“Sold out?” I tapped my credit card on the desk at the Japanese Tourism Bureau at Kansai.
There was a line behind us that had gotten backed up because despite the seven signs that said “VISIT SHIKOKU”, our destination was so small on the island that it took three books to find the station.
“Yes, sold out, there is a bullet train to Nakamura.” He pressed.
Bullet trains were expensive.
“Book it.” I sighed.
He began to tap in an ever increasing number in the calculator.
“Cancelled?” I asked, standing in the midst of the busy train station underneath a blinking train timetable, our line on track 25 was in red.
“Yes, cancelled.” A man with a comically large button that said I SPEAK ENGLISH shuffled through our train tickets like a card dealer and handed them back “Maybe…a later train?”
“A later train, so we can wait?” I asked, hopeful. We were out from Osaka about an hour, with no wifi, and no place to stay for the night.
“But…it isn’t likely.”
“Can we go back to Osaka?” Maybe I could get the airbnb again.
“Yes, we can get you return tickets.”
“Book it.” I sighed.
We made it to Shikoku, and conversely Shimanto (no relation to Shimanto Town, which is a few hours north) via night bus and were dropped off at Nakamura station with the usual preciseness of Japan at 6:55am on the dot, and our host overslept so we were stuck in the cold village until he drove the half hour from the countryside.
I walked up to the pedestrian bridge and saw an old man riding his bike next to the canal, a few school boys bid me good morning as the sun peeked over the trees.
This was it, this was the Japan I had searched for. Pure countryside.
We arrived at our workaway that we’d be spending the next month at to see that we weren’t alone, another couple, a woman from Poland, a man from Australia, were making a large breakfast to welcome us. Eggs, coffee, scones, and oatmeal.
Throughout the day we were introduced to our revolving cast of characters:
Hiro – the cook in the cafe next door, knows english, but chooses not to use it, if you speak to him in Japanese, he’ll respond in English. Well known chef in the area, a magazine came to photograph his dishes the second day we were here.
Ma – our host here, a hard worker and very kind, makes conversation whenever he can.
Yohji – the man with the plan, often referred to as “a business partner”, and doesn’t say much, and looks like you’d meet him at the docks after midnight. The most mysterious out of all the men who visit us throughout our time here. Often says nothing, and starts constructing structures.
“The Landowner” – “some say he’s a former politician”, often just wanders around to check in on things, will speak in Japanese and doesn’t know any English and doesn’t care if you understand him either.
Ki – the epitome of Japanese Surfer culture, fishes and brings us his catch for free, shows up with treats every so often (baked goods mostly), Ma says he is a guardian angel. Very patient with me, at least.
“Ah, I hope I can do well here.” I said over a bowl of oatmeal, we were sharing breakfast and worries.
“Of course you can do well,” The Polish girl replied as she ate her own breakfast.
“I’m not good at much, he’s good at everything, but maybe I can help.”
“A carpenter always needs a helper.” The Australian assured.
“Ah, I think you’ll need to check on the tank.” Ma said as we walked around the frame, we had run out of running water that morning. “Take the bike.”
“I can’t ride a motorcycle.” Steve said “I don’t know how.”
“It’s not a motorcycle, it’s a bike.” I explained.
Ma came back with a scooter.
Steve gave me a look.
“It’s not a motorcycle!”
“Is this your first time in Japan?” She asked over dinner.
“No, I came here as a young weeaboo.” I said digging into the stew they made with a little bit of everything from the grocery.
“What is this weeaboo?” She asked.
Steve and I looked at eachother before I reluctantly went into the explanation. “So, there’s a site called 4chan, don’t look it up..”
We watched Yohji from the window as he laid out concrete blocks, it was late now, we were cooking dinner.
“Yohji is always doing something.” I commented. Today he arrived with a black eye and a box truck full of goods.
“He’s always got a plan.” The Australian said “He’s always up to something.”
Ki-san came during lunch and demanded a beer before handing over two squids that were a good half kilo each. He turned to Ma and asked how to tell us foreigners that he had caught an alien. He finally gave up and showed us a strange fish and said “alien” over and over.
For the next half hour, Ki-san and I communicated in half Japanese, half English, but photos on our phones, videos of our friends and family, were better shown than explained.
After I was done I talked to Steve about our upcoming bread experiment, our first trip to Sunnymart (the local grocery) taught us that bread cost 108Y for 6 slices for 614Y for a loaf. “Bread is a luxury!” I complained.
Later that day, Ki-san left us two loaves of bread and some sweets.
The next day donuts.
“DO NOT EAT BREAD. CATS.” was scrawled next to the carnage of my bread that I had left to cool overnight on the countertop.
Our four loaves of bread that we had spent all day seasoning and prepping the brick oven for were now half on the floor and half eaten by the two feral cats that we had met on our first day.
I sadly put every loaf in the garbage. We all mourned our losses and ate Ki-san’s bread.
“Usually in Japan you wear yukatas to the onsen, but I don’t want to be called out for cultural appropriation.” I said over dinner.
“Cultural appropriation? What is that?” Australian asked.
“Ah, well, it’s like, when you make someone’s culture a costume.” I explained, finding it strange that such a pervasive thing in America was foriegn.
“You know,” The polish girl followed up “Like Indian headdresses, with all the feathers”
“Yeah, yeah, I know those, I used to wear them all the time, get them at the toy store, cowboys and Indians and all that.”
“That is cultural appropriation, you can’t do that anymore, people get mad.” I said, exasperated.
“Well fuck them then.” He said “You can do what you want, fuck them.”
“The worst part, about this table.” She said referring to the kotatsu “Is that you cannot get out from underneath it once you’re here.
It was our day off, I was reading Manga on my iPad and listening to some Japanese lo-fi as the storm raged on outside. A pot of coffee was half gone, my cup of coffee had gone cold.
“That’s the best part about this table.”
Later that day I would tell my friends:
“The worst part of Japan is that it’s just so cozy, cozy as a way of life, everything is so slow, I can feel myself getting sucked in.”