My time in Omura

My time in Omura,


On the last day of February I got my stuff packed in my baggie, put it on my shoulders and having a great weather hit the road and started to hitchhike in the South West direction to my next host to Omura. The morning was really nice and fresh and I was standing there by the road, the sun was warming me up, wind blowing through the bamboo making it softly murmur, waving like sea of green. I was feeling really good, tasting the first blossoms of the spring not worrying about anything just letting the things happen, in the other words I was “on the road again” and that is always good. It was one of these days which you do not forget, it just gets deep in you, like a postcard of blue ocean with palm trees you have been seeing for so many years on your grandmother’s dresser. These days I feel are mostly not planned, there are no promises and expectations and that is probably why they turn out so great. It reminds me the mornings when I woke up as a child, open my eyes and I’ve seen the shadows of the leaves of the flowers in my room, sharp in the morning sun knowing that it is going to be great day, because it is weekend, we are having great weather and I’m free as a bird whatever I please, well if I’m fast enough to run away before my mother makes me to vacuum or wash the dishes:-).

This day I was not really surprised when I got very quickly really nice lifts, which at the end resulted in getting to Omura in the same day and if we consider that the distance was more than 150 km and I’d to cross several towns and switch the road, it was quite pretty good. I am kind of proud to say that I got three lifts by females and one by young couple. You know it was just really nice. I’m generally doing good, feeling happy, this was however a special treat, I met some really nice people and I’ve had a great time just getting a nice big fingers up by universe “you are doing just fine”. Another memory to cherish and to brighten the “rainy days”.

Today I’ve time off so I can sit down a bit and think about the last two month here in Japan and listen to what are my feelings and intuition telling me. After the first impressions and cultural shock I’m starting to see things more clearly both good and well the ones which I do not enjoy so much. I feel like that Japan is more in harmony than the Western world. This is at least the case of countryside Japan which I’ve had a chance to explore. Much more land is left in traditional way, just rice fields, even in the center of the towns so you can walk the small picturesque roads walled by ancient stones, looking on the modern building on the horizon but in the same time you see an old farmer burning rice stalks just next to you with a traditional houses surrounding the spot making it a small enclave of quite, rich country life. Many places in towns, especially the hills are dedicated to the shrines, and it is just amazing to go there and dive into a deep meditation and it is so easy, you kind of feel among the old trees that this place is here for centuries if not millennia and it is going to make you forget about all that small everyday worries, getting deeper understanding of the true purpose of your life. Just to have places like this within the walking distance where you live is amazing. I for example love San Francisco Bay area but compared to that it is so much more nature friendly here. However I’ve to say that I stayed in Japan mostly in smaller places till now so if I compared them for example to Berkeley, which is just across the bay from SF it would be actually quite fine but on the other side Berkeley is very nature friendly town by itself.

I’m still limited by the language, my Japanese is worse than I thought but I’m improving, working also on Kanji (I highly recommend Kanji ABC from Andreas Foerster&Naoko Tamura) so it is still harder to submerge deeper into the culture. However even then I’m starting to find out that several myths about Japan are just not really true, or at least  they are kind of outdated. Japan is actually starting to be bit behind in several fields of electronics (computers included), that I judge simply from going through the shops seeing for example older models of computers sold as “top of the line” for really high prices and also the used ones are quite expensive and out of date. I do not want to do too many conclusions yet because I did not researched on it so much but they are certainly not as advanced as I expected. Another fact which I’ve mostly from the second hand and studies on the topic is that the huge amount of time which they spend in work and we are talking here about twelve to fourteen hours per day is not really reflected in the productivity.

What stand to it’s reputation is the nature which is really beautiful and quite clean, especially water streams, that is really amazing. However what really surprised me is that Japanese are used to burn most of their plastic garbage just outside “on their yard”. They also use extreme amounts of the packaging materials, so for example if you buy a box of cookies, each cookie is in a separate bag all made from plastic. Big plus is the food. It is really tasty coming in many variations, easy to digest and for me it is very important that there are lots of fermented dishes like tsukemono, natto, soy sauce et cetera on a plate every day, many of them being prepared within the family. The last “quote” is making a huge difference compared the Western World. Here many families in the countryside are still preparing lots of traditionally fermented foods when they are more or less using products from their own gardens. Another minus for me about here, which you however can question is the amount and type of infrastructure. Japan is country of hills and mountains with steep valleys in between. The system of the roads is quite dense, which means that there is enormous amount of really huge bridges and tunnels quite everywhere. The same applies to the dams, with 500 000 in the country which are used as water reservoirs, however most of them doesn’t have a capacity to provide electricity power at least based what I’ve been told and partly what I’ve seen, which is very strange and I really wonder what are the true numbers. To this add the walls of all the rice fields which have been made in the last five decades predominantly from concrete, rivers which are at least in the towns ameliorated in to the corridors with all three sides made from concrete and you will actually get enormous infrastructure all over the country. I’ve heard the locals complaining quite a lot about the corruption of the parties and how they are connected to the various building companies well it looks like that they have a point.

Another topic are the prices. The other day I wanted to buy a honey made in Japan. Well the cheapest which I’ve seen up to now was around 2000 yen per kilo (around $25), generally it is over 2500 or 3000 yen. The price in most of the places where I’ve been till now range within $5-10 per kilo in some places that counts for an organic fair trade product, here not a chance! The sugar is more expensive here but still it is just stunning price and this applies to so many things both locally produced or imported. In many cases the prices are easily double or rather triple of the cost in other countries which are importing them too from even further locations. You may think that the sale tax can be behind that. Good thinking! But you are wrong the sales tax is 5%, lower than nearly anywhere else. I should not even start about prices of travelling around by bus or train, that is starting about 3 to 5 times of the price compared to Western Europe in some cases it is 10x more expensive than in Czech Republic and we are not talking about Shinkansen only.

During my travels around the country I can also see changes in the architectonic style of the buildings and houses compared to the traditional architecture. Especially with the later the esthetic levels are nearly non existing and if you see these new “monsters” staying next to the old beautiful houses you just can not get it. And believe me it is not about “it has to be retro to look good”, no, it is just a grey box made from tiles, few halls for windows which are as functional as possible not a single ornament, not a single decoration, I just do not understand. If there was not such an old tradition of beautiful home building OK, but here? Strange. Another thing which surprised me quite a bit was the approach how the kids are educated. From what I’ve been told both before arriving and in the country the elementary level of education here is very good. That changes when the kids enter the high school. The teaching focuses on memorizing facts rather than logical thinking and combination. The teaching hours are up to four in the afternoon, with many “free activities/clubs” which run up to eight o’clock in the evening and which most of the kids attend. So when I’m returning from my walks here to our language school around seven, seven thirty I see crowds of young kids coming “back from school”. Amazing and horrifying in the same time at least for me.

What I for example liked here and I hope that I’m not repeating this is the clean and well structured working attitude. Now what I mean by that. Let say that you are walking around the condominio here and you see laundry which is put out to dry. Well you should not be surprised to see lets say fifteen same uniformes, twenty pairs of gloves, socks et cetera. So when you walk next day around that construction worker who looks like just stepping out from some “top commercial” all clean and shiny, it is not joke, quite all of them looks like that and all the time. The same applies to the machines. When work is over they take the time and clean all the cars, bulldozers, workshops like they would expect top level inspection, very impressive and ohh man I like that style!

Well as you can see, there are several things which are quite surprising and that is just a short overview of some of them. I’ve to say that if I’ve a chance to find a job here and stay for longer I would certainly do so but it is hard due to both language requirements for Japanese and strict visa working policy, however I’m still trying.

I hope that I’ve brought a few more colour into the picture of Japan for you! I’ll keep doing so in the next posts so keep coming back and of course as usually if you would like to support me and my activities you can do so here. My next step here is prolongation of my visa and going finally North to Sendai to help with the disaster relief efforts.

All the best from Omura, Kyushu,

Frantisek Algoldor Apfelbeck

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~ by algoldor on March 31, 2012.

One Response to “My time in Omura”

  1. Very interesting post. A lot of information here, especially about the technology:

    “However even then I’m starting to find out that several myths about Japan are just not really true, or at least they are kind of outdated. Japan is actually starting to be bit behind in several fields of electronics (computers included), that I judge simply from going through the shops seeing for example older models of computers sold as “top of the line” for really high prices and also the used ones are quite expensive and out of date. I do not want to do too many conclusions yet because I did not researched on it so much but they are certainly not as advanced as I expected. Another fact which I’ve mostly from the second hand and studies on the topic is that the huge amount of time which they spend in work and we are talking here about twelve to fourteen hours per day is not really reflected in the productivity.”

    Safe travels.

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