Golden week is the start of a season of great memories.
06.06.2008 23 °C
Once again the seasons have changed here in Japan and I am gratefully enjoying the most beautiful spring of my life. In Canada in the spring things are always so gray. The city always has that thick layer of dust and garbage coating the streets. When the grass has not yet turned green and the trees have not yet begun to bud things can be very ugly. Japan, however, does not have to deal with winter graters or freezing temperatures so the spring comes in the most beautiful way.
In fact, the winter is mild enough for the locals to continue growing gardens. They even plant fresh plants in the fall. So you can imagine that when the warm weather starts coming in things get very colourful very quickly.
Not too much has been going on lately. In recent months I haven’t been doing much traveling as I’m trying to save up some money for a trip home. All my friends out here have gone home at least once since arriving in Japan but not I. I have been on a marathon stretch here in Japan and while I love living here I am very excited to come home to see my friends and family.
So let’s see…why do I love Japan so much? Let me count the ways.
- Onigiri rice balls at the convenience stores: they are filled with tuna and other goodness and make a much better snack than a 7-11 hot dog.
- The weather: Strolling by the ocean in a light coat in January. That can’t be beat!
- The flora: there are flowers everywhere all the time and I just love all the rose bushes and the flowers on the trees.
- Not speaking the language is a constant out for anything I don’t want to do. If someone asks me to do something I don’t to or wants me to eat something creepy I just fake mass confusion and find my way out the other side of most problems quite easily.
- The kids are so cute and respectful. I have thought about becoming a teacher back home but I have my doubts they would ever respect me like they do here.
- The gas station attendants: when you roll into a Japanese gas station the attendants really do jump to the pump and they always have a smile on their face. They stand in the lot waiting for customers and when you come in they guide you into the spot they want you and then three more attendants come running out and while one fills your car the others happily wipe down your whole car. And, when you leave they stop traffic so you won’t get hit on your way out. I love the gas station attendants.
- Wheat and popcorn flavoured tea.
- Onsens: I don’t know how I’ll live without the onsens when I come home. I know getting naked with a bunch of other people is not the kind of thing most Canadians see as relaxing but the experience really is lovely, especially in the winter months when you have been hiding away in your house and you just want to get warm. So many onsens have beautiful outdoor sections with amazing gardens and rock pools. I will defiantly miss the onsens when I am gone.
Ok, I guess to keep it balanced I should throw out a little of the downside of living in Japan.
- Never knowing what the hell you are eating. Sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it s a big fat fishy miss.
- The bugs: they have some real monsters out here and while I have successfully managed to keep my house relatively bug free I am aware that they are out there: spiders and centipedes and cockroaches, oh my!
- Little dogs in even littler cages: everyone in this country wants a little dog so the pet shops have dozens and dozens and dozens of teeny tiny cages holding as many teeny sad little dogs. The dogs are stupidly expensive so they take months and months to sell. I keep going to visit the little things but it is so depressing to watch them sit in those tiny little cages for months on end. And while I’m on the animal thing. I should say that nearly every school I go to has a cage of mistreated animals behind their school. The little kids go in and terrorize the chickens or the bunnies and I can’t stand it.
- Not being able to understand anything: because I can’t speak Japanese most of the people here assume I don’t know how to do anything. Yesterday a little kid at school was showing me, in a very specific way, how to wring water from a washcloth. This is the kind of thing I deal with all the time. They assume because I often do things differently that I don’t know how to do anything at all. If I could speak to them I could tell them that it’s not that I don’t know how it’s that I do it differently.
- Wa: wa is the very essence of being Japanese. It has something to do with peace and it is a crime to disturb the wa. So, at times it seams as though Japanese people are floating around in a personal mist oblivious to what is going on around them. They call it wa I call it spaced out.
- Sweet bean curd…kill me now.
Ok, now I’ve got all that out of my system I can tell you about what I have been up to and the best way to do that is to go back and look at my pictures.
During sakura (cherry blossom) season, a few of my friends and I went off to a tiny Okayama town called Mimasaka to visit another friend who lives up there. It’s a little way off the beaten path so none of us had gone out to visit there yet. We went off into the mountainside to enjoy the last days of the sakura and to stretch out our legs after a long winter.
Recently, I found a lovely forest park a mere two-minute drive from my house. Being that it is in the forest I didn’t even know it was there. My usual bunch of buddies came for a rare visit to my house (I too live way off the beaten path) and we explored the area.
Golden week in Japan is a very busy time. Usually there are a number of public holidays all strung together and the whole of Japan goes crazy with travelers. This year, however, the holiday was split by one non-holiday day and it kept many people closer to home…but not me. I took off with my friend Shane to Tokyo to visit my Japanese/New Yorker, Masami. Masami was the girl I stay with in Tokyo the first time I went at Christmas. Anyway, this time around we did less traditional things and instead spent some time exploring museums and other interesting exhibits. We also went out to the Toyota showroom and museum with was quite enjoyable despite not knowing anything about cars.
As always is the case in Tokyo, my favorite place to visit is Harajuku just to look at the crazy outfits and go shopping. Harajuku never disappoints.
Back in the countryside a week later the process of prepping and planting rice fields was in full swing.
I have become quite close with many of the members of my adult conversation class and one of them, Yokota-san just happens to have a rice field and he invited Shane and I to come plant some rice with him.
It was a lovely day, not too hot, and we got to experience first hand the process of planting rice in Japan. I was curious about how much they produce and who they sell it too so I asked Yokota-san. He said they only grow a few acres of rice and they don’t sell it. They dry it and spit it with the neighbours and eat it themselves all year. They were shocked to hear that we don’t eat a single thing we produce. Food is quite expensive in Japan so most people who have any land at all are strictly growing food to feed their families.
So, for lunch we had…you guessed it, rice, and cooked meat and at the end of the day Yokota-san’s wife gave me a yukata which is a summer kimono. It was a lovely present. We are planning on going back soon to make some soba with them.
Recently one of my Japanese friends moved away our badminton team had an enkai (party) for him. These enkais always start with a draw for seats. When the seating arrangement dust cleared there were two non-English speakers sitting at the very end of the table nest to me and another English speaker. They were trapped far away from the Japanese conversation. So they did what they had to and got rip roaring drunk and pretended to be able to speak English. It was hysterical. It showed them how we use burned cork as stage makeup and they couldn’t get enough of it. No one was safe from the burned cork and everyone went home with a black face.
Perhaps the thing that has been consuming the greatest part of my time lately is rugby. The New Zealand couple who came over with me and who have become my dearest friends took on the task of forming and training a touch rugby team.
The goal was to sign the team up for an annual rugby tournament held every year on the island of Shikoku. Needless to say, training a bunch of flabby foreigners who think a rugby ball is a football is no easy task. So, we had been getting together every weekend to learn the sport in the hopes of actually winning a game in Shikoku. Well, last weekend was the big tournament and the team of 12 and three supporters drove the two hours over to the tournament grounds.
The grounds were located next to a big and beautiful campground where cozy little tents were already set up and waiting for us. Unfortunately, the first day it rained making things a little uncomfortable.
Nonetheless, we played with as much heart as any team out there and we brought home a win and a tie by the time we started the final matches. The very first team we played was made up of huge New Zealand guys so we girded our loins and did our best.
The team after that was a quick and happy little Japanese team that really enjoyed kicking our ass. The benefit of playing two really good teams first though was that our playing improved literally by leaps and bounds with every play and when placements were announced for each pool we came out 1st on the C-side.
While we did our best to fight our way into the semi-finals we just couldn’t beat that happy little Japanese team though we gave them a really good run for their money. I think they were really shocked at how much we had improved since the day before. The tournament was won by a Maori team from New Zealand (naturally) who surprised everyone by performing the traditional Haka war dance after the final game.
I didn't get a decent picture of the dance because I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was probably one of the most electrifying observances of my life and I felt extremely grateful for having seen it. In the end we had played seven games of rugby, three in the rain, and we walked away sore and floating on the cloud of one of the best weekends we have had here in Japan so far.
Next up one solid month of rain so stay tuned for future rants about that.
Here is some Janglish for your amusement: