Waterfalls

The sun rose at 4:28. I know this because I had already been up for an hour. I’d gotten out of bed to use the bathroom, but when I laid back down my eyes stayed open. It was ridiculous to think I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was still full after drinking enough wine last night because my neighbor was having a party in honor of her husband’s seventh year of passing. I’d only been asleep for four hours. I closed my eyes and rolled over.

When half an hour passed I pulled out my phone. I felt completely sober as well, but a dry mouth made me get up to gulp down a couple glasses of water. No smart decisions are made or lost with a cell phone and nothing to do. I immediately pulled up the REI app which I’d downloaded sometime early in the spring. It was their anniversary sale, and I still had a couple things to check off my list if I wanted to start camping by summer. For three hours I scoured the pages, going between REI and Backcountry (despite my membership, I found the latter to have some better deals). I was repeating almost the same process I had done a year ago approaching July 2016, with visions of Japan mountaintops and morning hikes. Back then I was making less and just gotten out of debt. I decided to clear my cart at the last moment and be done with it. I think I’ve mentioned this habit before. I’ll spend hour(s) shopping online or in real life — I’ll create these alternative realities where I’m fully enjoying a product I can’t live without — and when it comes to checkout I put everything down and leave the store. I think it’s a good practice in restraint. It’s always smart to wait before making a purchase, and after a year of having the urge to go camping I finally had to act.

I wrapped up all the shopping around the time my alarm went off. I could’ve stayed in bed a little longer, but really I had the mindset to get up and work so why put it to waste. Originally I had wanted to spend the day studying, applying to jobs, getting things in order and focusing on my side projects (which there are plenty), but those original plans fell through and I arranged to hang out with the only Japanese friend my age left in the city.

“Wanna hang out on Sunday?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“Bring Hazuki with you.”

“You mean in the morning, then?” he asked.

Hazuki is his … let me do the math, eight month old daughter. Wow, it’s weird to think that’s she’s only eight months, and at the same time she’s already eight months. Babies, I guess, are weird like that. Like only now among my third year students I’ve noticed the different in height and loss of chubby cheeks from when I first got here, but this girl has barely even existed for a year and she’s already practicing how to walk. Just weird. Let’s not think about that. Although I enjoy her company, even taking care of pets for more than a month I’ve found to be too intruding so I’m certainly not going to think about children within this decade. Well, not that I have a choice at the moment anyway.

Dillon with a baby

They arrived just before noon. She gave me huge confusing eyes as I looked at her. When Kubo, her dad, passed her over to me those eyes shone up at me, then over to her father, then back at me. Then they turned to twisted black raisins on roiling over puffy red cheeks, as her hands sprung out back towards her dad. I quickly passed her over, amazed at how immediate the crying stopped. He chuckled and then put her back in my arms where she started crying until I set her down on the floor. The last time I saw her she wasn’t much smaller, but she had stayed silent most of the day and didn’t seem remotely aware of what was going on around her. But now she was crawling and exploring and practically a hazard on four legs.

Hazuki standing Hazuki Crawling

Eventually I had to unplug my mouse and keyboard from my computer because she was so determined to play with them. We left when she got curious enough to dig into the floor plant I have.

We didn’t really have a plan so we first went for lunch at a restaurant near my school. It was my second time being there and basically solidified sauce katsudon as my favorite Japanese food. It’s pretty tough to describe. On the surfuce is just tenderized pork deep fried, dipped in sauce, and put over rice. It’s half a common dish in Japan but the way it’s done in this prefecutre is a bit of a specialty. I eat it as much as my healthy lifestyle will allow.

From the restaurant we stopped by his home to see if someone was around to take the baby. With the driveway empty and nothing else in mind, we took a quick detour to a walking trail. The weather now is basically summer. It’s a little hot directly in the but we put Ha-chan in a stroller so she was pretty comfortable. As soon as I strapped her in — maybe even a bit before — her head plopped against a shoulder and she fell asleep. The path took us down and around to a small baseball stadium where a minor league game was going on. At first I thought it might’ve been a high school match where I could see some former students. When we saw the entrance fee was roughly five bucks we decided to turn around and find something else to do.

That’s when I learned you never want to wake a sleeping baby. As soon as I lifted her out of the stroller she started squiggling, and wailing a bit more. When I set her in the car seat I noticed she burped a little milk. I’m not sure I expected what was coming when I decided to pick up again and pull her out of the car, but then she threw up a little bit more on my arm.

“Oh, no.”

Truly in these types of situations you can never move as quickly as you know you need to. The next thing was a jet-stream of white baby formula cascading down my shoulder. I’ve seen this happen in the movies, but I always thought it was some kind of trope. The obvious reaction would be to point her mouth in a different direction, but instinctively I just held her closer until it all poured out. Kubo just laughed at that reasoning.

“Don’t you have a towel?” I asked.

“No.”

“What! You’ve been a father for eight months and you don’t have a towel?”

He rummaged around for some baby wipes and started scrubbing her arms and legs.

“Well, has this ever happened to you?”

“It used to a lot, but recently not so much.”

I guess I’m just lucky. He pointed me over to the restroom where I washed my shirt in the sink and tried to clean the side of my shorts. Only being familiar with wine and nose bleeds, it seemed like it’d take a bit more than cold water to clean out this mess.

This little predicament settled our own issue of trying to find something to do. We went back to his family’s house to leave the baby with his wife and he tossed me a clean shirt. He had a place in mind in the neighboring area, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to explain it to me in words I understood. I could guess, though, what he meant when he said bridge. After all, in a rural area such as this, there isn’t a variety of sightseeing attractions under that category.

kazura vine bridge

It wasn’t nearly as long, or rickety, or high as I thought it would be, but maybe that’s just from a 6’3″ American’s point of view. The planks were tied a decent ways apart actually, but Kubo made fun of me because my foot size is so big I couldn’t even notice.

Under the bridge ran a stream with a path leading down to it on the other side. The water was a bit cold, but completely clear and I couldn’t help whipping my socks off to go stand it in. It was nice to be back in the nature, which only affirmed my morning camping purchases. The other side had a garden, a small koi pond, and even a dojo to make soba noodles. We went into a tiny hut with a map of attractions around the area. Kubo was attracted to one particular image of a waterfall that didn’t look too far away. It was already four o’clock and I had planned to run and hit up an onsen before the night’s end, but I didn’t mind a little more adventuring.

The trip was a forty minute drive into the woods on a narrow path without any signs. I pulled up google maps, but even that didn’t know exactly where we were trying to go. Luckily, I have never once come across a dirt road during my time in Fukui so the only real worry you ever have to have while driving is avoiding the open gutters on either side (which is occasionally a problem when two cars have to pass by on a curving hill in the woods). We actually passed by the parking lot, driving straight up to where the waterfalls were. It was pretty stunning, but we drove to make a u-turn because Google Maps actually didn’t know where what road to take us on.

waterfall gif

The fall is huge, and really there’s no good way to capture it all in a picture. It’s too wide, and too tall. Because it’s sandwiched between the ridges there isn’t much sun, but at that time of day it was shining perfectly to feel like a fantasy novel. It’d be a great place to have a picnic. There was literally a family with two boys splashing around at the base of the waterfalls. I thought it might be a bit too cold for that, but I envious they’d thought to bring a towel.

When we left we drove a different way back to town. I remember on the way there I was struck by how high we were going and how vast the woods seemed, but this time was a bit quicker. I figured it was OK since I’d seen enough. Pushing myself to the limits of my motivation, I did go out and enjoy a half hour run before the sun went down and immediately biked to the nearest onsen, one I hadn’t been to before. I felt a bit uneasy the whole time because the entryway and lockers were plastered with signs that said they didn’t allow tattoos (seriously on everything that I would touch). That’s pretty common in Japan, but usually the signs are tucked away and ignored. This place felt a bit different. On top of that the admission was ¥200 more than what I normally pay, I didn’t get a stamp card, and their outdoor pool wasn’t even working. Well, at least I can feel more assured about the quality when I go back to my regular one. Unfortunately this is all a Sunday, and I’d be much happier living in the future where they’ll almost certainly have three day weekends (at least). For now, I can only bask in the laziness and get back to work.

Colors

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been moving since Halloween. I wasn’t looking forward to this past weekend because I had to come in for class on Saturday. Usually my school makes up for it by letting us take the following Monday off, but unfortunately all the ALTs had a conference in the city scheduled for that day. Eventually I will take the Monday off, but for now I have to suffer. Because of all that I was really looking forward to Sunday being as lazy as possible. Maybe catch up on a ton of self-help organization I’ve been trying to fit into my life, and also fulfill some other obligations I’ve given to other people. Alas, somehow I managed to talk to Yukie, my friendly-neighborhood-English speaker, on Saturday night who almost immediately invited me to join her the next day to go with another couple to Shiga prefecture to see the colors change. As my great art professor John Saurer once told me, “say yes to everything.” Of course, he was mostly talking about work-related situations, but I’ve began to adapt it to every day life. Organizing my lazy life could always wait, and I had never been to Shiga before.

We left early in the morning, a little after 8 o’clock. The couple we were going with, Mr. & Mrs. Takahashi, are actually pretty close to me. I met their three sons at a wine party last New Year’s Eve, and since they seem to look out for me like their own. They donated their bike for my use back in January, and over spring vacation I joined them to the youngest son’s college graduation in Osaka. I actually have been trying to go around Japan to visit where their sons live, but instead it seems I’ve been running into them more often. Mr. Takahashi pulled up to the apartment with his wife, Yukie, and to my surprise her thirteen-years-old Norfolk Terrier in the backseat. From there we were off, to a place I couldn’t even point out on a map, with a mix of Japanese and English, and some CDs I’d brought with.

 

192We arrived maybe two hours later, to gorgeous weather, at the steps of Eigen-ji (A-gen-G, the ji stands for temple). Now, it may be a bit confusing because Fukui-ken also has (the oldest temple in Japan) Eihei-ji, so going to another prefecture to see something that sounds similar was a bit misleading. Really, the temple is less pronounced than the nature that surrounds it. Here especially the changing colors were blazing.

The place was pretty popping. You could tell that people were just coming out to enjoy the warmth, but there were also a suspicious amount of artists with books or canvases scattered about the grounds. We discovered that there was a contest on that specific day for whoever made the best painting within the allotted morning. As we went along it was pretty fun to snoop over the shoulder of  everyone and try to discover why they chose the specific spot. Also I was experimenting desperately with a new camera lens.

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From the temple we ate some hot soba noodles and delicious various foods on a stick before setting out back on the road. Before heading back we took a detour to see this famous temple that at one point might have housed the sun goddess/mother of Japan Amaterasu or was built by her parents or something like that. This month is also a traditional time for families to celebrate the shichi-go-san holidays when children turn 3,5,or 7 years old. The temple had plenty of dressed up visitors and adorable kids wrapped in kimonos so it was a fun stop to watch.

From here on out it seems the weather will start to go downhill, so I’m not quite sure when I’ll enjoy tourism as much as I have lately. Already my school is talking about introducing Thanksgiving in class. It’s a constant reminder to make my stomach growl wishing for all the delicious home-cooked meals I won’t be able to find here.

 

Daytripper

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through the changing weather it’s you’ve gotta take what you can get. So many days now I come to school wearing a light jacket only to have it dark and freezing by the time I leave. Often it’s begun to rain. Sooner than last year I expect it’ll start to snow. Sometimes I wonder if I should go for a run, or wait until I’m free in the evening with less errands to do. Too many times I’m stuck at 9:00 bundling in gloves and long pants, when during the day I could’ve gone out in shorts.

Thus before I’m completely shut in for Winter, I’ve been able to go out and enjoy the season just a little bit more. This has probably fatigued me a bit, being my weekends have been booked completely since Halloween, but I’ve also at least been more active than I would’ve otherwise.

The first weekend trip followed a day where I volunteered as a judge for a high school English debate tournament. Seeing the dozens of students compete in such advanced English made my average work seem inadequate. I doubt there are many opportunities in a junior high school where they can learn such enabling English, even after three years they’re barely learning how to use prepositions to connect verbs with nouns. I did find a reward though meeting one of my students who graduated last year. During the last round he asked me to sit by him and we talked pretty fluently about the points each team was making, as well as how he studied English, and what he was enjoying in high school. At least that gave me some hope that not every student I teach will go on to expel any hint of English by the time they graduate high school.

I woke up my usual weekday time on Sunday morning to car pool with some neighbors to the train station where we’d be picked up by a Japanese lady. I must admit I didn’t really have any clue what I was signed up for. Another American English teacher who arrived in the summer had invited me to go, so I didn’t even look at any of the details. Just that we’d be taking a tour of some ruins basically only famous in our prefecture. Maybe they were some sort of heritage site, but on that I can’t be sure. I didn’t even know how to dress. For some reason I had the impression we’d be hiking a mountain, so I packed extra snacks and gloves in my backpack just in case.

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We drove out of the city and arrived to meet two other cars of people at the entrance of a small museum. Literally, it was the most budget friendly museum in just an open foyer and a single humidified room. Most of the objects in glass casing lining the walls were broken pottery somewhat assembled back together. There were some scale models of what the area looked like hundreds of years ago, but the most interesting object to me was an old sword.

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After that short tour we drove out to the actual valley where these ruins were partially reconstructed. From what I gleaned a ruling family, Asakura something, had set up shop in the area about 500 years ago. Even more surprising was at the time it was the 3rd most populous place in Japan right behind Kyoto and Tokyo! The inaka countryside that I’d been living in for over a year used to contain the center of Japan. How things have changed.

Seeing the ruins and replicas they built was definitely not spectacular, but there was some solace about the place. If you imagined the type of people that would have lived there and the strains that society has taken to evolve into the present. Even among the inequalities and famines, the simplicity of the life appeals. This is certainly a weather-changing-another-year-overworked-pessimistic-me point of view, but the focus on living instead of life has some advantages.

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One of the best uses of the day came while strolling down the village street and finding inspiration to write. Actually through the whole day I realized I’d been gaining experience helpful for any sort of fantasy or old-world story I might dive into. Just being there and seeing what life was life gives my writing a bit more authenticity.

I’m quite surprised I’ve made it this far in my description because at the time I really didn’t seem to feel so affected by the tour. I suppose I was happy to be out in the nice weather, but to be honest I was more distracted by Pokémon Go half the time. Then again, there really wasn’t much to look at.

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Maybe the highlight of the day actually came in the afternoon once the tour was finished. We moved from the outdoors more into the valley to an old restaurant lodge specializing in soba noodles. They had an entire hall full of tables to teach how to make soba. Of course, you’ll remember from my post last Christmas about how to make soba. Well, maybe you won’t, I almost didn’t. It was fun to make again, especially since our tiny grandma of a teacher kept interrupting what we were doing to fix any mistakes. This time we left the cooking to the actual chef, though, so the end result lost some of its majesty.

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Still delicious, and I topped it off with a beer from the cooler.