Story: Sometime around 1994, I ended up working as a mushroom farmhand (enokitake and shiitake) in a small mountain village called Saji in Tottori-ken (prefecture), Yazu-gun (county) .
A sorta friend of friend of my brother was seeking a foreign worker (at the time, Japan’s economy was in a “bubble” with abundant wealth and no one wanted to do the crappy jobs it turns out). They would pay my airfare and so on, I had just finished a stint hitching and drifting around Europe and before the Grateful Dead tour and thought this would be an interesting adventure.
I was in-country on a working-holiday visa and thought I’d be able to enjoy the country, travel around some, meet some pals, ya know… have fun. But the job was 6 (sometimes 7) days a week, and after working the long day, I would deliver the crated enokis to a market in Tottori city (a warehouse full of other produce), then go back to a crappy apartment in Kawabara (or Kawabata, now amalgamated into Tottori city) to attempt to feed myself.
Soon after i arrived was New Year holiday and *everything* was closed including grocery stores and i couldn’t get kerosene for my little apartment heater. This is when i learned the importance of vending machines for sustenance. Was confusing at first and later, just weird.
My pay was comically low by Japanese standards and I lived alone in a “mansion” apartment – which, in itself wasn’t terrible but was located next to a concrete-making factory.
Anyhow, the enoki mushrooms were grown in an indoor barn-like facility with a series of (7-9?) rooms ranging from very hot and humid (to sterilize the rice bran and sawdust mixture in which the inoculated culture grew) to a degree above freezing to stop the growth and prepare for packaging.
The packaging was done by Kaneda-san and Fujiwara-san, two ladies in their 70s who worked with remarkable speed and dexterity.
I did the “heavy work” including pushing the heavy racks of mushrooms from room to room, pulling out the trays, running them through various machines, moving the sawdust and rice bran by front loader and, cleaning equipment.
None of these tasks suited my skillset but I persisted and worked hard. However, the boss was a jerk who constantly yelled English epithets learned while an exchange farm worker in Couer d’lene Idaho in the 1970s.
He left for a few weeks to USA for a surgery leaving me to run the enterprise. Not cool. I decided to leave but he basically “owned” me and I had limited options. I borrowed a bicycle from 2 lovely foreign friends (one of whom was teaching English in another village, the other an erstwhile community activist), stashed it in the back of the little “K-truck” I drove up to the farm and told the boss I was leaving.
He yelled and screamed “you don’t have a visa, you can’t speak the language, you don’t have a plane ticket to leave!” and tried to charge me crazy money for some long-distance bills (indeed, I was partially at fault but was also left in an untenable situation). I finally split and rode the bike 20+ kilometres in my rubber boots to friend’s who helped me sort my stuff out and head out hitch-hiking.
I have a few scattered slices of photographic evidence from that time which was both ummm enlightening and influential on my subsequent life (especially learning colloquial Japanese for survival and quite falling in love with many – but not all – aspects of Japanese life and culture. Alas, at the time, the gig was a total degrading and un-fun drag.
Update: But… i then headed out on epic adventures, mostly by hitchhike, including Okayama, Shikoku, Nagano, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi learning the “old ways” of culture, squatting in abandoned homes, opening a small shop for a bit… so much to tell.
Then returned in 2015 to visit Kyoto, Okayama, Sakura, and again in 2017 for stops from Hokkaido to Kyushu, again in 2018 to Okayama, Tottori (including a return to the mushroom farm and the crappy apartment) and Shimane… all these topics will (eventually) be addressed under separate cover.
Oh you can see a map of my “Tottori World” and other related artifacts scattered around this archive.
Note: some of these photos were taken with an early-version of a panorama camera i found on sale at Topos discount store. I often developed the 35mm film in standard size (to save money) which results in the cinematic blacks bars framing the photos. I enjoy the unique layout in general.
Found these additional slices of photo evidence of my apartment in forgotten albums and shoeboxes recently (2018) and snapped terrible photos of photos… but including nonetheless for documentary purposes: