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There's a Beach Here, and More

Monday, December 12, 2005
It's been a while, and I've had a cold. There's actually a direct relationship between if I have a cold, and if I update this blog. Luckily, even with hana mizu (literally: "nose water") I can still hold the camera, and I do. I just get lazy in the evenings. Still sick, but the photos are piling up and so this may be short on words. Let's see how it goes.

It's no secret that the Japanese educational system functions primarily through repetition. The teachers say something, the class repeats. I ask the class how they are, and they say "how are you?" back. We can go on like this forever. It turns out that they learn more than basic subject through repetition. I've been to a number of festivals since I got here. They all center around some cultural event, boats crashing or temples crashing or some other thing, but the festivals all have a lot of similarities. The same games of chance are always there, the same food stands, the same paper lanterns, the fireworks, it all has a familiarity to it. Each festival repeats after the last, like a class of Japanese children.

It all has to start somewhere, and I found out where. On Monday I spent the day at Nishino elementary, and in the afternoon, the first and second graders had a mock fall festival. Bags of fake money were given out, a kindergarten from down the road came in their strange dusty Robin's egg blue uniforms and a festival was had. There was a girl selling "drinks" (water with food coloring). There was a museum, where you paid 200 fake yen admission, then you perused the paintings of fall leaves by the students. There was bowling, there was a clothes shop run by two girls, all the clothes made of garbage bags. On the surface it was ridiculous, but under the hood these kids were learning how to have a festival. I've seen junior high kids manning stalls at small festivals, working a food stand for real money, and now I realize it was just the continuation of the lesson. These kids learn through repetition over the years, and then when they are old enough, they will run the yaki soba stand, the goldfish catching stand, the tako yaki stand.

Students in newly purchased garbage bag clothes play a game of terrifying complexity. The booth operator was seven, and yet I stayed away for fear of not knowing how to play.

Kindergarteners line up for bowling.

The "reach in a box while a girl in a funny hat translates the card you just pulled out into a prize" game. I played this one, and after nearly getting my hand stuck in the box, I pulled out a card with a Japanese word on it. The girl looked at my card, burst into hysterical laughter, and gave me no prize.

The latest in fake fall festival attire. I like this picture.

Scandal! The girl on the left is Ana-chan, she's a sixth grader. The boy she's walking with is Kodai-kun. She's a sixth grader, and the prettiest of the school's 28 students. Yes, the school. Kodai is a fourth grader, and a problem child. The other day we were making Christmas cards in the 5th and 6th grade class, and I peeked at Ana's card and saw that it was addressed to Kodai. I said "Kodai?" and she shrieked and slammed the card closed. I'll keep the blogosphere posted.

The principal on the left, and the assistant principal.

I pointed the camera at this kid, but I might as well have pointed a gun considering his reaction.

Yuto-kun manning the museum booth. He really drove home what the point of this festival was. Hanging out at the table with a couple buddies, he casually took money and gave out tickets, never seeming to care much for his job, but never missing a sale. For a time he chewed a toothpick.

Some of the clothes didn't fit the kindergarteners so well.

The weather's been changing here. Today it snowed a couple flakes, but what's really changed is the air. It's crystal clear, with fast moving clouds and a stiff cold wind. It's beautiful and so I have been going out to take pictures after work, and I get off at around sunset, so that means more sunset pictures. Stop complaining, when I get back I'll be able to open a postcard company and you won't.

From Nagashima bridge, early last week.

And another, looking towards Mihara.

Last Friday I was at Nishino again, and it occurred to me that Okushi beach, where I had gone swimming a few times early in my time here was just nearby and I hadn't gone that was in a long time. I got off a little early and headed in the direction of the beach. Of course on my way there I saw things that made me take a lengthy detour. Across a rice field, behind a clump of low houses, a single hill, covered with a thick cluster of grave markers. I made my way across the rice field, down someone's driveway where I left my scooter, and then on foot up a winding path.

At the top it was as dramatic and beautiful as I could have hoped.

Okushi is in a bit of unique geography, the jutting rock and mountains stop maybe a half mile back from the beach and it's flat. I suppose that at some point it must have been filled in. It's odd to drive these windy twisting mountain roads and suddenly come to perfectly flat fields.

The old and the new.

The ever-present Island PA systems. Every news announcement is made via loudspeaker and some guy whose voice I know well. Literally, he is the town crier. We hear when people are born, when people die, when the ferries are stopped, when the island's teams are victorious, when typhoons are coming. It's certainly not peaceful when he makes his 7am daily announcement, but it is kind of neat.

I did finally make my way to the beach, where I found all manner of things washed up. I was walking down past some cliffs when I saw the shape of a bone. Then I looked more closely. How many bones can you see? I count 29.

And another 19.

As I puzzled over this, I looked to my left a bit to see if I could find anymore, or a bone that would identify the animal they came from. I saw a few more bones, and then I saw something that caused me to exclaim out loud, alone on that cold windy beach.

Someone's skin! Turns out it was an inoshishi, or wild pig. I've heard that inoshishi are quite small, and there were a lot of bones around. Certainly far more than one animal could provide, my active imagination said. I began to feel like the knight at the entrance to the cave, sculls and empty shells of armor strewn about. A little less danger than the knight felt, perhaps, but I felt like maybe this was something else's turf. I looked around a little more.

And then, next to my size 12 footprint, I saw some rather larger than normal tracks. Now I realize that these could be a dog, domestic and gentle, but what fun is that? Clearly, there are large vicious predators on this island, who leave piles of scoured bones just a few hundred yards north of Okushi beach. Awesome.

Speaking of vicious predators, my predator has met her match in the mid-size Amazon.com box.

Well, now I know how I will get her home to the States.

She didn't like that idea, she's keeping an eye on me now.

We're all caught up. Yesterday I went Christmas shopping. As the ferry pulled out, the sun broke through a little patch in the clouds, and everything was lit with a sharp, clear, steely gray.

The day turned out to be something of a transportation nightmare, I didn't make it to Fukuyama, and every connection was missed, so I ended up in Mihara. I did the shopping I needed to do, and while it may have been frustrating, I should have taken a moment while I took this picture at Takehara station to realize that this is my commuter rail, through the small towns and mountains of Japan, this is where I'm going Christmas shopping for all the great people at home. This is what I see when I leave my house, and it feels more comfortable every day. I'm pretty lucky, and this is why.