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Best Friends Ever?

Saturday, August 12, 2006
Well, the softer dreamier photos got firm "no thank you", so we're back to reality. I've been living down here with Graham for three days now, and yet my photos have not caught up to me moving down yet. Tonight, we remedy the problem.

So, on my last night I indulged in a bit of food:

First, a hellaciously huge steak - the beef here is so marbled with fat, Kobe style, that if you just cook it a little, and eat it still pink in the middle, it practically melts in your mouth. This giant steak is probably a quarter of the size of a big steak back home - the whole thing is less than half an inch thick.

After that, a big chunk of watermelon. As I finished the watermelon, Mori, his sister, and Satoshi showed up at my house for the last night of hanging out at my place. Upon seeing the watermelon, they decreed it was "too big" and "gaijin style" (foreigner style). I beg to differ.

So with a pretty big amount of cleaning left to do, and not a huge amount of time, I set about hanging out with Mori and co., burning CDs, listening to music, talking and playing with Neko.

When I mentioned how much cleaning I had to do, they did a funny thing. We kept sitting around for a few more minutes, and then Mori sat up and said "Ok, we clean with you." And just like that, Mori went from relaxed cat-player to cleaning machine.

This is the last thing you see before your house is cleaned in a flash of brilliant light.

Satoshi washed the dishes, sink, and stove while Mori swept and Hiroko vacuumed the bedroom.

I did the toilet, the shower, and the bathroom. You didn't think I stood around taking pictures, did you?

Rather than the four hours I had assumed, we were done in one. At around 1am we finished up, wiped the last bit of dust off the top of the fridge, and regrouped in my room.

Mori - perpetually on three or four hours of sleep, up at 5am the next day to haul in the nets.

After cleaning, Mori and Hiroko wrote messages on the inside flaps of the last box I shipped home. I wonder if I'll still be able to read them in two months when the boxes come.

I am a model for a company that carries boxes, or at least I was for a few moments.

The next day I was at the Board of Education office, getting ready to go pick up Dave at the airport, and I had my camera, so I decided it was high time to take some pictures. It has gotten to the point where no one even notices if I am pointing my camera around anymore. It is wonderful.

Except for Graham. He hasn't quite figured it out yet.

Tabo-san, my excellent boss. Ex-boss now, I suppose.

Futami-san, suffering from a stomach ache.

Off on the ferry to get Dave.

From there on, the day was incredibly busy and significantly less fun the second time around. Getting someone a new bank account, translating paperwork, and giving up the keys to your apartment are all much less exciting after you've done it once. At least I don't have to do it a third time.

That said, good news on the "awesome things I buy" front. Today, the stationary shop got my new custom hanko delivered from the manufacturer. A hanko, or inkan is the Japanese version of a signature. Here you use a stamp, in any number of shapes or sizes - with your name written in it. I have a crummy little one that I got when I arrived, but I craved a good one. Now I have one, with case.


So, that means from here on out (all of two posts, if that) I can sign my posts for real. The stamp says Benjamin Duchac no in (Benjamin Duchac's personal stamp). See you tomorrow, if I can make it.

It's A Wonderful Life

Thursday, August 10, 2006
A day late and with apologies, here I am. I am five days from leaving, and I am sharing Graham's apartment at the moment. I am trying to make the most of every moment of every day, and in that regard I think I have been successful. This means far more photos than I know what to do with, so I think I will up the pace here. I will try to do a post every day that I have some time, so keep an eye on here tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday as well. I am not sure about Monday, and Tuesday will almost certainly be taken up with final packing and disassembling my computer. When I lay it out like that, it really feels like I don't have any time at all. I get the feeling that Ben In Japan will be completed from New York.

A couple things. I recently worked out a technique in Photoshop that makes almost any photo look great, with just a couple easy steps. I have been struggling with this technique, because it is too easy. With thirty seconds of effort, I can do something that used to take me five or ten minutes, and it looks better the short way. I struggle with it also because it gives everything a warm, soft look - generally when I edit my pictures, I work to make the image look like the image in my memory. This effect is not necessarily like what I remember, things are almost too beautiful. I struggle because I can't decide what is more important - a photo that is as close as I can come to what I saw, or a truly beautiful photo. Recently beauty has been winning out by a little, but with it comes tremendous bouts of guilt. Look at the photos here and tell me what you think. About half of them use the new technique in a mild way.

So this is a post about a pretty typical post-work day, waking up early and going to do some various things, and then getting a call from Mori around 11 asking if I want to go diving. I always want to go diving, and when I ask Mori when, he always says "from NOW" and so I grab all my gear and drive over to the boat, fins balanced on the scooter seat, snorkel and mask in the basket, and camera over my shoulder. I inevitably beat Mori to the boat, scooter back to his house, and find him getting ready. On this particular day we were going with Mori's friend Satoshi, Hiroko, and Ron the dog.

Passing the ferry. We all waved as it slipped by.

The Nakamuras.

We got to the spot, and got to work. After about an hour the current was getting so strong that you had to swim hard diagonally down just to hit the right spot on the bottom, and then you had to hang on to rocks in order to not get swept away. On the surface you had to do a slow crawl jus to stay in place, and I was exhausted without even doing the fifteen or twenty foot dives to look for sazae. I finally gave up and climbed out, and went up the rocks to see where we were. It turned out that we were in the most beautiful place imaginable.

Hiroko is out in the tube, Satoshi is in the boat, and that ring of ripples in the middle is Mori who just dove. I love this picture because it looks like we own the place, like it's our own private swimming pool. We didn't own it, but it certainly felt like we did.

Mori, giving up. The bag of sazae is tied to that float.

Remind me again, why I am coming home to a place where I don't have the inland sea right at my door?

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mori. I have many of those, but in this post, there are a couple really good ones, if you ask me.

Also good of Satoshi.

Randomly, while we were sitting: Fighter planes!

So, after we stayed there for a while, we decided to head home, but with a stop along the way - Maru's grave. Remember, Maru is the Nakamura's dog that died a couple months ago - they buried him on an isolated beach near the harbor, and so we went.

That stone marks the grave. Hiroko, who really loved Maru went up to the grave and put her hand on the sand and said "Sashiburi ne, Maru-chan" - "Hi Maru, it's been a while, hasn't it?" It was a touching little gesture, another little window into real Japanese life opening up.

Mori, lighting a cigarette and putting it in the sand. Hiroko said something along the lines of "Maru didn't smoke!" - but Mori had a straight face on, so I think it was a serious moment between the two of them.

We sat on the beach, it was a beautiful spot, with a little breeze and shade from overhanging trees. I found a giant beetle floating in the water and let it go into the trees.

If only all graves could be so beautiful.

Time to go - you can see where Mori and Hiroko petted the sand while talking quietly to Maru.

After diving is another ritual, the hosing off in front of the Fishing Nakamura shop. The hose water is cool, but not cold, and it's really nice to cool down and sit in the shade after a long day of diving. Inevitably Mori's mother comes out to see what we caught, and someone takes off all their clothes and changes in the middle of the street. That day, Ron had tried some swimming, so he got a thorough bath too.

Another new favorite of Mori.

Satoshi, hosing Mori off. Graham saw this picture and said "not to sound like an idiot, but what the hell is going on in that picture?"

Mori's mom, laughing at something.

And so it goes - diving, coming back, rinsing off, heading home to dry off and shake the water out of my ears - and then the next day, we're at it again. This photo is another new favorite of mine, Satoshi took it.

The Last Post From My Apartment

Monday, August 07, 2006
There have been so many lasts by now that I feel numb to them. I am done with all manner of school, work, and most of my packing. I have gone most places for the last time, I have done most of the things I love for the last time, and now it's a fast sprint to the finish, where I would much rather a slow easy walk. I've finished most everything that I was ready to finish, but as the time comes to ride the ferry for the last time, go fishing for the last time, ride the scooter for the last time, and say goodbye to Mori, I don't know how well that is going to go. For now I am doing as much as I can every day, and while I am tired and busy, I am also happy. I'll just jump into it.

I've been diving (moguro) almost every day. Every day I get better, and every day I see something new and beautiful down fifteen feet below the surface. It's full summer weather here, Hazy and still every day, which makes for some beautiful views out on the water.

My trusty captain.

On Friday, when I was not writing a blog update, I was in Hiroshima for a Peace Walk. The 6th was the 51st anniversary of the bombing, and the weekend is always full of activities. This year the march was on the 4th, speeches on the 5th, and the lantern-floating ceremonies were on the 6th. Mori invited me to come along with him and Fumiko, his girlfriend. We actually headed in right after diving, about an hour after the pictures up there were taken. We got to Hiroshima and made our way to the staging area, and found the group we were to walk with.

This picture does not capture how phenomenally hot it was. We stood in the sun, dripping sweat and no shade in sight.

Once we got under way, the chants started. Someone up in the front of our group would shout something into a megaphone, and then all the marchers would repeat it. By and large, I could understand what they were saying, it was along the lines of "No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki!" "No more war!" and so on. Then came one that I wasn't sure I understood until I heard it a second time. It was definitely talking about America and American people, but I didn't know the verb. I asked Mori, and with a very embarrassed face, he told me that it was saying "America, get out of Japan!" Oops. He quickly explained that though it wasn't explicit, it was referring to the military. None the less, every time the shouted that one, I just apologized.

This was the tamest march for anything I have ever seen, and yet the police presence was enormous.

As you can see, Mori takes peace very seriously. That guy in front of Mori is really incredibly thin.

Through a tunnel and across the finish.

After the walk, we got a speech by a sweaty man in a funny hat.

Looking back through the tunnel.

After the march, Mori had to go move the car, so Fumiko and I went to wait for him in a coffee shop. It took him about 20 minutes, and we had our dinks and chatted about things - life in Japan, Mori, fashion, girls, what have you. I do it every day, but I am still happily surprised with myself every time I am able to communicate more than just hello and good bye in Japanese. It was fun, sitting in that coffee shop, waiting for Mori, talking and laughing. It felt natural, comfortable. It felt about a thousand times better than any of the times I have ever been in Hiroshima with groups of loud and poorly-dressed English teachers. While it made me sad to be leaving, it also made me happy to be able to be there, doing new things and having new experiences so close to my departure.


Mori showed up.

That was about it. I don't remember what we did after that, some shopping here and there, and then it was time for dinner. We picked up Mori's friend Tsukasa and went to a sushi place.

A conveyor belt sushi place.

I've been to a lot of conveyor belt sushis before, but this one was by far and away the best. The stuff was far and away the best sushi I have ever had. Horse, abalone, otoro (fatty tuna stomach), sea urchin, and all manner of fish - and every bite delicious.

Tell me if that does not look like the single most delicious piece of unagi sushi you have ever seen.

The line of customers, all looking to see what comes down the line. Conveyor belt sushi is like getting your luggage off the baggage claim at an airport, except no one owns any of the luggage until it comes off the belt, and everyone tries to take the best looking suitcase.

That night, Mori and I stayed with Tsukasa, who is a carpenter in Hiroshima. We stayed up and listened to new music on Mori's computer.

Mori and Tsukasa.

Tsukasa had work at around 5:30 in the morning, so he headed out and Mori and I slept until about 8:30. Then we had that morning when you wake up in a house that is not yours, you haven't slept well, and you just feel like your body is not quite with your mind just yet.

Walking out was kind of surprise. We had arrived at night, so I hadn't seen the outside before.

That is not what I am used to in the morning. Nice - but not what I am used to.

And that was about it. I met up with Graham on Saturday and we did some shopping for things. When I am doing things other than sightseeing in Hiroshima, I don't take any pictures. I took maybe five all day, and nothing terribly fantastic. Come about 4:00, we headed home.

We stopped at a 7-11 in Akitsu to get some dinner, and also because Mori wanted to show me a really great spot for skateboarding. I obviously took a picture, which came out nicely.

And then that was really it for my time in Hiroshima.

My remen (pronounced "lay-men") dinner - so delicious, especially in summer.

And Mori set out to take some pictures with my camera. He succeeded in taking a perfect ending shot for this post.

On Wednesday, I am moving my computer downstairs because Dave is arriving from Tokyo, completing the set of new teachers. I will make a valiant effort to update, but you know how these things go.