Covering New Ground

September 13, 2009

I was gone for about six hours today, and when I came back this evening I found my entire room was covered in a thin layer of fine dust. Could this be the dreaded yellow sands of China?

Today I drove to Lake Miike. The drive up there is absolutely beautiful. I’ll probably buy a house there someday. Apparently you can find houses for dirt cheap up in some of the smaller villages in the middle of nowhere. Maybe I’ll grow some rice and some nice root vegetables. Lake Miike is situated at the base of the Kirishima mountain range. There’s a funny thing about Kirishima. Every time I move closer towards it, the top always disappears into a cloud that suddenly appears out of nowhere and hovers over the top of the mountain. Kirishima literally means “fog island,” and I guess I can see where the name came from. Sometimes I can see it very plainly from my apartment, though. Anyway, the drive up was lovely and I stopped at the parking lot overlooking the lake and took some pictures of some very cooperative butterflies. After that, I walked down a small mountain road towards the “Wild Bird Forest.” All I could hear for awhile was the wind (today was rather stormy), but then, at last, I heard a bird! Well, it was a crow. But anyway, I dropped down a small path and walked around the edge of the lake. There were some nice springs shooting out of the side of the hill next to me and the color of the water in the lake was a beautiful aquamarine.

Well, it didn’t take too long to walk around the lake, and I still felt like exploring a bit, so I continued on until I reached the town of Kobayashi. I emailed one of my new Japanese friends who lives there to see if she was free to meet up, but then I decided to poke around to see what I could find until I got a response. There was a sign mentioning a gorge, so I turned there and followed the roads until I wound up on a tiny one-lane road skirting the edge of some rice paddies in a narrow valley. Right away, when I pulled into the parking lot, I knew this was going to be a pretty awesome place. There was a guy down in the river floundering about in full snorkel gear. I’m not really sure what he was doing, but it looked like he was hunting for fish with his bare hands. I would have taken a picture, but it started dumping rain and taking pictures while holding an umbrella is no easy task. Anyway, I totally ignored a sign that I probably should have read and trudged off down the trail. Before long, I ran into a kid on a bike and a little further on an old man limping hurriedly down the trail. There is a series of ten tunnels along the path, and a few of them are so long that they need lights in the middle so that you can make it through. Well, I guess you could bring a flashlight, but I didn’t happen to have one this time. But luckily, there is a motion sensor at the beginning of the tunnel that turns on the lights for a brief period of time. Don’t stop in the middle of the tunnel or else you might not make it through before the lights go out. Ahem. The gorge is quite beautiful and it’s a really easy walk. I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything about it because it seemed like it could be quite a popular tourist attraction. On the way back down the path, terrified little frogs leaped from the path in front of my plodding feet and plummeted ten meters down into the gorge. At one point, something tiny scampered into the tunnel in front of me, and I didn’t run into it in the tunnel (I think) or see it on the other side, so I don’t know what it really was. But I have a guess. It ran on two feet, and was about the size of a chicken, but I don’t think it was a chicken. I think it was a kappa (Japanese water imp). No joke. If I wasn’t careful enough, I might have been dragged down to my doom in the waters below. Japan is a mysterious place.

Anyway, I got back to the parking lot and noticed a sign that said I was only supposed to go up to the fifth tunnel and then turn around because it wasn’t safe to keep going through all the others. Whoops! Well, they seemed safe enough to me. Must have been because of the kappa.

I got back in my car and checked my email, but there was no phone signal so I drove back a little ways and stopped at another place that looked interesting. Turns out it was a giant natural stone phallus next to a river. I suppose it was really quite impressive, but the sign said that the riverbed next to the stone (sort of a v-shaped trench, I’ll give you that) was supposed to represent the woman side of the spectrum (with a whole lot of talk about the importance of the yin and the yang). Well, I think that’s stretching it a bit, but the stone was a remarkable rendition. Apparently, they built a fertility shrine here (go figure) and couples go there when they want to have a baby. The only person I saw there was a young woman trying to walk a cat on a leash. She got about two meters from the car and then the cat lay down and refused to go anywhere.

Eventually, I did meet up with the girl that I met on the beach a couple of weekends ago (the one who taught me surfing) and we stood in the parking lot of Family Mart and chatted for a bit. I got to meet her boyfriend too, and he was a nice guy, but unfortunately this meant that I didn’t really get to chat with her very much. I’ve noticed this before with other guys, and I know I’ve done it too, but if I get introduced to a girl’s boyfriend, he’ll usually greet me in the secret way known only to guys that says, “Hi there, this is my girlfriend. Understand?” I’ll reveal the secret method now. The boyfriend approaches right away, a big toothy grin that stops just south of his nose and doesn’t match the cold appraising stare of his eyes. He sticks out his hand, makes a very jovial introduction, and then proceeds to apply as much pressure as possible into a friendly yet subtly menacing handshake. This handshake goes on much longer than any normal handshake, and we both size each other up, smiling and laughing but staring each other down. I understand this behavior very well, as I’ve done it myself, so I did my best to prove right away that I was not a threat and was not attempting to encroach upon anyone’s territory. What this all boils down to is that I spent the majority of the time talking with the boyfriend, rather than with the girl that I’d gone there to meet. Don’t look at her too long, don’t talk only to her, there are many rules to follow in making sure this first introduction goes smoothly. Ah well, she seemed to understand and when they left she said that she’d email me soon and she looked forward to the next time we could talk more leisurely. Is it possible she already understands this secret ritual of men? When they left, the boyfriend said to me, “I’m really glad I got to meet you.” Translated into normal English, this means, “I’m really glad you got to meet me.” I got the message. Anyway, seems like a nice enough guy. Now that we’ve got the first encounter out of the way, perhaps we can actually become friends too someday.

We had taiko drumming practice again on Thursday night. We learned three new patterns and it was a great rehearsal. I turned around at one point to find a giant spider clutching the screen of the window directly behind me. It was huge, literally the size of my palm. Bugs in Japan are enormous. I found a katydid the other day that was also about as big as my palm and the first time I went out to Tsuru Kirishima shrine there was an enormous praying mantis sitting on top of a doorsill that I was stooping to get under. Today I saw a bee that was so big I actually thought it was a small bird at first. Japan is a land of huge bugs. Fair warning.

Last night I went out with three of my male coworkers and ate horumon for the first time. Horumon is a word that is a contraction of the words “horu” (to throw out) and “mono” (things, objects). It’s basically the leftover meat that we normally don’t eat (the intestines, the stomach, the tongue, the heart, the liver, etc…). You order plates of raw meat and cook it yourself on top of a charcoal grill in the middle of your table. As the fats and oils drip onto the hot coals, flames shoot up out of the table, and smoke billows around your heads. It was actually quite delicious (but chewy) and one of my old friends from Pacific University once told me that he’d heard if you eat a lot of horumon you can speak more manly in Japanese. Eating things that are difficult to chew is supposed to strengthen your jaw muscles and make your speech style rougher and manlier. Woo, I hope so!

Okay, here’s another thing that surprises me about Japan. Nobody seems to use car seats for little children! Again and again, I’ve seen little kids standing up and running around inside of moving cars. They run up to the front of the car and start beating up on mom or dad (whoever is driving at that time) and then run back to the back of the car and peer out the back window at me (staring back dumbfounded). I had some other good things I thought about today, but I don’t remember them right now.

I went for a walk over by the river tonight and found a nice park and a path across a quiet hill. I walked along the railroad tracks for awhile and then padded through some nice quiet residential neighborhoods. Whenever I pass someone in the dark, I always like to say “Good evening” (in Japanese, of course) just to make sure they feel assured that this huge person walking by them is nothing to fear. I think maybe it actually has the opposite effect sometimes, though, because my voice is rather low and it could be quite unnerving to hear that coming suddenly out of the darkness. Ah well. Anyway, I started feeling kind of sick on the way back and was quite glad when I got home. A twenty minute walk when your stomach is rumbling can seem like an eternity.

I’ve figured out two of my life mottoes.

  1. Be here now.

  2. Find peace.

I really like the sound of those. Simple and to the point. Maybe I’ll put a poster up somewhere in my room to remind me every day. Maybe I’ll make some bumper stickers for my car. I haven’t really seen bumper stickers here, though. I wonder if it’s legal.

There’s a new seasonal Calpis available for a limited time. A premium blend of grapefruit juice and the finest milk.

I used my cover futon for the first time the other night. It is definitely cooling down and beginning to feel like fall.

One of the JETs down in one of the seaside villages had a serious accident when she fell off her bike while riding home drunk from a work party last week. She crashed into one of the deep ditches on the side of the road and knocked out a tooth among other injuries. One of my foreign friends showed up at my front door at 2AM to ask me to help translate for her over the phone. She was being interrogated by the police and they needed her story before they’d take her to the hospital. She doesn’t speak any Japanese and the police didn’t speak any English, so they weren’t getting anywhere. Luckily, just as I was getting on the phone to help out, the CIR from her city showed up and he was able to take care of things. I’m really glad, because interpreting over the phone is really hard. I hope she doesn’t get into too much trouble. It’s a serious offense to drink and drive, and I think the penalties are the same whether you were riding a bike or driving a car. I think she’s probably already suffered enough though. It sounds like she got pretty messed up from the crash.

My boss gave me some CDs to listen to recently of songs that are currently popular and being played on the radio or used in TV commercials. There was one song that I really didn’t like. Half the time, it’s a normal song, but the other half has the singer yelling things in a really angry voice. It’s vitriolic! It made me feel really tense and uneasy being yelled at like that. The strange thing is, though, the next day I found myself wanting to listen to it again. The more I listen to it, the more interesting it becomes. I don’t want to like it, but I’m starting to really appreciate what the artist was trying to do. The singer can actually sing quite nicely, and the contrast as he switches back and forth is really fascinating. The lyrics go really fast and I’m not sure I completely understand what he’s singing about, but I’ll look them up and then let you know what I find out. If it is how I think it is, this is actually a really brilliant song.

Another song that I’ve really been appreciating recently is a song by the girl band Stereopony. The song starts off (in Japanese) “I want to love. I want to love.” It’s a very upbeat and happy song. Yes, I too want to love.

Anyway, that’s all for now.


One comment

  1. I love the mottoes and the pictures. I want to live in rural Japan. It seems like the place to be. Keep it real, homie.

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