Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hearth and Home in Rural Japan

The rainy season has lifted and with it so has the occasional cool that torrential downpours brings. Now, it`s just hot.

mushi atsui means humid & hot in Japanese. When asked if Chicago is as hot as Japan I usually respond it is but that Japan is much more mushi. Because it is.

The rainy season not only provided much-appreciated cool breezes, it also woke up my yard. More accurately, it woke up the weeds in my yard.

I came to Japan in August of last year (almost my one year anniversary!). By that time the growing season was over and I had a yard scorched by the summer heat. I assumed the soil just didn`t grow plants well. I was wrong. For a month or so I lived in a jungle.

kusakari means to mow your lawn in Japanese. I know this because a couple junior high school students lost their ball in my yard one day after school and informed me that I needed to kusakari.

The task was daunting.

But when 13 year old boys recognize you have a messy yard, something has to be done.

I pulled weeds and cut weeds that were too big to pull and trimmed my tree that grows out into the street.

Well. Chalk taking care of a yard up as another reason I never want to own a house. It`s never-ending. Having weeded my yard two weeks ago it looks exactly like it did before I touched it.

Beggars can`t be choosers and so I am thankful for my beautiful house, but weeding my yard on mushi atsui weekends is not one of my favorite things to do in rural in Japan.

The advent of summer has brought more than just weeds to my humble home. So far I`ve had nothing short of an invasion at my doorsteps. There`s an ant colony outside my sliding glass doors, a wasp nest in the tree that needs trimming, and no less than six cockroaches have been kind enough to keep me company (four didn`t make it out alive but I may get a re-visit from the two that scampered away).

What with bugs and weeds and a lack of central air conditioning in my home I was beginning to feel a little down about my life in the inaka. I was pretty sure that whatever gaman (perseverance, force of will) I had left wasn`t enough to last me through too many more nightly fumigation rituals or morning trudges through my own personal jungle land.

But that`s the thing about rural (inaka) Japan, anyone could be your neighbor, at any regular moment on any ordinary day you can get a breath of fresh air.

For 4th of July I had a barbecue complete with a charcoal grill and red, white & blue cups and plates. A few friends stopped by and we tried to light our charcoal. Unsuccessfully. A middle-aged man walked into my driveway where the grill debacle was taking place, smiled and said konbanwa, good evening/hello.

Muttering something in Japanese that none of us knew, he came back shortly with cardboard and soon we were grilling kabobs and hot dogs and an incredible assortment of vegetables. "You`re an English teacher," our fire-starter asked in Japanese. We all are, I replied. "I`ve seen you on the train," he smiled.

Miki lives in the last house on my street. She is 24 years old. She`s dating an English teacher from Britain. We`ve rode the last train together from time to time. I always notice it because at ten past midnight it`s only our footsteps and the frogs in the rice fields making noise in my little neighborhood. I met her Tuesday night, coming home from dinner at a beer garden (all you can eat and drink places located on the rooftops of buildings). She was at the same place.

honto ni yoroshiku doesn`t have an exact English equivalent but what we meant when we said it to each other before parting company was, "It was great to meet you, I really hope to see you again."

I guess I can live with cockroaches if it is also means I have the privilege of chance encounters with my other neighbors.

yoroshiku rural Japan.