sleep tight.
Joseph, Rimand, Tham and Thoa
day 43 part 2: The Busiest Day Yet
so yeah I've been on something of a rollercoaster this week, both physically (kenji's driving) and emotionally (it's not love, it's Not love it's NOT love ok well it might be). Absence makes the heart grow fonder so they say do they not, and it would seem that this is the case in this case. However, this love has no future in the form that it currently takes. It has a future in the form of love between two friends. I say no more.
In other news, I jumped into a big green pool yesterday. It was lovely and warm, and full of fish and turtles, and me too when I was in it. And my friends.
However, it was only when I remembered that my reluctance to take all my clothes off in public was a thing of the past (pre-2001 when something of noteworthy notiness occurred) that I realised that the other scary things weren't really that scary at all. (These days I often take a bath in the nude (naturally) in the middle of my local park, as demonstarted here:
And I positively delight, when in the public hot-springs, in proving to Japanese men that foreigners DO have bigger willies (although their's are harder, apparently. I don't actually know from experience, although I would say it's true about the women and their extra muscle.).) So yes. As for the scary monsters, well, hadn't I just spent 2 hours in a van with a ferocious 10-week-old puppy, who was just ready to pierce my throat with his razor-sharp teeth as we made our way down the beautiful coast road?
I really am staggered by how gorgeous this part of Japan is. I mean, it's just lovely. Little fishing villages. Inlets playing host to pearl farms, terraced hillsides and endless forests, alll enjoying day after day of sunshine (41 of them in a row without any rain last year), and of course bloody flying ants that try to bite your ankles when you're updating your homepage, and that funny smell of urine coming in through the mosquito-mesh door on my left.
So yes, I took the plunge, and it was gorgeous. So warm, so relaxing, so natural. Shame about the razor sharp flints sticking out of the bank on which I sliced my finger open, oh, and the tics that live in the scrub around the lake. Found one on my outer thigh last night, little blighter, with his head buried in my flesh, sucking the life-giving blood from my vessels. Managed to get him out though, head and blood-filled sack. I tell you what though, I had a bloomin good check of my mojo's centrepiece after that. Don't want to have one of them buried in your scrotum. How embarrasing that would that be in the event that a camera crew, making a film about bathing habits around the world, installed a secret camera on your shower head. Broadcast live to the world, Joseph and his pet tic.
Well, you never know. Stranger things have happened. Like the fact that yesterday, at the bowling alley, they had not only shoes that were big enough for me, they actually had a pair that were TOO BIG!! IN JAPAN!! I almost felt obliged to have my photo taken with the woman who handed them over the counter to me - but in the end restricted myself to photographing my fellow bowlers, who were far better than me. Compare bowling tecniques as demonstrated in the photos below.
On the left we have a clear demonstartion of how it should be done. Good posture, hand raised having flung the ball (bottom right in case you hadn't noticed) in a straight line down the lane towards the expectant pins.
"Oh not again! What is it they've got against us? No sooner have we stood up than some twat throws a bloomin great ball at us again. No thoughts for OUR feelings!"
It's tough being a bowling pin, as it is being a rolling pin.
"Yeah, go ahead then! Rub my face in a pile of sticky dough why don't you...?"
*Joseph is seen rubbing his eyes and thinking 'i really MUST go to bed...'*
Anyway, yes, so Pro in the left-hand photo. Now, in the photo on the right we see a complete gimp. Aside from the obvious fashion disastor (trousers are way too short: note right leg ascending ankle), this prat, in addition to having no head, is about to fall over on his side. And don't be fooled by the apperent good positioning of the ball as it makes it's way down the alley. It actually has a spin on it that will ensure that not only will it it not hit any pins, it will not even stay in that lane. In fact, it will jump the barrier between this lane and the next, and collide with a ball that has been expertly hurled down the neighbouring lane, thus denying the four-times Champion Bowler of South West Japan his 14th successive win. Yes, the gimp is me. Gimp With A Big Red Nose they call me. Sometimes, when I ask them too. oooooh matron.
[travelling Japan's highways and byways without a camera focused upon the roadside is a lost opportunity. The reason for this is, as we all know, is that Japan is one big theme park, the theme being Kitschness. Thus, when en-route back from the bowling alley with its big shoes, I was not overly surprised to see what I first took to be a giant penis in a children's playground. Nestled between the swings, slide and ropeway this phallic erection stood proud and pink ...with deflated testicles? No, it couldn't be... a second glance revealed that this is not the lost property of a giant sex-monster, but rather, a big Nose. Quite what a big nose is doing in a children's playground, I don't know. Not much one can really do with it. I suppose one could pack the nostrils with seaweed, let it dry a bit and then pick it out bit-by-bit and eat it to prove to mummy and daddy that bogeys can be good for your health...]
Not to be disheartened, I vowed that that afternoon I would prove my worth by collecting more caterpillars than Bern, my fellow Wwoofer, from the huge patch of potato-type plants that lay above the ex-onion field (there were many tears during that parting I can tell you). Here we stand, proud and aloof with our straw hats and sacks full of caterpillars (I'm referring to the white plastic sacks incidentally, in case you thought that tics wern't my only health problem yesterday).
Whilst collecting our caterpillars (a 3-hour excercise that proved to be completely pointless in the end as after all that work we were so shattered that we forgot to tie the bags up / dispose of them, so that night they all returned to the field that we'd just removed them from) Bern and I had ample opportunity to chat and get to know one another. An Australian working in Osaka, he's here for a few days as a volunteer. Bloomin nice chap he is too.
...I shall continue in my solitary quest for, er, I was going to say quest for happiness but I'm actually very happy at the moment. I'm in a beautiful country with beautiful people, with a beautiful empty bed and a Paddington Bear duvet cover just waiting to snuggle me up and send me off into a beautiful world of dreams.
Sunset off the west coast of Shikoku, Japan
day 44: recommendations
Ok, so initially, all of you who loved those badgers from way back last summer have to check this out:
Secondly, any of you with broadband HAVE to get this piece of free software from Google. It is amazing.
Unfortunately not too good on close-ups of UK cities yet, but has amazing coverage of Japan! (and the US of course) I've managed to pinpoint exactly which houses I've lived in in Tokyo. Can see cars in the carpark etc. Astonishing. Pyramids at Cairo look pretty groovy. If you don't have fast broadband internet don't even bother downloading it as you'll just get frustrated by endless waiting for the picture to clear up.
day 44 part 2: beach party
It was all going SOOOO well until I swam straight into a school of jellyfish.
I yelled at Australian surfer-dood Bern, who was calmly floating around further out at sea.
"yeah, I know" he replied - I may as well have said, "ooh look, there's lots of water around here".
"Do you think they're the stinging type?" I managed to squeal.
"Mmm, yeah, I should think so" came the answer.
Oooh, my mood has suddenly crashed. I'd better stop here. It's all been a bit much this week.
day 45: emotional rollercoaster
boy. I washed my socks today. and so much more. that I can't tell you.
day 46: typhoon
We have it so easy back in the Uk. No earthquakes (Tokyo saw its most powerful since 1992 on Sunday), no typhoons (Typhoon No.7 is currently wreaking havoc across south-eastern Japan - on the radio today it took them thirty minutes to list all the cancelled train services and give details on all injuries sustained. Quite why that 68-year-old man was up a ladder cleaning his windows in the midst of a typhoon I don't know!
Meanwhile, here in the Japanese outback all is calm. We lie outside of its direct path, and so see nothing of the torrential rain and hurricane-force winds. In fact, we positively benefit from this monsters rampage, as for the first time since I arrived here two weeks ago there is the slightest hint of a cooling breeze. Situated on the coast, one would think that Karihama would often enjoy such refreshment. Not so, as these shores are those of a large inlet, protected from the big wide world on its one open side by Japan's third largest island, Kyushu, which lies a little way off to the west. [Don't have a clue what I'm on about? There's a map here although it's not at all clear...]
I spent the afternoon with Mr. Fujimoto again. I've always been farmed out to either him, or Supergran and her son. I like Fujimoto. We had a difficult start as I misunderstood what was required of me and cut a load of new growth off a bunch of trees when I was only supposed to be removing dead branches! And he started talking about Beckham.
But now, we get on fine. He picks me up at 7am in his little white van. We drive to his packing shed in the middle of the village, and weigh out bags of yet-to-ripen mandarins, the rind and zest of which can be used for all sorts of things, according to the information sheet that I have the responsibility of putting in the bag with the manadarins. I also get to put in a little colour photo of the family, which says "Thank you for buying our mandarins. Love from the Fujimoto Family". Well, they probably don't actually use the L word as liberally as I have done recently, curse this soft romantic heart of mine. Having inserted photo, instruction manual and mandarins, I get to do something that I always really enjoyed when bagging up potatoes at Wormelow Stores at the age of 13 - sealing the bag with sticky tape using one of those little manual tape dispenser things.
Oh it used to be such a turn on. I discovered that it doesn't quite give me the same thrill anymore; I prefer making love.
We pack the mandarins into boxes. Fujimoto closes these with his great hydraulic stapler, which is, for some reason unknown to me, always left switched on.
I enjoy the drive to the Mandarin warehouse. It lies not far along the coast, along some very narrow roads, including what I have decided is the tightest corner in Japan. I tell you, the backstreets of Tokyo have nothing on this village. You see, this village has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It grew organically, with people coming along and thinking, hhm, I think I'll build a house at the end of this track. So they did. Then the track got longer as someone else wanted to build a house further inland, and the track had to go around the original erection. Thus, there is no straight section of the (now tarmaced) roads around here that is longer than the width of an old wooden farmhouse. Occasionally you do come across a crossroads, and this particular crossroads that Mr. Fujimoto has to turn right at on a daily basis on the way to the Mandarin warehouse is so tight that it reminds me of a rather traumatic encounter I once had with a lady in Bristol.
Sometimes he manages it in one turn - inch by inch, wingmirrors milimetres away from the buildings on either side. On other occasions he turns too late, and has to reverse in order not to puncture a hole in the clay-and-bamboo wall that seperates the 90-year-old farmer's wife washing the starch from two cupfulls of uncooked white rice, from the little daylight that manages to penetrate the alleyway.
Further along the coast Mr. Fujimoto, in his favourite blue denim shirt and £1.50 baseball cap, is faced with yet more obsticles - a huge pile of abandoned tyre-piercing razor-sharp oyster shells - relics of a pearl industry gone bottom up, causing the closure of many family-run businesses, and a sliding door that has fallen from its host frame. He attempts to miss them, but as we move on both the crunch of shells and the clang of metal is heard. Fujimoto laughs, and I laugh with him.
Mandarin's despatched, it is time to hit the slopes. Once again, today I am working alone. Fujimoto is busy with his petrol strimmer up the hill; I follow in his tracks with my hooked blade, taking weeds out from around the base of the trees. I did this last week, with somewhat drastic results. All that time, just me, by myself, in the maddening heat of the sun for hours on end. The mind races. I single-handedly fall in love, turning things said over and over in my mind until, by the time I return home everything is blown completely out of proportion and I am going crazy. I send emails, text messages, I make plans, I tell myself I am not acting hastily, that I am merely following my heart.
Today I cannot cope with the prospect of spending time by myself. I cannot cope with thinking. I am feeling very tearful at the prospect of having to return to the UK two weeks earlier that planned, and I want a distraction. Naked ladies being in short supply in these parts (as are the clothed variety), I ask Mr. Fujimoto if I may borrow his pocket radio. yes, of course, please, go ahead. Thankyou.
Five minutes later I am wondering how I am going to explain to him how I broke the antenna off his radio - it no longer recieves FM stations. I decide to worry about that later, and switch to Medium Wave, through which I enjoy 30 minutes of Typhoon news EVERY HOUR! Don't tell me about typhoons I say, as I think about the forces that have swept through my body and soul this past week, brought on by a weak front in conjunction with a mild depression.
It's kyuukei, and Mr. Fujimoto and I are sitting in the shade sipping at the iced tea from our Thermos flasks. Mine is called Big Boy Cooler, and tells me Enjoy Your Active Sports Life With Pleasure. Reminds me of the rubber dungarees I was given to wear on Friday during the downpour, which were emblazoned with a picture of a bear, and the proud statement, "I AM THE SEA THE PEOPLE". Really? What a coincidence! Me too!
Uehara-kun models a real pig's head, poor bugger
I gingerly bring up the subject of the radio with its broken antenna. Oh, don't worry, it was only cheap, says Mr. Fujimoto. This takes us on to the subject of Japanese technology. I am surprised by how up-to-date this middle-aged farmer is. He knows about all the latest gadgets. Somehow though, after a few minutes, the subject turns to Beckham. He's in Japan you know, with Real Madrid.
My gaze turns skyward, as I scan the ridge of the opposing terraced hillside for the bird-of-prey that I have heard screeching for the past few days. There it is, hanging in mid-air now, enjoying the chance to float on the rare breeze. For some reason, this makes me feel very sad. I really want to cry, the tears are there, ready to flow out with my emotions, but I hold back, and instead say, yes, they are a strong team aren't they.
Why do I feel so sad? Perhaps it is this bird. It represents the stillness and peace that I have found here. I take another look at the hillside, and sense the huge volume of life that this small patch of the Earth's surface is supporting. It is so intensely rich, so much what it is all about, without all the distractions that the majority of us plug into every day.
And the day after tomorrow I will be turning my back on it.
day 47: one final day on the terraces
Many thanks to my employer back in the UK for reminding me that there are also screeching birds back there!
...but that's not the point!!
Anyway, this afternoon I shall ascend the hills of Shikoku one final time. I must make a video of the journey in fact, from my home to the peak... it's just stunning.
How appropriate that today I am working with Fujimoto-san again, on the same terraces that I worked with him on on my first day here, and have not been to since. Full circle, you see. But now I'm only cutting off the dead growth!
Ironic that it's only today that I discover that I can actually hook up to the wireless network here in my bedroom if I open the balcony door - having spent the last two weeks feeling guilty about always having my laptop switched on in the dining room.
Things I won't miss about this place:
My journey back to the capital begins early tomorrow morning. Having investigated all possible means of transportation, I have decided to hitch-hike. If I was to go by train, it would be an arduous 27 hour journey with no less than 14 changes (unless I was to take the Shinkansen, in which case it would be 7 hours and only 3 changes, but that costs about 150 quid), and would involve a night spent on a station platform in the middle of nowhere. Not all that appealing. The bus is also quite expensive.
As for hitch-hiking though, well,
I can't remember the last time I hitched anywhere.
The journey then: 1080 kilometres (approx 650 miles, or John 'O Groats to London)
The proposed route:
I'm quite excited really. Hmm, I'd love to eat an ice-cream though.
I've managed to get a photo of my destination, taken from about 900 feet up. You can see it here.
If you, by any chance, are driving along any part of this route tomorrow, and you see me, please do pick me up. Thank you. Here are some photos to assist you in recognising me. There's my thumb as well. Long isn't it? That's what they all say.
I shaved all my hair off a couple of days ago. It's soooooooooooo hot and sunny. As usual. Why go the Bahamas when you can go to Japan?
I've only been listening to English radio for a couple of hours, but already I'm sick of hearing about bombers and all that "London Terror" malarky. I understand it's being called "7-7". Honestly, bloomin Americanisms. What's this rubbish about a 'bomb factory'? Talk about bigging it up... Bloomin' sensational press. Imagine if every death in Africa from Aids got the same coverage, or every Iraqi civilian death caused by the allied forces. Put it in perspective guys.
I'll stick to my typhoon and earthquake news thanks very much. I like that, because it shows us just how insignificant our little lives and systems are in the grand scheme of things.
Ho hum, time to go.
p.s. Emotionally, have reached a fairly stable plateau, am comfortable, and glad that last week is over.