The sun is setting; golden rays spray out from behind a mountain. It’s been a hot sunny day, a precursor to summer. My friend and I set off towards the sunset. My mamachari bike creaks as I set off and is hard work until I get it up to its one and intended speed. I wish I’d pumped up the tyres before I left.
It’s 6pm. A loud-speaker plays the evening song, telling farmers to finish up for the day. Old women wearing bonnet-like hats tend to their last row of plants in their small allotment plots. Each row of soil is neatly raised, each vegetable stands in line, just like the students at school.
White mini-trucks wait while men assess their day’s work. Lines of green seedlings stand upright in the wet field, soaking in their new surroundings. A man in a red tractor is hurrying to finish ploughing his field; always looking over his shoulder to see the lines he is making in the mud. A heron jumps after a frogs who has been abruptly awoken from its hibernation. It’s an easy catch for the sharp-eyed bird.
We cycle on. Past walled courtyards with old-style Japanese houses hidden behind white-washed walls. An Akita dog sits guarding the door of the house. He merely looks up as we cycle past.
At a crossroads, I stop to take a photo of a roadside deity, called a jizo-bosatsiu. They are meant to protect all living things in the world. Someone has put some irises next to the statues, perhaps in remembrance of an incident which happened here, perhaps just to keep the deity happy.
As we free-wheel down the hill, we past a granpa who is walking with a baby cradled in his arms. The child is fast asleep, but it is the granpa who looks more content.
One of my students in her purple tracksuit passes me on her bike. She recognises me and says hello. It’s 6pm on a Sunday and she has just finished her club activity. She must be tired, but I know she’ll be going home to study for a spelling contest tomorrow. Everyone here works hard.
When we return home, it is nearly dark and the quietness of the evening has been surpassed by a chorus of croaking frogs. Their chirping is inescapable, and I imagine there are thousands plump bull frogs in each rice field. Realistically, there are just a few hundred small frogs in each field. They must be persistent creatures, not giving up attracting a mate until they have croaked all they can. Gambari frogs.
I park my bike, pump up my tyres, and take one last look at the beautiful scene behind me. It’s nice living in the inaka.
It was written that “a frog’s croaking inspires one to compose a poem” (905 A.D), perhaps it’s true. The landscape of rural Japan is so poetic, so changing and so fragile that many haiku poems have been written about it. The sound of frogs croaking are the signal of spring, and the hot summer to come. Here’s the most famous haiku about frogs.
an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water