Mino City, Japan
Some people don’t gravitate towards cities. There is no problem with that, but the way the world is evolving, younger generations don’t have much choice but to go into cities for work. Tokyo personifies this reality. Japanese generally do not leave their hometown to live somewhere else unless they have to. Tokyo consists of such a huge ratio of the population of Japan, and most of them are from other areas. Its population is larger than many countries.
The best thing about Japan is -while they do have mega cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe- they have been able to maintain the integrity of their smaller town living. I was able to find work in Japanese suburbia. Wednesdays were long days:
The sun wakes me everyday. I leave the curtains open for this purpose. Waking up and hearing the birds sing in the morning excites me. It prepares me for the day like the music sets up a baseball player when he steps to the plate. It’s a popular sport in Japan. I’m terrible at it.
I have an early start today. My first class isn’t until 10AM, but it’s a long drive to get to Mino City, where I’ll be working all day. Mino is famous for it’s thick, strong paper. During the war, Mino City’s contribution to the effort of Imperialist Japan was to donate hot air balloons made of this paper. They were sent across the Pacific Ocean following the air stream to land in America with bombs as Explosive Air Balloons. The world’s first drones.
I woke up early enough to be in no rush. Fold up my futon and store it in the closet. There’s a release in putting your bed away after you wake up. Once it’s out of sight, it doesn’t beg me to return to the harmony of lacking consciousness. I sit on the tatami floor cross-legged and meditate. Both my ability to sit cross-legged and the quality of my meditation have improved since I’ve come to Japan. I fear that won’t last once I leave.
I can hear the neighbors moving around, getting their kids ready for school. The homes are separate, but they’re so close together and the frames are so thin they might as well be attached. At 8AM everyday, when my neighbors vacuum, I hear it. When one neighbor plays his music, I hear it. When the baby cries across the street, I hear it loud and clear. It’s a violent, screaming cry. Part of me is genuinely concerned.
The morning classes at Shimomaki Kindergarten are short. I often question their relevance. I spend ten minutes with the youngest class. Three and four year olds. They’re adorable. But, it’s hardly enough time to say hello, review the letter A, and teach them B. Teaching children is not my forte. I feel like a clown singing songs and trying to make the alphabet interesting. Hina, one of the youngest students, makes it easier when we review colors. She says each one with her voice in a mouse-like standard matching her miniscule frame, until we reach, “PIIINK!” It is a scream of such excitement that it borders anger. I review colors most days.
It is called Mino City, but that’s an exaggeration. Mino deserves the title of village, at best. Long one-way streets run parallel to each other with narrow side streets connecting. Old-fashioned Japanese buildings line each side. These are not the same architecture of my house. The walls of these buildings are thick and built for insulation.
There are businesses on the streets, but many of them are closed on Wednesday. It’s hard to recognize the ones that are open. They don’t boast about their business. They blend in with the rest of the buildings like regular homes. The only ones that stand out have signs in front. Even they may not be open. The sliding doors are closed and the lights are always dim. One can’t be sure if they are doing business until trying to open the door and poking a head inside.
I go to a café I visit almost every Wednesday on break. Despite my frequent visits, the owner, Ami, is always surprised to see me, or pretends to be. She takes her excitement over the top sometimes, but it makes me feel cared about. Her baking is great, but it’s expensive. I wouldn’t come back if not for her personality and joy in seeing me.
“Ahhhh!” Japanese have many sounds they use to display emotions. This one rises in pitch and is elongated to show interest in something. In this case, me, so that’s nice.
“Ami! Konni chi wa!”
“Doozo, doozo,” a phrase used like please to extend an invitation. Her English is not great, but my Japanese is no better. “Today . . . class . . .”
I nod and think, of course I have class today, Ami, you know that.
“Time is when?”
“. . .ahnoooo” Thinking.
“Ah! Gomen nasai.” I apologize. “San ji yon-jiu pun.” 3:40.
“Ahhhh!” Pretty much the same sound, this time indicating excitement or understanding. It might be more accurate to say Japanese have a few sounds that mean a bunch of different things. Signals get crossed.
A dirt road passes through the forest by the river. I park my car here and spend the rest of my break reading. The water is clear as I’ve ever seen, but also displays a deep blue. It’s a strange trick of light that I don’t mind not understanding. I can see the main road across the river with cars passing by. But, there is nobody here. Nothing but birds, trees, fresh air, and the sound of the running water.
This is a moment in which I appreciate Tokyo a little more for attracting the filth of people carry with them and keeping it away from here. Mankind has created marvels but it’s too often results in a combination of bright lights and loud noises. I can appreciate a city for a short time, but it seems that the best of things are found where people are not.
Actions of most men and women are reactions to pressure, impulse, desires, and greed. There is too much reacting and too little collaboration. It’s a dangerous combination when we pretend we are alone as individuals, grouped into families, divided by race, religion, nationalities, and even separate from the world that supports us. People always make this and that where there is really just an IT.
On my way home, driving through the fields that are dark now I feel myself not ready to end the day. I go to a batting cage. There are many of these in Japan. I stand in the netted area with the lights illuminating the pitching machines and the slanted surface in front of me. 40 pitches. The first flies by me and I don’t even swing. Whoa, that was fast. The arm of the machine comes around again and delivers the next pitch. I swing, but the ball still hits the stopper behind me. Okay, I need to be a little earlier. I adjust, but the third pitch shoots straight up into the net above me and falls at my feet.
I see ten to fifteen pitches before I make decent contact. I hit a few straight back at the pitching machine, some bounce off the ground with pace and a couple feel good, but probably are foul balls. I don’t know how many pitches are left now, but the machine is still moving. I watch the arm, spot the release, lift my foot, step into the swing. My waist twists and the bat comes around my body. I feel contact. The ball jumps out in front of me, the pitcher looks up watching the ball fly above him. The outfielder moves back, keeps his eye on the flight of the ball, but this isn’t coming down. Homerun! And it was beautiful to watch. That’s what happens when everything functions in accordance. I swing without making contact on the final two pitches.