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The New Life: Not So Bad After All

Saturday, February 18, 2006
In the words of my lovely sister, "it's been over 2 weeks since you blogged. what the heck is going
on??" Well, for the whole first week of those two, nothing went on. I went to work, I came home, I didn't take any pictures, and there was nothing to write about. Last weekend I did some fun stuff, and every time I'd try to get some pictures together to post, I would do something else interesting, or take some pictures or something that would make me think that I should wait on the blog. Finally after five days in a row of taking pictures and having little adventures, I'm just going to cover last weekend.

Two weeks ago Mori, his girlfriend, and I had lunch together, and went for a drive. On that drive we spotted an old roof across an abandoned terraced rice field. We tried to figure out how to get over there, but decided that the 20 foot wall we'd have to climb down, coupled with muddy terraces was probably not a good idea for the purple suede boots Mori's girlfriend was wearing. We took a picture to commemorate our future destination, and agreed to come back.

You can see it over Mori's hand, and to the left a bit.

The next Saturday, after excellent Tokumori's Ramen, we picked up Mori's friend Akira and headed back to the building. We climbed down the wall, up some old stone walls, and then along a muddy narrow field. After a little while we reached a little hill and came up to our destination.

We battled our way through the bushes (Akira brought a mean looking Japanese machete/axe thing and he whacked away valiantly) and finally reached the side. It was boarded up, but the wood was old and we pulled the boards off the door.

Inside we found old rice-farming machinery, tillers and sowers and a machine for bagging rice. The place was a three room temporary home during harvesting season, the first room just a machine shed, but the second room was interesting. The floor was rotten and decaying tatami mats, soft and brittle with every step. The window was a hole in the wall, with some simple wooden bars. From the ceiling hung cardboard boxes full of cloth rice bags. In one corner a huge stack of bags woven from thick fibers sat covered in a layer of dust. Against the wall, under a white sheet was a machine for taking large amounts of rice and sorting it into 5kg bags.

On the wall, there were rows of writing that I couldn't read. Luckily I had a couple natives with me, and I found out that what I was seeing was annual rice harvest numbers, the first number being some 35 years ago, and the last 16 years ago.

The whole room was maybe seven feet square, with one tiny window, no electricity, no toilet, and not much else. I tried to imagine spending the night up on the side of the mountain, waking up before sunrise and picking rice out of the muddy fields. I couldn't. The whole thing is so alien to me, and yet with every day here it becomes a little less alien, a little more understandable.
I don't know that I'll ever know what working a rice field is like, but this little shack, with one room big enough for two futons didn't seem so crazy, it seemed like a place where some farmers might have had a pleasant time, playing mah-jongg or eating rice balls and talking about the weather before the next day's work. I don't think I would have seen that in this tiny dusty room six months ago, and that is something.

The things you find on an adventure.

The fields we walked along to get to and from the little house. Perhaps the busiest picture ever taken?

As we left the house the sun started to come out, and it became a lovely day. We sat on the edge of one of the paddies and looked at each other's pictures, picked thorns out of our gloves and clothes, and chatted. Mori was looking down into some bushes and spotted what looked like a kiwi. He jumped down, and sure enough, he and Akira found four kiwis. The question is obvious: How were they? Pictures tell the story better than words.

The answer - they were sour as hell, though Mori and Akira kept insisting that they were delicious.

That afternoon I took my Neko out for a little adventure in the neighborhood. She gets braver every time, and rather than try and coax her down the stairs, I have to follow her around.

One nice thing about following a little cat around your neighborhood, you find places you never knew existed, like the inside of a drainage ditch behind the neighbor's house.

I didn't expect to be sitting in a drainage ditch last Saturday, but it has made my knowledge of my neighborhood that much richer.

The next afternoon Mori called me up and asked me if I wanted to take pictures of some skateboarders at sunset. The sun was going down and so I grabbed my camera and met him outside. We headed to Nagashima and walked up the hill to the spot near the power lines where you can see the whole of the inland sea spread out in front of you. It was just Mori, his girlfriend, her friend, and I, so of course I took a picture of the sunset.

No laughing.

Suddenly there was a distant scratching rumble, and Mori said "Ah. Many skateboarders." From around the corner came five big guys and their boards, and I realized this was a team photo shoot. When you have become the designated photographer for a group of Japanese skateboarders, you know life is good.

The Circus, or at least most of it.

The sun went down and we sat around, they jumped their skateboards, made videos, took cell-phone pictures, and laughed. They took turns riding down the (steep) hill, finally deciding it was time to go and one by one, they quite literally rode off into the sunset. We drove home and I called it a day.