34 days remaining
A parcel from Scotland. Hobnobs! Chocolate! PROPER Chocolate! A postcard, handwritten. From Inverness, Scotland to a small farm 25km from 日絵lふlか. Thing is, we never used to buy Hobnobs. But now we will. Oh, yes, forever shall the humble Hobnob be saturated with memory and meaning. Friends, be warned. Should you ever, in future, have the misfortune of us coming to stay. And you offer a Hobnob with a good ole British Cuppa tea. Expect a long story about a parcel delivery & Dairy Farm to follow. Akash, Morag, and Kiran… we bless you, and we pray that you shall forever be protected from the curse of Cow #3.
33 days remaining
Third or fourth consecutive day of rain. Zero Celsius and rain. June. ‘Summer’. A sneaky Hobnob with morning tea and, hey presto…we’re back ‘hame’.
Huge excitement during a school visit today (17 staff for 20 pupils). Sam & Joe enjoying their first decent THUNDERSTORM. Nothing like some thunder & lightening to liven a classroom. Then back to the farm for a thirty minute siesta before the afternoon Milking.
MISSING BOY STORY: In the local newspaper there has been a story of a little boy whose parents left him on the side of the road as ‘punishment’ for throwing stones at cars during a family excursion. Our experience has been of bairns being treated as ‘little emperors’. Groups of teenagers mock us, “HERRO HERRO” as we cycle past. No boundaries. Children. Throwing stones at cars. Not so surprising for us. It’s been raining for days on end, and cold too. Sam, Joe, Mum, Dad…This story has captured us all. Once upon a time, in a deep dark forest…only its real.
Tomorrow, for the first time in seven days, we will leave the ‘safety of the farm’ and cycle 25km to the nearest town. Snack stores running low (lack of autonomy over food a challenging part of WWOOFING). Need to screenshot some English language news to savour later. Check the weather forecast.
32 days remaining
Managed 6km of planned 50km today. Rain. Cold. Miserable. Good fortune that we are WWOOFING, not cycle touring during this prolonged period of low pressure bringing some Siberia to Hokkaido. Thankfully The Milking Shed is accessed under cover, directly from the farmhouse. An important design feature for a place that gets six months of winter, averaging 2m of snow, and where minus 30 Celsius not uncommon.
Saturday today, and a neighbour visited. Five children. Ten children (including two wee scots laddies) running around the farm. Piano playing, guitars. Rice bowls and chopsticks. Loading the fire. Smiling. “In Scotolando we also…”. Bore the poor people with photos of Torphins, Shetland, Orkney. Home. How we miss it.
MISSING BOY STORY: in the local paper today, a picture of twenty people, grouped together, covering the same ground: The Search Party. Straight through the bush. Joe asks me why the little boy didn’t stay on the road? The photo of a mass search party illustrates a cultural theme here (as we see it). Related to cleanliness. GUIDE TO JAPANESE ETIQUETTE (in English!) informs how clean the ‘Japanese’ are. In the Hot Spring ONSEN, scrub yourself raw. Make a point of showing it. Every house we cycle past has clothes hanging to dry: look at us, we are clean. Show it. We are clean. But away from the eyes-of-others: different story. COMPLETELY. Standards to shock the most relaxed. Soap sales are down. Kitchen sinks doubling for toilet hand washing. Standard practice.
31 days remaining:
Sunday! Heidi swapped The Milking Shed for the kitchen to give Rie-San a morning off to practice piano for church. Cinnamon Rolls & Porridge. Wild nettle & garlic rolls too. The GUIDE TO JAPANESE ETIQUETTE (in English!) tells us Moderation is the Japanese way (ubiquitous Pachinko gambling parlours?). When it comes to food, however, Moderation with Rice & Miso soup is one thing. Moderation with freshly baked cinnamon rolls (or bread generally) is another matter ALL TOGETHER.
Rain has stopped. Yesterday’s 美深 town visit enjoyed today. Satoshi-San and his son Youta-chan joined us for the 50km round trip. The route along the river was fair bonny. Mixed forest, clear rivers, waterfalls. Piercing blue skies. But stop to admire and face killer wee beasties! (not that wee, mind). First internet in 7 days! Standing in a 7Eleven convenience store violating goodness knows how many GUIDE TO JAPANESE ETIQUETTE (in English!) rules, we made contact with The World for about 15 glorious minutes. We miss you all so very much.
MISSING BOY STORY: He’s been found! Miraculously in an army shelter. So, apparently after his OTT discipline, the boy walked about five km (on paths), scaled a gate or fence and entered a huge army shelter. All that searching off the path needless. Our Joe was on the money, “Dad, why did the boy leave the path?”. Apparently a seven yr old, believing his been abandoned, who throws stones at cars, ignored a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign and walked through a gate into an army compound. The Search Party, on the other hand, obeyed the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign and the rest is history…Yup…A huge deal made about how composed he was on his rescue…yup… After all, the GUIDE TO JAPANESE ETIQUETTE (in English!) tells us the Japanese are composed lot. The myths and lies we tell ourselves.
Some anecdotes from books we found.
In Alan Booth’s account of walking 2000 miles through Japan, he tells of being in a bar with one other Japanese man. The man, thinking Alan doesn’t understand Japanese tells the barman, ‘look, here is a funny foreigner. Hah hah’. Alan, not his first experience of this, replies, ‘I’m not a funny foreigner. I’m an ordinary foreigner’. A pathetic flow of humble apologies and gifts follows.
Another time, looking for somewhere to stay a policeman phones a hotel on his behalf. Alan hears the policeman assuring the manager that chopsticks won’t pose a problem, nor will eating fish. The policeman puts down the phone, smiles, shakes his head apologetically, and tells Alan the hotel is full. Anecdotes from thirty years ago. Could’ve been yesterday.
A final anecdote from Alan’s book which sums up so many of our experiences to date. Alan is tired, it’s raining, he sees a brightly lit hotel in the distance. Arrives, knocks on the door. Man answered, smiles, tells Alan, “Closed”.
“But you’ve got a sign all lit up down on the highway.”…”Yes. We always keep it lit.”…”What for, for goodness sake?”…”To make people feel welcome.”…”But you’re closed!”…”That’s right.”…Which was probably the most quintessentially Oriental conversation of the entire trip.
Tomorrow is our last day on the Dairy Farm. It will probably also be our last WWOOF. We want this farm and family experience to be our last enduring memory of WWOOFING in Japan.
30 days remaining
The cow grazing field is separated from the Milking Shed by a quiet road. Following OPERATION CLEAN UP, Satoshi-San and I patrol the road. 15 of 33 cows cross at COW SPEED. COW #3 half crosses and begins munching roadside verge grass. A nightmare Cow traffic jam. Gridlock in Hokkaido. Eventually MAN gets 33 cows onto the field. Satoshi-San tells me , “watch, they decide now whether to stay this field or cross river other field today”. I watch, gripped. Will they, won’t they. A river crossing looking likely. A loose grouping meandering that way. All except… COW #3
Last night was our last. A new WWOOFER has arrived. A remarkable man 20yr old from Minneapolis. Composed, moderate, polite, confident. A perfect example of a Japanese person described in the GUIDE TO JAPANESE ETIQUETTE (in English!). Meanwhile, the rest of us ate, drank wine, talked loudly (waking the kids) and laughed until the tears rolled.
Tomorrow we head NORTH NORTH. The most Northerly point of Japan. Then to two islands described in Lonely Planet as Hokkaido’s wild frontier. Considering what we’ve seen so far, that’s quite a thought. The islands have volcanoes, wild flowers and no bears…