Here I am in Japan. It’s a crazy old place, and fits so many of my images of the place, as well as throwing up so many exciting twists and changes.
I’ve been finding it difficult to get round to writing things here, and I think that’s because there’s just so much to say alongside absolutely no new writing. So I’ve decided to take a stab at getting some of the thoughts down, and hopefully the creative writing will show up soon…
Now for my first short list of things that surprise (or surprised) me here:
Japan Facts I
1) Everyone has black hair.Of course they do, you say. And of course, there’s the occasional greyed head or dyed head, but to actually walk the streets and see everyone belonging to a club that you don’t is a bit strange. Kim (the only other English teacher in my University) pointed out to me during our first supermarket shop that we were getting stared at by locals. She’d been to Japan three times before, but always to big tourist destinations. We stand out a bit, and now that she’s mentioned it, I notice the stares. In fact, while walking up the street, a pair of school girls were cycling past – one of them kind of stared, and didn’t notice that her bike was steering straight into a big row of bikes. Cue scream, collision, and bicycle dominoes. Actually quite funny.
2) There’s more English writing (Roma-ji) on signs/products than I’d thought. But less than I’d hoped. Shopping is still an exciting adventure. And every student at the uni has at least three T-Shirts with random English words on them, with is a never-ending pleasure to read.
3) Little block-shaped cars. I’m actually really impressed with them, because they were clearly designed to be super cheap, and not have a huge top speed, but be ultra convenient and useful for normal city life with a family of up to five. They look really light, probably don’t consume much petrol, and I bet every part was made in Japan. It’s got to be the most sensible and environmentally friendly car just for that.
4) Little waterways. Everywhere. They’re lovely. I’m in a big rice-growing area, so all the paddy fields are filled with water, and tiered so they can drain water down to the next. Blocks in the pavement have little gaps in them, and people sweep their driveways into the gaps, which go down to a little running water system that eventually leads to a thingy that pushes the water uphill, then down into the river. Possibly with filters, I don’t know. Never any problems with snow water or heavy rainfall. Functional. Look nice.
5) All the fish are different. All of them. I want to cook fish, but I’m a bit scared. Sure, Spain had some different ones, and I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t try cookin’ ’em. I’ve got the one that looked most like one I recognised in the fridge for tomorrow’s dinner. Wish me luck.
To finish off with a little poetry, I have bought myself a copy of the travel sketches and haikus of Matsuo Basho. He’s possibly the most famous haiku writer, who came up with this one:
Breaking the silence
of an ancient pond,
a frog jumped into water –
a deep resonance.
(obviously it’s five-seven-five in Japanese).
The intro to the book has a background to the story of how the haiku developed. I’ve not got far with the book, but I was interested in the predecessor to the haiku, the waka. It has a haiku part, and a couplet of 2 seven syllable lines, and either one can go first. Here’s an example, again in translation:
It has passed midnight,
I no longer wait for you,
Pining for sorrow.
Oh, dear, I overslept,
Wanting to see you in the dream.
Hopefully at some point in the future, I’ll get back to composing some works of my own.
Next time, why the Spanish and the Japanese are like opposite ends of so many scales.