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Scootering and... Carring?

Sunday, February 26, 2006
I think I've finally gotten over the photo hangover from Thailand, and now I'm taking pictures every day again - and with it comes the constant scrambling to keep up with them here.

I was driving home from work a week and a half ago and was passing the bike parking area for Shiromizu ferry port. The sun was setting (of course!) right behind the stand, and the parked bikes were casting beautiful shadows through the marbled glass that you could only see when you were standing at a certain angle.

Come on, you didn't think I'd miss the chance for a sunset, did you? I see them almost every day, and I still love them. It makes me happy, so I'm going to keep taking the pictures.

The next day it started raining, and kept right on raining for four days. When the weather is just right here, The clouds come right down into the mountains, and it's beautiful, in a wet grey way. This used to be a real pain to photograph, as I only had a scooter, and I'd come home soaked. Now I have a car, which makes it really easy. I still get wet, but I can take breaks in the car when it starts coming down hard, and I've got the heater going. Driving around on the scooter taking pictures is Scootering, so what is this? Carring? I think so. Driving is going from point A to point B, but Carring is driving with no destination other than photography.

On my way home from work I took a turn I had never taken before.

I have no idea what that complex is. Some shrine or temple, I'd guess, but It always makes me happy to find these things on the island. There's something beautiful around every corner, and there are so many corners I haven't been around yet.

A little further down the same road. On days like this, it's not much of a stretch to see where the great Japanese printmakers got their inspiration.

Up ahead that road in the last picture was a dirt road that went off to the left. It was narrow and looked like a driveway, so I parked the car and went on foot. It was the road to someone's farm, and I didn't see any cars or people around, so I walked down it.

The farm.

The road twisted off into twisted trees and dark, dripping leaves, and I decided this was probably far enough. It's worth mentioning that this is what the island looks like in the middle of the coldest month of the year. It's not warm, but it doesn't get completely brown like New York does.

I got back in my car and drove along a windy mountain road, looking for something interesting. As I went higher I started going into the clouds, and things got hazy and surreal. Suddenly I came upon a decidedly strange development in the road.

The road was perfect - clean and new, the cliffs on each side held back with concrete, and then suddenly a raw rock wall. That was it. The asphalt was laid right against the rock. A little gravel path went off to the left. I figured there probably wasn't much traffic here, so I left the car and went up on foot. After a few minutes, I came across a guardrail sticking out into space, and another gravel ramp.

I walked up that ramp, and found something perplexing.

I'm standing on the beginning of this road. Behind me is blasted rock, gravel and dirt. Ahead is what appears to be a perfectly good road, blocked off by a sign that I can't read.

I decided I would try to see why the road was blocked. I stepped around the barricade and walked down the road.

The fog got thicker and thicker, and it started to rain. I walked for fifteen minutes. I walked past weeds growing through the surface of the road, and places where the cliff had crumbled a little down onto the road, but nothing to tell me why the road was closed. I'll go back some time with my scooter and ride the length of it and see what I find. It was all very strange and surreal, with the sound of birds and dripping leaves, but no cars, no engines, and just white cloud when I looked over the edge.

I've started a new schedule now that Megan is gone. Every other week I work her schedule. That brings my total up to seven schools, four elementary schools and three junior highs. It's kind of nice, because I got to do my self-intro all over again, and rather than feeling terrified and uncomfortable, I was used to Japanese school kids, I could translate into Japanese if they couldn't understand me, and I could understand a lot more of what they said. Megan was also holding out on me, because all of her schools have beautiful locations, whereas none of mine do. This is the road to Kinoe, where I now teach elementary and junior high.

I work there. That's crazy.

I took some time to take pictures of Kinoe Junior High.

This is the school building. I am perpetually running up those steps, one minute late for the teacher's meeting. By perpetually, I mean twice, but still. That's a big deal in Japan.

The view from the 3rd year's (9th grader) classroom, looking on to the sports field.

This is a Japanese classroom. Almost all Japanese classrooms are identical. Watch a Japanese movie or anime some time, and you'll see - they are just like this. They even all have the windows on the same side. This one is a problem for me to teach in though, because rather than pay attention, I just watch boats go by outside.

On the way home from Kinoe, I noticed a big bamboo forest. I decided I had passed by enough of them, I needed to walk in one. Another item checked off the list.

If there ever was something that resisted being photographed, a bamboo forest is it.

Except for looking straight up.

A bamboo forest is a surprising place. Bamboo's roots create toxic chemicals that prevent from anything but bamboo from growing. The ground is littered with fallen stalks that make hollow knocking sounds when you walk on them. Rather than a rustling of leaves, when the wind blows there's slow creaking and the sound of bamboo knocking on bamboo. It's quiet, but a different kind of quiet than a big leafy forest. It feels like a big empty space inside, like you're in the foundation of something because there are no leaves or branches anywhere. It's a pretty cool place, but not the sort of place I'd want to sit down and read a book.

Fast forward to today. I went into Takehara to get a haircut and after the haircut I was on my scooter, on the way back to the ferry port when I decided to take the road out of Takehara to see what I could find. I drove for about Ten minutes. I came to the strip-mall-ish part of Takehara, certainly not very beautiful.

This, incidentally, was my first view of Takehara when I first arrived. "This is Takehara." Megan said, and I thought "hmm."

Heading down this road a little further, I took a left and got off the main road. In about two minutes, I was here.

My favorite part of this area in Japan is how close the developed and the ultra-rural are to each other. I suppose it's the same in all of Japan, the most densely populated country in the world.

As I drove up this tiny road, heading up past little houses, taking little bridges over a swiftly running little stream, I got some strange looks. I suppose that it's pretty rare to see someone who doesn't live in this valley drive by, let alone an American on a scooter.

Every valley is populated and farmed. I've gone by so many of these on the bus or train, but I never bothered to actually drive into one. The land is different than on the island. I don't know what it is exactly that makes it feel different, but it does.

At the top I parked next to a farmer's car and was rewarded with a pretty spectacular view.

I sat down up here and watched the clouds go by and thought for a little while. This place is maybe an hour or an hour and a half from my house, door to door. It's beautiful, and it's exciting, and it's completely hidden from 99 percent of the people who visit Japan. How many places like this are there around me that I don't even know are there yet? How many moments of discovering something new and something thrilling? I sat up there and thought about how I constantly tell myself I should travel around Japan. I still think I should, but coming to places like this, places almost in my backyard, I need to do that too. It feels so much more satisfying for me to find these sorts of places than to be able to cross the ten famous cities of Japan off my list. Those places are full of people and a million people have seen the sights before. Who has seen the view from this farmer's driveway? Not a million people, I'd bet.