JAPAN 2019 – Gamagori

Apartment 406, on the fourth floor was tiny, cramped with electrical parts and more than several computers. The bathroom unusable, full of household goods. Kota says,
“You can use the shower in my room down on at 305. Please come down to 305 after you have rested for a drink at 5 pm before we go out to dinner”.
Propped at the makeshift bar in the doorway of 305, Kota’s next-door neighbour Kai speaks no English but knows how to drink. Kai and Kota drink frequently, Kai indicating it will be the death of him as he doesn’t work.
A taxi is summonsed to drive us through the evening to a nicely lit restaurant. Were we by ourselves, we’d not consider entering. The sumptuous meal is delicious, though I reckon if my legs could bend nicely under my bum, it might have tasted even better. Kota is in full flight and we are warming to him.
Early next morning he has a full itinerary planned. He’s apologetic that he could not arrange a visit to Toyota but we manage to walk the leafy grounds of Okazaki Castle, the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu ultimately to be Japan’s first Shogun. For all its scenic beauty the castle is a reconstruction. As a landmark it is the place from which 8 cho [cho=108m] away, Hatcho miso is made. Made by the same method since 1337.
With 2500 kg of skilfully placed rocks on tubs of fermenting soy beans, the air has an interesting aroma. Apparently the apprenticeship for rock stacking is 10 years.

Two years under the rocks the miso is ready for packaging and sale. We went to both of the miso making factories and strangely enough after such a brief exposure to the art of miso making we could taste the differences.
We trousered miso samples from both locations, and thanks to the thousands of men and women of Australia’s Border Force we brought some home. [I sense I’m watching too much of this pulp tv]
An afternoon at a Haiku Master’s old residence for tea gave our first exposure to the interplay twixt private and public space awareness. Each family absorbed in its own whisperings and reflection on the tranquillity of the surrounds whilst in a crowd. Unfortunately, I was unable to suppress my inner clown long enough while paying homage to the master Josan. Kota explained haiku, its deeper meaning. I’ve tried in English to find the form, meter and simplicity for an afternoon passed in a Haiku Master’s birthplace.

“Whisked tea house macha,
Tastes bitter, but sweet bean cakes.
Seasons now changing.”

Whisked away to Gamagori, with its sacred island and seaward looking Budda we arrived at Kota’s secret house. A centuries old traditional home, its reached by a footpath only. We settled into a meal of purchased delicacies and much beer and sake. Anne took more than several beers for the team.

The conversation meandered then Kato asked,
“What’s the purpose of all this. I never see my children, dunno where my ex wife is. What will happen to my body when someone finds it in one of my houses someday. Maybe my ashes should just be sent out to sea.”
The scent of burning kerosene filled the room from the heater. Much of the munchies from the market had been consumed. Was it just the piss talking or the reminiscences of an old guy tidying up?
“I want to set up education schools for kids in Africa, and help the poor,” he continued.
Seemed like the purposelessness of continued working for wealth had tsunami like swamped him.
“What about the folk at home here, Kato”, I interjected. “Why not charity beginning at home?’
We’d seen homeless as we’d travelled, admittedly not so many in the rural areas, but the metro areas were alive with them. He wasn’t’ interested at all. Spending money at home seemed like doing the government’s work.
He reached into his wallet and extracted a well-worn envelope. He passed it to me.
“I’ve been looking for this address for some time,” he said.
“I would like to send a letter.”
The postmark was sometime in the 60’s. I noted his surname in the address. The writing style was a young lady, an Aussie young lady. Her address a R/S 1800 for some long-ago mail route out of Maryborough, Queensland.
I carefully fondled the envelope and wondered what he might have to say now, a man in his sixties or seventies to a pen pal of fifty years ago. I reflected that about the same time I had a pen-pal in Japan. I churned over and over silently in my mind. His name was clear “Kasunori Watanabe, 68 Minamigawa, Sobu-cho, Aichi-ken Japan.” Perhaps the vogue at the time was to have a Japanese pen pal.
He told how he had searched and searched fruitlessly. By surname, more than likely now changed, but realised from this distance the odds of reconnecting were low.
“I just wanted to say sorry.”
Sorry for what I wondered, then realised the sorry was probably for not responding earlier when his courage had forsaken him all those years ago, courage he now found sixty years later
“Ok then,” I said,” I’ll look for you when I get back home.”
The hope in the smile was clear. I took a note of the address, Anne took another beer for the team and we toddled off to bed.