Thursday, July 15, 2010


Part three of August 28, 1990.

Hanazaki-san (and Iso-san our driver from the OBOE) and I leave the outdoor fishy restaurant to visit an old house. I'm told it's 100 years old - which sounds quite old, but in retrospect, here in Japan (my previous house in Canada was 114 when I moved) it's not. What it is, however, is a fine example of a death trap.
It's made completely of wood, has dried grass tatami mat flooring (which I have in my bedroom in my Ohtawara apartment) and it all looks like it would go up in a second should anyone drop a live ash on it - a distinct possibility in this country.
In the kitchen--a dirt floor--there is a section for farm implements: grinding machines to separate rice and wheat properly (seed from husk). There's also a grass coat which I was told was a rain coat - it looked pretty itchy.
There was also a three-foot long stick with five two-inch branches on the end that looked like my drawing below.
Apparently it's a washing machine attachment - sort of. It's used to turn the clothes when immersed in the nearby Nake Gawa (Naka River).
Beside the house is a souvenir shop and restaurant. While Hanazaki-san orders us some soba (cold noodles made from buckwheat and wheat flour that the eater dips in a cold broth), I check out the antique utensils. It reminds me that I need to buy Ashley a kettle so that she wouldn't need to use a big pot to heat up a cup of tea and her entire apartment... it's something that sucks during the 30C +  summers, but how cold does it get here in Ohtawara in the winter? I guess I'll find out, because I didn't bring any sweaters.
Although I just ate five ayu (Japanese sweetfish), I eat all of my soba - and don't find it filling. We eat a bowl of ice cream each - vanilla for Iso-san, O-cha (green tea) for Hanazaki-san, and pumpkin (??!!) for me. Apparently I didn't learn this for years, but pumpkin implies "squash" not the big orange Halloween decoration. Squash ice cream? It was tasty, believe it or not.
I had no idea at the time, but I was lactose intolerant and had some nice cramps for the next few hours (or it was that time of the month for me?).
Next we visited the Kurobane prison. There are two buildings side by side - one is three stories, the other four. The entire building is maybe 15-feet deep and 300-feet long. Plus there's a gun tower! My view of this prison is NOT what it looks like in 2010, as it is now a lot bigger with a capacity for about 1700 prisoners.

Here's my drawing of the 1990 version:
Unfortunately, we don't go inside for a better look, but we do visit the gift shop where all of the things inside are built by the prisoners: bureaus, tables, chairs, etc. I buy Ashley a music box in the shape of a heart that plays that Cat's theme - Memories. It's cheap and small - probably wouldn't hold much, and now 20 years later I wonder if that is an allegory.
A prison worker (not prisoner) tells me I have purchased a very beautiful piece of work - and I have to agree.
We don't enter the prison because there is a prison festival going on. I'd love to see what sort of festival one could have for the prisoners, but it's a safety thing for me I'm told.
The gift shop folks are joking with me that I must have a girlfriend - Hanazaki-san asks if it's for Ashley. I can't lie to him, so I tell him yes.
This goes smack in the face of what Ashley is trying to prevent. Apparently she is afraid of being labeled a 'slut' because she has a boyfriend, while for me as a guy, it's a badge of honour.
We pile back into Iso-san's white van and drive off. I notice that he never seems to need to look at a map - he just knows the area. Through Hanazaki-san he explains that he has lived here all his life (50 years) and he knows it like the back of his hand. I ask Hanazaki-san how well does a person know the back of his own hand. He laughs, translates it to Japanese - we all laugh and find our way to the next destination. Along the way, Iso-san has Hanazaki-san translate for him: "I have three freckles, 23 hairs on my left hand, and 12 freckles and 36 hairs on my right."
I laugh, but Iso-san in a serious face says: "Honto (really)".
Holy crapola. He does know the back of his hand!
"Jodan! (joke!)" screams Iso-san.
I tell ya - between Matthew's crazy supervisor Mr. Suzuki and the cards at my OBOE, we should forever bury the stupid stereotype of the Japanese not having a sense of humour. Not as good as mine, but what are you going to do?

Somewhere wondering if the prisoners get balloons at the festival,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's title is by AC/DC. GET OUT FOR FREE.
PPS: Tomorrow is the last installment of this busy little day - I visit a primary school and become even more famous.
PPPS: Look at that - I guy gets laid and now he thinks he's funnier than a country.
PPPPS: I know this episode isn't funny - but I figured we could sacrifice it for some knowledge. You learned that the Japanese are just like us when it comes to a sense of humour; prisons have festivals; they have strange flavours of ice cream - vanilla??!!; everyone knows I have a girlfriend; women are sluts for having boyfriends and men are studs for having girlfriends (yes, plural!); Japanese prisons are pretty darn narrow; and I have no idea what the weather is like in this country - it's hot, right?
PPPPPS: Photo at the top is the Bridge Over The River Kwai (built by POW's - Prisoners of War), as I don't have any pics of this trip (which is why you see my crappy drawings). The bridge is in Thailand - NOT Japan.  

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