A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Adventures in the Deep South: Part 2

In the early hours, I take to the high seas with a crew of local fishermen, in Obama, Fukui, Japan.

The alarm goes off at 3am. I’m tired, it’s dark outside, and I wondering why I was so keen to join the crew of a local fishing boat. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting in the back of local fishermen Jerry’s car, chatting away in mixture of Japanese and English about the London bombings.

Jerry is an incredibly friendly and interesting guy, with a life story that could fill many pages of this blog. A fifty something Philippino man, who has now lived in Japan for eight years after an amazing tale of being smuggled through China and Korea which saw him being unknowingly used as a drug mule, living in hovels packed full of other illegal immigrants and trapped into the slave labour by his smugglers, he eventually escaped and headed to Obama, Japan, where he had a friend.

Now married to a Japanese woman, and fully legal, Jerry makes his living as a fisherman, pulling in his nets as the sun rises each morning, (though he has adventurous plans for starting up his own haulage company in the Philippines). As neighbours, Ryan has become friends with Jerry, and has been going out with these local fishermen over the last few weeks helping them out, and of course I jumped at the chance of getting out to sea and having a fresh experience.

We arrived at the harbour to discover that it had been a very bad night for the crew. Two of them were absent; one’s father had sadly passed away in the night, and another, in a completely unrelated incident, house had burnt down, so it turned out our presence was actually quite timely.

We stepped on board the old fishing boats, and chugged out of the bay in the grey dawn light towards the open sea, with one old fisherman curled up on the deck catching a few Zs. After around half an hour, we reached the first port of call. Through an elaborate maze of nets suspended by floats, fish are channelled into captivity. We hooked the nets using long poles, and then using onboard winches, we slowly brought the nets in, trapping the fish in a net between the two boats.

As more and more of the net is pulled up, the boats get closer and closer together, until there is just a small length of net between to two, packed full of sliver fish, who are probably just realising that their world has suddenly got incredibly small. The final stage is to scoop the fish out of the large net using a small net on a crane, and dump them into an ice filled hold on the boat.

We took in two separate nets, each taking about half and hour to empty, and then with the boat sunk low in the water, due to our heavy pay load, we chugged back in to the port fish market.

As the grey dawn diminished and the sun rose, the captain grabbed a couple of fish and a squid from the icey hold and proceeded to make the freshest sashimi (sliced raw fish) that I’d ever tasted. To accompany this feast, a glass of whiskey (from a 4L plastic bottle) and water was poured, and beers were cracked. This breakfast of fresh fish and whiskey is the standard procedure for the fishermen. I glanced at the onboard clock; 6:15am and we were starting drinking already. We ate the fish with soy and wasabi and admired the beautiful scenery of Obama bay, the lush forested mountains shrouded in dawn mist giving a mysterious calm to the place.

It wasn’t long before we hit the port, and after a relaxing ride, it was action stations again. We disembarked, and load by load, the fish were scooped out from the ice holds, and dumped onto a wooden table whence the sorting began. I was kept busy emptying crates of fish into their rightful containers, and keeping the sorters supplied with fresh crates.

It took a good hour or so sort the catch, which was immediately taken to the auction room and sold on to local restaurant and shop owners. It was enlightening to see the entire process from start to finish, but one thing that did alarm me was the phenomenal amount of fish that are wasted. Tens of thousands of small fry – ranging from 5cm- 10cm were simply swept onto the floor, and hosed down into the drain to become a massive free meal for the local gulls and hawks. Towards the end I was literally shin deep in small, dead fish. Having seen this terrible wastage first hand, it’s little wonder that global fish stocks are plummeting. It seems that it would be so simple to remedy though – just by using a net with larger holes would allow all these young fish to escape, and I wonder why they need such a fine net when they don’t keep the small fish.

By around 8:30am it was all over and we got into the car, together with our payment of several large fish called Sawada. I don’t know the English name, but they looked to me like some type of mackerel. It had been a great morning, though I think these local fishermen found it strange that two foriengers would want to come and work on their boat for nothing. At the same time, I think they liked the fact that we were taking a genuine interest in what they did.

As we drove back to Ryan’s house, feeling weary due to the whiskey buzz wearing off, and with yawns creeping in, Jerry passed on a compliment from the captain.

“My boss like you, he say you have wide mind”.

A massive thanks goes out to Jerry and the local fishermen crew, and Ryan who is sadly leaving Japan in a few days, to seek a fresh adventure. He’s riding his motorbike across Russia and Mongolia. Big Up to Ryan, seeya in Autumn, dood.

Thus ends the chapter of Adventures in the Deep South. Tomorrow, an international posse embarks on a new trail; the famed Fuji Rock Festival. Never heard of it? Just think of the Japanese version Glastonbury/Woodstock.

Stayed tuned to thefunkydrummer.

In the grey light of dawn, we scoop the first of the catch from the large nets into the ice filled hold.

It's a life on the ocean waves for me.

Jerry - the man without whom none of this would have happened. A super friendly, interesting, top geezer. Thanks.

The mountains shrouded in a dawn mist gave a mysterious calm to the bay of Obama.

The crew takes 5 as a temporary glitch in the winch is reparied.

Take us in, cap'in.

One of the two boats bobs up and down on the calm sea.

Chugging back to base.

The sushi samurai at work. He was extremely handy with a blade.

It's 6:15am and breakfast is served; the freshest, finest sashimi, washed down with beer and whiskey.

As we chugged back into port, I spotted these two dawn fisherman on a floating platform.

Sorting in progress. Sadly - all these fish you see here were simply disgarded, thrown on to the floor, and hosed back into the sea, dead. It's a very wasteful process, almost entirely due to the fine mesh of the nets.

Ryan holds up a flying fish.

Sorted: the bounty of the sea.

Adventures in the Deep South: Part 1.

I alone put the Anglo in the Anglo-American crew. The Sea Eagle faces it's greatest challenge yet: three people in moderate seas. Obama, Fukui, Japan.

Last weekend, I made the two hour journey to the town of Obama in the southern end of the Fukui. If living in Ono makes me a man of the mountains, the Obamans are the beach bums of Fukui. My friends Ryan and Amber live in what are basically beach huts, a mere minute walk away from the ocean in an area that has a laid back, chilled out, slow pace feel to it.

The bay of Obama is a very beautiful place, with lush forested mountains curling round the water, sheltering a massive bay area leaving the waters calm – an ideal place for a paddle in the new kayak.

So, following an eventful night, involving sneaking into an elementary school swimming pool, water polo and birthday suits (once again the formula: “boys + girls + booze + water = nakedness”, proves to be mathematically sound), we arose late and headed for the ocean.

As we had three people who wanted a piece of the action, the original plan had been to tow one person on a surf board behind the kayak. However, that idea was abandoned when we discovered that we could fit three in the boat – admittedly it was a little cosy, but hey, we’re all friends here, especially after the previous night’s fun and games in the pool.

So, the Sea Eagle 330 was to face its biggest challenge to date; three people in moderate seas. Yet again, I was impressed with the kayak’s performance, and despite the extra weight, the boat handled well. As we cruised the warm clear waters, we saw several large jelly fish, their long tentacles streaming in their wake.

Sarah, (who incidentally features in the very first story ever to appear on thefunkydrummer as one of the record breaking trio on the Mount Fuji Trip) and I have already borne the wrath of such creatures almost one year ago last August at a beach reggae festival in Takasu. Diving too deep into the dark waters of the ocean that night, we were stung, leaving Sarah’s leg, and my back and chest looking like they’d been lashed with a bull whip. So, with good reason, we weren’t so keen to dive into the jelly fish infested waters a second time.

Ryan on the other hand was happy to don a face mask and snorkel, and was soon bringing up various shell fish for our perusal. Everything was going well as we bobbed up and down on the high seas, when disaster struck; Sarah began to feel seasick, and decided that she wanted off. With Ryan back on board, we paddled on in search of a place to land, and deposit her for some recovery time but the rocky cliffs offered us no refuge, only the guarantee of shredded skin and a punctured boat.

When Sarah announced she would rather jump over board, swim to the shoreline, slice herself up on the treachous rocks, scale the 100 meter vertical cliffs with overhangs, and then make the five hour hike back to the car, rather than stay on the boat, we knew it was serious.

However luck was on our side – we stumbled upon a small inlet, with a couple of ancient caves in, which had obviously been used for the storage of some unknown cargo in years gone by. We landed, and whilst Sarah had a lie down to regain her land lubbin’ legs, Ryan and I explored the caves, which bore signs of recent human activity; we saw a fire and a frying pan as well as some bats in the cave.

Ryan, the adventurous Tennessean, last featured on thefunkydrummer in February 2005, when we were riding powder tree runs at Katsuyama Ski Jam and he had a close encounter with a pine, which saw him being stretchered off the mountain, and brought a harsh early end to his snowboarding season. Now fully healed, he tried his luck at fishing, and managed to catch a tiddler.

We chilled on this small enclave for a couple of hours, but as the sun began to sink, we decided it was time to head home. I had a little accident whilst trying to get back in to the boat, resulting in man over board, and lacerating seven of my fingers on the sharp rocks. With blood flowing out on to the boat and into the sea leaving a trail for the sharks, the crew paddled back inland, flowing the rocky coastline, as the sun set behind us.

Out in the open water, we had a job keeping the boat straight, what with the wind, and currents buffeting us around, but once inside the safety of the bay, it was easy going again.

As we neared our final destination, for some reason we simultaneously paused paddling and the boat swung slowly round to face the setting sun glimmering on the calm surface of the bay. As we sat there, the magic of the scene shunned us all into the silence. We simply sat motionless, gazed in awe, and breathed in the beauty of a perfect end to what had been a near perfect day.

NB: Unfortunately I have no pictures of this trip, as I didn’t want to risk the destruction of yet another camera. Yes – that’s right – I’m now on Camera No.3. No. 1 was lost whilst snowboarding last winter, and No. 2 came to an untimely death last week, when it got left on the roof of my car, fell off, and then I reversed over it.

Another one bites the dust.

Ryan lashes the board down, outside his beach hut in Obama. The original plan to tow one person on a surf board behind the kayak was abandoned when we found we could squeeze three into the two man boat.

Inflation of the Sea Eagle 330.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sayonara: The Last Supper

And indeed it was a happy party too.

Last weekend, the annual Sayonara party took place. A chance to say farewell to everbody leaving Fukui, and a good excuse for a drink and a boogie. Some have been here for just a year, others up to four years. Some are staying in Japan to teach, translate or learn more lingo, others are heading home to enroll in post-grad studies, or get 'proper' jobs.

A good time was had by all, and thefunkydrummer wishes all those leaving all the best in the future.

He battered down the door of a Japanese Snack Bar (strip joint) with a fire extinguisher, he started a brawl on the bullet train, and he's done time in a Japanese prison cell - it's the one and only Jon S.

Kim and Celeste enjoy one last dance.

South African Nici enjoys a tipple.

Little Miss Hironaka and Dusty

Sam Squared

Out for the count - Ben W's night comes to an end.

Friday, July 15, 2005

My New Toy

The first test of the Sea Eagle 330 on dry land.

After talking about it for some time, I have finally got round to buying an inflatable canoe. With the snow long gone, Sam and I needed something to take us into the great outdoors over the summer and autumn months, and this canoe is looking like one of my best purchases of all time.

I researched similar boats for a long time, but eventually decided to go with a Sea Eagle 330, (www.seaeagle.com), which so far, I would have to thoroughly recommend as an excellent value and quality vessle. The well priced two man craft (approx £200 inc. shipping from USA) can be inflated and on the water in little over five minutes using a foot pump, and it all breaks down to fit into a smallish bag, easily carried by one person.

After taking it for a quick test run on a tiny stretch of the Kuzuryu river (home of the swimming hole), yesterday I decided to give it a more substantial challenge. So, being gratefully dismissed from school at noon due to a parents meeting, I raced home, threw the boat into my Pajero Mini, and hit the road.

My destination was the Kuzuryu lake, and huge body of water about 45 mins drive from my home. The lake was formed by the damming of the Kuzuryu river for hydro electric power purposes, yet despite being man made, it’s a very beautiful place, situated in the isolated mountains, with a minimum of human development.

I’d heard rumours that certain portions of the lake are off limits to boats, but having scoped it out and finding the area deserted, I’d decided I take my chances. Within ten minutes, the boat was ready for launching, and I grabbed my paddles, and pushed off in to the cool waters of the lake.

When the dam was built and the valley flooded, apparently several villages were destroyed, and people were forced to leave. Locals say that the many of the buildings were left standing, some even say it’s haunted, and as I paddled out into the centre of the lake, I found it to be eerily calm. For the first two hours, I saw no people, no fish, few birds, and indeed, the only residents of the lake appeared to be submerged, black, dead trees, which I often saw poking several meters out of the water, some of them standing surprisingly far out in the lake.

The lake has a number of inlets, perfect for exploring, so I chose one, and paddled on. I got quite a fright when I was in out in the middle of the lake, and suddenly saw a huge, dark ghostly shape gliding deep below me. At first I didn’t know what it could be, and feared it was perhaps a relative of the Loch Ness Monster, but later on I spotted a similar phenomenon, and identified it as a shoal of large fish cruising the depths.

The high light of the day was the band of wild monkeys I stumbled upon. As I was making my way back down one of the many inlets, I noticed some of the branches of the trees were moving. I paused to watch, and a few minutes later, several monkeys emerged from the dense forest and came to sit on a piece of dead wood jutting into the water, eyeing me up inquisitively. I slowly, quietly paddled towards them, hoping to be able to get some shots. As I grew nearer, I realised there was a group of ten or more primates, checking me out.

As I sat and watched, they became more bold, some of them climbing out onto the limbs of trees near me, shaking the branches and making noises at me. I observed them for a good half an hour, trying to get as many shots as possible. Occasionally they would come down from the trees, and one of them made a brave run towards me, but scared itself by knocking some loose stones into the water.

As the shadows lengthened, the time came to leave ‘monkey point’, and return to land. As packed up and drove homewards, I had a feeling of quiet calm.

Today, I am going fishing on another lake with our mountain climbing friend “Yasu” – it’s a hard life.

NOTE: Today is my last day of school this term – hence the holidays begin. As a result, I will be travelling round Japan, looking for fresh material for thefunkydrummer. I will endeavour to post when I can, but it won’t be as regularly as you have come to expect until term restarts in September.

Have a good summer – School’s Out.

Prepare for launch: the sea eagle 330 is ready for action.

Cruising on Lake Kuzuryu, Fukui Ken.

Dead trees, situated suprisingly far out into the deep water.

A wild monkey, as seen on the steep, rugged, forested shores of lake Kuzuryu, Izumi.

Monkey, feel my monkey.

Photographing wild monkeys is not as easy as it seems. Full respect to wild life photographers.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Cooling off in the Kuzuryu

Dave gives us a wave before plunging into the beautiful, cool, clear blue waters of the Kuzuryu river, Ono, Fukui, Japan. Eri admires in the foreground.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment with Japan is its rivers. Despite Japanese propaganda claiming Japan to have “the many beautiful nature”, its rivers are obviously not included in the clause.

Bluntly put – 98.5% of all Japanese rivers, streams, and brooks that I’ve have seen are utter shite. The Japanese just don’t seem to be able to leave rivers run free. It’s a great shame that they have felt the need to get in there with their bulldozers, diverting, damming, and destroying the natural features, lining the banks and bed in ugly grey concrete and leaving them looking more like open sewers than rivers. It’s a blight on Japan’s landscape, and although they claim it’s all in the interests of flood prevention, I don’t buy it.

The only water courses I have seen spared of concrete lining are a few small streams running down the steep mountains that I’ve climbed. Those, and the most beautfiful stretch of river I have seen in Japan. This one exceptionally rare spot, along with it's ski areas, is Ono’s greatest assest, and makes me glad to be living here. As the weather has been rapidly warming, I have begun to spend more and more of my time at the river, often heading up after school for a cool plunge with fellow Ono-ites.

Completely concealed from the road, this hidden gem is tucked away, well hidden by narrow rice paddy roads and lush groves of bamboo. Impossible to find without detailed directions, I decided this spot would make the ideal place for a weekend of swimming, bbqing and camping.

So, just before the rainy season hit, I gathered a mixed posse of gaijin and Japanese and we set up camp for the weekend of river fun. The hot and humid weather made the cool clear waters of the Kuzuryu (Nine Headed Dragon) river even more appealing, and we spent the weekend in a constant cycle of swimming, eating, drinking, and swimming again.

As to be expected, this cumulated in a drunken midnight dip. I recall the exhilarating sensation of diving deep into the cold pitch black waters, calmly holding my breath and swimming sub marine before surfacing again in the moonlit ripples.

It’s well known that Boys + Girls + Booze + Water = Nakedness, so it wasn’t long before bikins and trunks were removed, and a good old fashioned skinny dippin’ session was in full swing. My Japanese friends decided to abstain from this, but I later found out it was because none of them could swim! Instead they watched white bums and boobs bob up and down from the safety of the rocks.

The most amusing point of the night was when the naked bodies retired to the banks of the river, only to find they had no idea where their clothes were, whence a mad scramble for modesty began, resulting in a number of cross dressing incidences.

Back at the campfire, refreshed bodies warmed themselves, feasting on toasted marshmallows and sake deep into the night, against the backdrop of a free fire fly show and the sounds of DJ iPod in the mix.

Overall, a superb weekend, and the first of many to come.

Dave, Caitlin and Sam cool off in the blue green waters of the Kuzuryu river, Ono.

Some happy campers pitch their tent on the rare luxury of real grass. Note the painting hung on the tree, to give that extra special "home from home" feel.

Dave heads downstream in the Kuzuryu river.

Some of the international posse chill by the river. Here, we have a mixture of: Brits, Americans, Aussies, Canadians, Kiwis, Finns, and Japanese.

Two J-girl firends, Noriri and Junko, enjoy the evening, their faces dimly lit by the warm glow of the crackling fire.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere DJ iPod spins a dance floor classic. All females in the vicinity immediatley start strutting their stuff, leaving onlooking males unsure as to what just hit them.

The morning after.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Pimp My Ride

Pimp my Pajero Mini.

I’m not a car man. I don’t have a dream car, and I don’t fantasise about driving a souped up hot rod. I have many friends who can tell you how many cylinders, valves, litres, even the number of rivets a car has. I can tell you how many wheels it’s got, but that’s about it.

Car talk with such friends usually goes something like this:

Danny G: “Oh nice! - Aston Martin DB7 GT, 6 speed manual gear box, 6 litre engine, 0-60 in 5 seconds.”

Me: “Actually Danny, I think you’ll find it’s an Aston Villa Martini, 4 wheels, 1 engine, some windows, pretty fast.”

Simply put - I can’t tell a Lambo from a Lada.

However, when I first arrived in Japan, my attention was drawn to a rather funky little car I saw on the roads; the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. Best described as a mini Jeep (though obviously not manufactured by Jeep), I began, for the first time in my life, to covert a car.

But it wasn’t to be. After looking into it and finding that the minimum I could pick up one of these puppies was way over my budget, I put it to the back of my mind and eventually the dream died. Instead, I acquired a Suzkui Wagon R, apparently the most popular vehicle in Japan. We had a very loving relationship; it took me far into the mountains of Ono even during the harshest of blizzards, and I took it to the car pub every week and bought it 42 litres of it’s favourite tipple.

Alas, the course of true love never runs smoothly and this spring I noticed a loss in engine power. Suspecting it was just in need of a tune up, I checked it in to the local garage for the once over. When the mechanic told me to sit down, I new it was serious. He calmly told me that my car had only months to live. A crack in the cylinder was spreading like cancer through my engine. I was told to make preparations for the funeral.

At first I was in denial. The car doctors were wrong, there must be some mistake. It was young and healthy, it just didn’t make sense. I was angry that my car was being taken from me after such a short time. But as the weeks ticked on, and the engine weakened, I feared for the worse.

After taking it for a second opinion, but receiving the same diagnosis, I finally accepted the fact the my Wagon was dying, and that I was going to have to let go. I agonised over the decision of what to do for many weeks. I didn’t want to get a new car, but my wagon’s health was deteriorating, and I knew it couldn’t hold on much longer.

Then, one day, like a gift from the gods, a teacher at my school came to talk to me. He’d heard the sad news of my Wagon R, and wanted to know if I might like to buy his car. And what car was it? That’s right – the mini jeep style car! He was offering it to me for a good price and to seal the deal he was even chucking in snowboard racks! I couldn’t believe my luck! It seemed my suffering had all been worthwhile, my good karma had finally come back to me.

So, now I cruise the roads (avoiding grannies and students cycling and walking on the wrong side of the road) in Pajero pimp style. It’s got all the normal features that modern cars possess - 4 wheels, a gear stick, and a couple of seats, but it’s also got “intercooler turbo DOHC 20 Valve”.

How do I know this? It’s written on the side.

Beat that Danny G.

Profile of the Pajero Mini.

Full Frontal.

The good ship Suzuki Wagon R. R.I.P.

Friday, July 01, 2005

T*O*K*Y*O Part 4: Nite Life

The beautiful Brit and the fine Finn enjoy their (free) drinks in a stylish bar in the Ueno district of Tokyo, courtesy of our new found Japanese friends.

The forth and final part of the T*O*K*Y*O series takes us deep in the heart of the urban night life. Coming from the inaka (countryside) of Fukui, this was perhaps the thing us country bumpkins were looking forward to most and we weren't to be disappointed.

We welcomed the range of foreign foods on offer, devouring pizza, curry and Thai greedily. We wandered the narrow neon lit streets of Shinjuku, turning down offers of girls from burly bouncers, and sampling some of the numerous small bars to be found in this district.

Despite ranking as one of the worlds most expensive cities, with the help of some Japanese connections we found an a 2 hour nomihodi (all you can drink) for a mere £10, a bargain I think you'll agree.

Another night, I was once again taken aback by the Japanese kindness and generosity. Whilst searching in vain for a decent bar, we came across a couple of young Japanese guys who were heading home after a night out themselves. We enlisted their help, and they not only took us to a nearby night spot, but they then paid for all of our drinks after telling us how hard up they were. Talk about laying down a guilt trip - but they wouldn't accept any money from us. This is just one of the many times that the Japanese have proved themselves to be one of the most friendly, welcoming people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

The highlight of the trip had to be the club we visited. I think it was the smallest nite spot I have ever seen, tucked away in a basement on a little known back street. The owner of the club was a friend of another Japanese connection of ours, and kindly let ten gaijin in free of charge.

Immediately the dance floor went from dead to densely populated, as the white boys and girls threw down their moves and the place came alive. Everybody was so friendly and they all seemed so happy to have been invaded by the westerners.

After an unusual yet banging mix of indie and dance, the DJs switched and I bore witness to one of the weirdest things I've seen in a club. Two girls who had previously been dancing like mad monkeys took to the decks and put on track that I can only describe as "moon music".

Then, from behind the wheels of steel, an array of puppets on sticks appeared and started getting down to the tunes just like everybody else. I couldn't decipher if there was any story line to the performance, I think it was just a random show, but I can tell you that it was hilarious, weird, and 100% JAPANESE.

If I had seen nothing else in all my time in Tokyo, this one mad puppet show would have made it all worthwhile.

Thankyou Japan.

Do the hustle. Reputed to be the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, we absorb the energy of a thousand Tokoyites marching to the orders of the green man.

The sheer mirth of this Japanese puppet master injected the audience with ecstacy.

Live Puppet Show DJ's. Only in Japan.

You'll find me in da club wiv a bottle full of bub.

Here we sample some Tokyo's culinary delights, in a gothic themed resturant. An American, A cannuck, and the only two Finns on the JET programme.