Episode thirty three: waking the dead
Aug 15, 2006
|Date: August 11th - August 15th
After saying bye to the Canadians, and still in the midst of "summer vacation" it wasn't too long before I found myself being shown a seat at the appointment ceremony for Ken-ALTs. The ceremony itself consists of a little more than a bit of a bow, a quick "yoroshiku onegaishimasu", and the collection of our 'certificate of appointment' as an ALT of Saga-ken. Basically it's the time we get our "contract", which we don't sign, and isn't really a contract at all....
The next day Karen had to work her mammoth shift so I met up with Nick and a new ALT, Matt, and we proceeded to make our way to the middle of nowhere for a days hiking. We had settled on Tara-dake, the tallest mountain in our prefecture, which also happens to share the border with Nagasaki-ken. The day was poised to be a beauty, as we had been blessed with perfect hiking weather, not too hot, and definitely not cold. When driving along the mountain road we found a massive, dead snake, that had been run over by a car. Ewww. And then just up the road from that out of nowhere a massive pheasant flew out from a tree, and across the road up the mountain into more trees to our right, literally 10m in front of us. It left all of us gasping "What the hell was that?... It was HUGE!" We definitely were about to do some hiking in the outdoors, and it felt great.
After finding the start point to the hike we wasted no time before hitting the "road/track" and winding our way up the mountain. Overall, we planned, and successfully navigated, three different trails that combined into one longer hike of about 5 hours or so. The scenery and "bush" varied greatly, just like one would expect to find in NZ. I reckon you could blindfold any kiwi and bring them here, let them open their eyes after putting them in the middle of the bush and they'd swear on their life they hadn't left NZ.
The only nuisance on the whole hike were the mountain bees, which, while they didn't sting us, caused huge irritation by constantly flying around us and in our faces looking poised to attack. However, the views from the top more than made up for the annoying bees. We were also lucky enough to be caught up in the middle of a thunderstorm. But, because we were so high up, and literally in the clouds, we could hear everything very clearly but didn't get too wet, as the rain was more of a mist around us than a downpour.
After we reached the car with what proved to be the perfect length hike for each of us, we filled our bone dry water bottles and made haste down the mountain roads. Again we were treated with another mountain dwelling animal, a huge wild fox. It darted across the road about 50m away from us as we rounded a bend, and both Nick and I clearly saw its white tipped tail and orange/red colouring. We were shocked though, as we hadn't been told about foxes living in the mountains here and definitely not the size we saw! The thing was huge, and each of us mistook it for a big dog when we first saw it. Now, that is definitely something one wouldn't find in NZ!
The next morning Karen, Nick and I made a picnic and then jumped in the car and made our slow way to Nagasaki-ken to the Island of Hirado. We had read in my lonely planet that there is a beautiful beach to enjoy there along with a castle. Well, we don't really need much in the way of an excuse to want to get out and see a new piece of Japan now, do we?!
After a long drive, Japan has limited fast roads and those it does have cost a fortune so we were limited to the local road the whole way, we found ourselves rounding a bend to be confronted with a beautiful looking beach. We paid a little money to have our own shaded "open hut" type of thing on the beach, dumped our gear, stripped off and ran to the tempting water for a swim. Oh, the goodness the water was. Unlike the Imari beach experience the water here was the perfect temperature, not too hot but certainly not cold. Just right to cool off and enjoy the sensational summers day.
After each of us had cooled off enough we went about eating some lunch and properly taking our surroundings in. The bay was breathtaking; it reminded me of a beach one might find in NZ, except, of course, for the rice fields that lined the hills behind it!
All in all it was a fantastic day at the beach and we had plenty of swims and time to read and just chill out on the beach. The sun was beaming almost as much as the smiles on our faces. I guess it was naïve of me, but Japan and beaches is something I had never really put together. Well, I wont make that mistake again, the definitely fit, mark my words.
Once we had absorbed as much vitamin B from the sun as we could take we loaded everything back into the car and made our way to Hirado-shi to check out the castle and its grounds. There was pretty much no one around which made for a very peaceful visit to the shrine.
That night, after saying bye to Nick, Karen and I found ourselves next door at Badsha's place for an evening of Charades. Charades quickly turned into "Mensa Charades" with each of team trying their hardest to come up with things the other team would have no way to act out "the Subtle Knife" etc.... Bit silly yes, but a bit of fun nonetheless.
On Monday I had a day off work due to Obon, a Japanese unofficial holiday where the spirits of family members who have passed away return to the house. Most Japanese people spend the week at their family homes with these "spirits". Karen and I, with no spirits about to visit our apartment, headed out and spent the morning at Yoshinogari, a mock-authentic Japanese village from thousands of years ago. While it was interesting to see some of the homes people used to live in, and how they used to make toys and instruments, it was very tiring walking round in the heat looking at "plastic authenticity". Something only to be done once, I think.
For the afternoon we had a load of fun checking out the Tosu Outlet Mall. Neither of us knows whey we have never been to this mall before considering how close it turned out to be, but can only put it down the fact that we don't really go "shopping" much in Japan, not just for the sake of it anyway. As you can imagine, we had a ball walking round shops like Adidas, Nike, quicksilver etc after about a year of abstinence.
Tuesday arrived, and thanks to Obon, it meant it brought with it another unofficial holiday for me. Nick had told us about a massive fire cracker festival held over Obon in Nagasaki city that he reckoned was the best festival he went to the year before. "DO IT!" we said, and it was done.
To break up the drive down we met up with a carload of Saga-ALTs in a small town half an hour away south of Takeo and found our way along some narrow mountain roads to a wicked waterfall we named, 'the hole'. A lot of swimming, jumping, splashing, and laughing ensued before we had to make our way back down the mountain and drove to the heart of Nagasaki for the start of the festival.
Let me start by saying, I may not have "served" in any war, but after surviving the Nagasaki Obon Firecracker festival, I'm pretty sure I know what Nam was really like. Seriously, the sound and all-round craziness that we witnessed cannot be put into words. It was by far the coolest festival I have seen in Japan, and I'm sure it would make the top 10 festivals in the world. There's just something about seeing a crazed man running full tilt down a street light up by the fireball blazing above his head as he holds a cardboard box full of double happies, all alight at once, and causing such a cacophony as I have never seen before. It was PRIMO!!
We stayed till the very end, by which time Nick and Ollie had befriended some locals and coaxed them out of a number of boxes of fireworks, meaning we got to have a go ourselves. I don't know about you, but getting to throw fireworks, that in NZ have been banned, in front of police officers really brings a smile to my face. Oh, what a night. A real lesson in why Japan rules! Contrary to what you may have been told as a child, fireworks + alcohol = a bloody good night! I'm convinced the goal, of waking the dead, was definitely achieved by the residents of Nagasaki that night.
Now I'm just left to wonder how they put them back to sleep?