Rural Japan: Learning the Locals

Yohji walked around the deck with his hands clasped behind his back, bouncing every so often on a joist to make sure it was solid. He had his signature wool cap and sling bag as he checked our work.

“Good Job.” He finally said and walked off.

We all looked at each other, it was probably the most words we had ever heard Yohji say in our stay here.

The Australian guy and Polish girl left after Yohji complimented them. It probably is the single goal of being a volunteer here.


“They’re beginning to harvest all the yellow flowers at the base of the mountain.”

Canola Fields

“Canola, it’s the oil we use to cook with.” Ma said.

Ki-san brought us an entire bucket of scallops he caught. (Ki-san also played a trick on me where he caught his finger in a scallop and started screaming)

A couple came and delivered ginger from their farm.

An old man came for coffee, who I later found out, grows all the rice we eat.

From farm to plate has never been so literal when I meet the people responsible for my food on a daily basis.


White Day came and we went into town to Mr. Donut, one of the two chain restaurants that are within 2 hours of us. They were having a white day special, 14 donuts for 1300Y.

Kore…Kore…etoooo Kore” 

Six came and went, and finally I gave up and started getting two of each.

She rang them up, and it was 1800Y.

I asked for the special a few times, but she gave up and got the cook who could speak probably as much English as the first girl.

“Special.” She pointed at the sign.

I gave up on the special and paid the gaijin tax.


“Donut?” I offered to Yohji who was rooting through a box of screws.

“Mr. Donut!”

He picked one and that would be how he would refer to me for the next few days.

Later, Yohji came back to me with the keys for the motorbike. Yohji and I had struck a friendship over donuts, and broken Japanese.


I heard loud meows coming from outside and a raggedy black cat was yelling at the open door, it was sunny and in the 70s, a perfect day to beg for food.

Kuro-chan, bread boy

Ma was already looking for something to give him. “This is Kuro-chan.”

“Kuro-chan stole my bread.”

“It’s okay, yeah?”

Kuro-chan got a huge hunk of meat and ran off, returning not more than two minutes later, his meows punctuating the music.


“You guys can use the onsen tonight.” Ma said as we closed up the cafe for the day, we only had one guest who couldn’t pitch his own tent.

“Oh thank god, it’s been a whole day and I’m going into withdrawal.”


My first encounter with a Japanese house spider was not going to be my last. I was folding a curtain and saw something that I was sure was from a Godzilla film, a giant spider crawling higher up into the curtain and closer to me.

It was the first of ten 3-4 inch spiders that we’d find in the curtains. I told Ma later about my near death experience.

“These spiders are good! They are house protectors like small gods.”

“God is dead, I’ve killed them.” I said with finality.

I stood at the doorway to my room and watched Steve dismantle it to do a spider sweep.

No gods were in our room.


“Where’s the ginger beer?”

“I make it!” Ma said as I rooted around the cafe for ingredients to make a Moscow Mule. “Ginger syrup is under the counter and there’s some beer there.”

“What do you mean beer?”

There was a case of Sapporo behind me, but surely he couldn’t mean that he’s been mixing beer and vodka and some ginger syrup.

“Yeah, just some beer, I can’t find ginger beer in Japan.”

Horrified I just began to drank my vodka straight. “Ginger beer isn’t really beer, it’s like root beer…it’s a soda.”

“Oh.”


“Konnichiwa!” A truck full of japanese elderly poured out and into the hall that was currently under construction.

It would be alarming, especially considering there’s about six signs saying “Do Not Enter” in Japanese, except this happens at least twice a day every day, with old people breaking into the hall. (And only ever the elderly!)

I rushed over and told them the hall was closed and the cafe was this way and to follow me in Japanese, but by the time I had conveyed this, they were already across the hall, past pipes that they had knocked into and a door that was tripped over on the floor.

“No! Closed! 閉まって います!” No response.

Later, after our host had shooed them all out I lamented to him about how no one over the age of sixty seems to understand or listen to me.

“Oh, they understood you, they just didn’t want to listen.” He said washing dishes while I sat with my hand on my chin, dejected. “I told them so.”

“Shi-matte imasu?” I tested my pronounciation “It’s closed?”

“Shimatte.” He agreed.


“What is the hardest thing about doing this?” Steve asked while we soaked in the onsen.

“Today? Turning down a position at Netflix to cut up carpet tiles for a cabin.”

“Aside from that.”

“Knowing that I’m exactly where I need to be, exactly where I’ve wanted to be for a long time, and not working towards the next thing. It’s driving me mad.”

“But this is what you wanted! Enjoy it.”

“Ah, maybe.”