Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 5 Mar 2014 12:06

Position: Alongside Sato Ne
Wind: North F5 fresh breeze
Weather: overcast, showers, cool

Sato Ne is a small town with a village atmosphere, situated on a narrow isthmus formed by two deeply indented bays on either side of Kami-koshiki-shima.  Its streets are narrow and winding, lined mostly with walls made of round stones piled neatly on top of one another. The houses vary in style but most maintain some level of Japanese authenticity, with their peaked roofs and ornate black tiles. The older houses are made of slats of cedar and the newer ones of brick or panels of I am not sure what, perhaps ply. There is an interesting mix of dilapidation and new construction. The streets are very quiet, once again I have very little idea of where everyone is. At the end of the working day, announced on the town's load speaker system, a feature that seems common to all of the small towns I have visited thus far, brings forth no peak hour rush of traffic with commuters going home, just the odd extra car.

There are quite a few children here still, something that apparently is a problem in many of Japan's remote villages, as all the young adults head into the cities, leaving only old people behind, and of course no children. The children here are very curious and very friendly, perhaps a little precocious. Yesterday as I was making my preliminary exploration of the township I ended up on the top of a small hill, which is supposedly the ruins of an old castle, though I could see no ruins, only what looked like a stone monument. I took a set of stairs down the hill and ended up in the back of a school yard. I looked for a way out but came to the conclusion that I would have to go back the way I came. I was about to do so when I was spotted by one of the children and all of a sudden I was surrounded. It would seem I was an object of intense curiosity, and an opportunity to practice their English. They took great delight in saying “hullo” and “see you”. Simultaneously they were making hand signs and it took me a while to work out they were spelling out C U with their fingers. The teacher came up and was very polite, though spoke no English, so presumably was not the English teacher. She let me out of a gate, and I felt like I was the Pied Piper, gaggles of children trying to follow me.. Hmm, what a sad thought that is, for indeed the Pied Piper piped all the children out of the town in the fairytale, and that is what is happening in a lot of Japanese towns. But certainly I left the school yard beaming, for it is hard not to be joyful when amongst joyful children.

Today started damp and drizzly and I was therefore expecting to remain on board and do a few chores, but by midday the sky was clear and the sun shining brightly, though the wind was brisk and the air cold. I decided the afternoon was perfect for a bit of a hike. I had no particular destination in mind, but thought I might explore behind the town where the hillsides are terraced with what I assumed were rice paddies. This proved not to be the case, rather the terraces supported a variety of vegetables, and I suppose some of them were rice fields, though I could not recognise a rice field if I saw one. It proved to be a very relaxing and interesting walk. I slowly climbed the terraced gardens, past a cemetery that was strategically placed to overlook the gardens and the township. I get the impression that it is part of Japanese culture to give their ancestors a place where they can see what is going on, and perhaps where the living can always be reminded of them.

As I ascended up the terraces I came across a path with a sign across it, in Kanji of course. The sign looked like it might have said closed, so of course that made me curious and I started up the path's zig zag way. It was about the width of a narrow road, but of soft earth and in no way suitable for a motor vehicle. The foliage surrounding the path was dense and green, with the odd stream trickling down the slopes and through culverts leading under the path. I had no idea where it might lead but after perhaps half an hour or so of walking I looked up and saw the turbine of a wind generator poking above the tree tops. I was surprised to realise that I had climbed so high in what seemed such a short time. Its blades were feathered and not turning. I could only assume that the wind was too strong for it to be operating. The path led up around behind the generator and onto a bitumen road. I continued hiking along the road wondering where it might lead. It continued upwards for quite a while but then started descending. I pondered whether to turn back and retrace my steps, or to continue on and hope that it would eventually lead me back to town. Of course I chose the latter.

The road did in fact lead back to town, but it certainly took the long way around the mountainside to do so. It seemed like I was walking downwards for much longer than I had walked upwards, which would be the first time I have felt this way. But then I guess that the pique of curiosity that leads us upwards also distorts our sense of time, and it is the return journey, where our thoughts are of home, rather than what is just around the bend, over the rise, or just over the horizon.

It was about five o'clock when I got back into town. I was going to stop at the supermarket to buy some mushrooms for tonight's dinner, a vegetable stir fry, but just before the supermarket was a tray beside the roadside, and in it were bags of mushrooms, sweet potato, and beans, all priced at 100 yen, with an honour tin beside it. I bought one of each, and thereby precluded the need to stop at the supermarket.

As I was sitting back on board reading, I heard a toot from the dock. Sticking my head out the companionway a man on a motor scooter was offering me a bag of vegetables. I think it might have been the same man I had met walking along the dock with his small yappy dog a little earlier. I gratefully accepted the gift. It consisted of a large lettuce, several large oranges, and I think a couple of grapefruit, and some other green leafy things which I have no idea about. I do not know what I am going to do with it all, but one stalk of green leafy stuff has already been chopped up and included into tonight's stir fry, and indeed, whatever it was, it added quite a nice piquant little zest to it .

All is well.