Summer is on the cusp of autumn. Rice is being harvested and dried, big ripe apples have come into season and Halloween decorations are in all the stores.
More importantly, the weather has finally changed. I now don’t have to have the air-con on in my apartment, but a fan still helps to keep the humidity at bay and I still average three showers a day! The heat feels worst on days when it is overcast and a tropical storm is on its way. The thunder storms here are like nothing I’ve seen before. Sometimes lightening can be seen far away, even though you can hear no thunder. Other times it can strike what seems like metres away from you and the thunder rumbles through the ground! But one guarantee is that it will quickly pass and an hour or so later the sky will be clear, like nothing ever happened!
Freedom has come in the form of a blue banged-up Suzuki Alto. It’s automatic, has four seats and chugs up the hills like an old pony. The rules of the road have not been a problem, mainly as they drive on the left. The main roads here are based on American suburbs, with wide lanes and big superstores, restaurants and pachinko parlors on either side. Traffic lights every 100 metres means traffic is slow and you can’t go far wrong. A result of this is that there’s a noticeable number of people who jump the lights!
One thing I still have not mastered is the art of bowing, especially bowing in the car. It is not uncommon for other drivers to give you a polite head bow if you let them out but one truck driver gave a full on bow to me. Not something I am going to try! After having my new buggy filled up with gasoline at a local service station, I get a full 90’ bow from the service workers. That’s pretty special! In the office I’ve also seen my vice-principle bowing whilst speaking to someone on the phone. I had to try hard to suppress my laughter!
My little car has already made trips through the mountains to my visiting school as well as to the coast. After a single-track road which carved down the mountains the road took us through a line of houses which backed on to the sea. I didn’t see anyone under sixty in that seaside village! It’s easy to have a skewed view of the population balance in Japan when you work in a school, but from that experience I can understand what they mean by Japan having an ageing population!
Another Suzuki adventure I’ve had, is to Ono, a famous castle city and onwards to an infamous camping spot in the mountains. Named by an ALT many moons ago, ‘The Watering Hole’, most probably based on the tradition of going there on the last weekend before school starts and enjoying the last taste of the summer with a trunk full of beers. So after a long and treacherous drive to the hidden spot, I was ready for a swim in the river to wash away the stickiness of the humid air. My friend and I tepidly got in the water with no idea what could be under the surface. It was turquoise and clear so we trusted old ALTs which assured us there was nothing to be worried of. Thankfully, they were right. I’m not sure if it’s a safe option to be in a river whilst there is a thunderstorm but it certainly was atmospheric! Other ALTs joined us and we had a great evening with a campfire and sharing food people had brought. Teari, the most ‘Amercian’-American I’ve ever met, and also the friendliest, brought a kilogram of tortilla chips and homemade salsa. A welcome change from rice and noodles!
I’ve also met my host family for the first time. This was set up though a volunteer organisation promoting internationalisation in Fukui. Families sign up to meet someone different and perhaps to practice their English on us ‘hosties’, as we’re called here! I have been extremely lucky in being welcomed in to a Japanese family who live just a five minute drive from my apartment. ‘Ko’, a cheeky seven year old, doesn’t get that I can’t understand his Japanese but chats away at length to me! ‘Azu’ is 10 years old and her older sister ‘Chi’ is 13 years. Their mother ‘Mayumi’ is an afterschool English teacher and their father ‘Manubu’ works in a local micro-chip factory.
Last Sunday I was invited there for a family BBQ and had no trouble finding their house. Ma-chan, as Mayumi said I could call her, loves the story of Anne of Green Gables. So much so, that her and her husband designed their house based on the house in the novel! It has a green roof, red brick and a veranda out of the front. It feels like stepping into an American home more than a Japanese one with rose petal wall paper and vintage ornaments. The one Japanese they have is filled with English materials as it’s where Mayumi has her classes. So it is home from home.
After only going there a couple of times Mayumi has made me feel like part of the family. I have already made Crispy Cakes with the girls and Mayumi has taught me how to make gyozas, or Japanese dumplings. I know look forward to seeing the family every Sunday evening and playing games with the children. I hope I can be a suitable big sister for the girls but I’m sure they’ll teach me more than I can teach them.