Thursday, August 18, 2011

It`s always better with Coke.

It has been a year and I am still gloriously off balance. Japan is still dragging me down, long, cold corridors one moment and combusting tiny sparks into eruptions of fiery flowers above my head, the next. I see all the new English teachers inject themselves with this distilled variety of life, from the second they land in Japan and I find it fascinating that the same still goes for me. All I need to do, to prove my point is tell you about my week.

It started as all chaotic things do, with one part ninja, two parts narcolepsy and four parts drama. This year at the Annual Yufuin Summer Seminar I was offered the chance to participate in the Amazing Race and while `Nurse Freda` did race her frilly apron off, the addition of a narcoleptic partner cost her the million dollar prize. My opponents ranged from scheming twins to board breaking ninjas but it was the clueless American couple that dark horsed their way to victory. My days were spent teaching drama and my nights were spent in the onsen as well as trying to imagine that the beanbag they had given me was a pillow.

Well I say `it started` but now that I think about it, the evening before, Ducky and the new JET from her town already set the ball in motion when they joined us for the Kamegawa fireworks festival. Now as you know, Roland is good at a great many things, he braais a mean boerewors, he owns hard at computer games and he is particularly good at leaving the shower-button up so I get a surprising blast of cold water in my face, while expecting a slow trickle from the tap, but he is absolutely appalling when it comes to saying `NO`. Thus, it did not take a group of fishermen long to catch him in their net of free beer and interest in South African culture. I left my man with a vague description of where we were sitting while he educated the sailors about the value of substituting Coke for water when drinking brandy. Roland never found us in that stormy sea of faces but we all enjoyed the fireworks and Beppu`s fishing community started teaching all of their friends about `Brannas and Coke`.

It did not take long for my week to turn to hell, quite literally. The appropriately named hell tunnels were carved by Buddhist monks a crazy long time ago and filled with mythical creatures and spaces narrow enough to warrant sniggering speeches from Roland about how there are not enough tunnels to get lost in and that he is sure that the crocodile headed statue was not looking the other way a few seconds ago. The yang to this dark yin was to climb to heaven and be rewarded with a calming view of rice fields.

Our day was however not all underworlds and ascensions, we also parked by a small roadside shop, on top of a mountain while we waited for a too-close-for-comfort thunderstorm to stop setting off chains of white light in our general direction. Luckily the rain was short lived and we soon found our way to two beautiful waterfalls, one completely enclosed by an impressive amphitheater of rock. We stumbled upon a huge Buddha and a delicate pagoda, all thanks to some small tourist signs and the perfect diction of Riaan Cruywagen directing us via GPS.

Little foxes in the back of the buggy, on their way to go dance.

The very next day we were on a boat. The Ferry dropped us off on Himeshima Island where Ducky, Roland, a boatload of Americans and me watched the famous fox dancing. Thousands of little kids don kimono and fox costumes and dance to taiko drumming and the sound of a thousand cameras clicking. We climbed a creepy mountain trail while there and christened it `Mountain where Ducky secretly took us in order to sell our organs to locals so we mocked her about it for a good hour, trail`.

Mountain where Ducky secretly took us in order to sell our organs to locals

Sunday dawned with river gorges and yawned with suspension bridges and that night I slept like someone who can afford to leave the air-conditioning on all night.

The week’s final breaths came in booming blasts as Roland and I watched another fireworks festival, this time together. I had never been that close to big fireworks before and my heart beat unconsciously along to the loud expulsions of energy that was causing soft ash to collect in my hair. It has been a year and this country is still every bit as thrilling as when my toes touched the tarmac at Narita airport.

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