Riff: Japan, working holiday visa, 1992 (& related circumstances)

the “working holiday visa which started my Japan life in Dec. 1992

Before arriving in Japan, I really knew very little about Japan, I didn’t have an interest in Japan, didn’t care about anime or manga or hadn’t eaten sushi, and had no interest in martial arts, though did have some interest and experience with traditional pottery (raku) techniques, familiarity with Japanese poetry albeit as introduced by *Western* writers, however my older brother had gone to Japan for “proselytizing reasons” and him being in Japan – in a roundabout way – is what brought me to Japan (via the working holiday visa paper of importancy pictured above).

In brief: after a several years of traveling around US & Canada for Grateful Dead concerts, hemp festivals, national park exploits, mountain climbing, canyon hiking, couch crashing, Punk shows, fake IDs, drum corps, university invasions, odd jobs, foolish hitchhikes and “doing my best” with the ladies… And then extending that vibe into Mexico for fish tacos and tequila mistakes and taking my VW bus in even more places it probably shouldn’t have ever gone but did, came an accepted application to Evergreen college which was thwarting by ignominiously *not* winning of any scholarships, not awarded of any bursaries, not accepted into any grants, not allowed any loans so (kind of a shock since i was really accustomed to winning everythings, (you wanna see all my elementary school ribbons, maybe you have?).

So, took the money saved from a summer of building bicycles at Sunrise in Logan, Utah while living in a tent next to the temple & went to Seattle anyway but instead of going south to Olympia to finish off a bachelors degree (with wide eyes of getting a master of fine arts in creative writing and likely a tweed jacket with elbow patches soon there after to go with my smoky pipe and intellectual airs), went North to my “for lack of a better term” hometown of Surrey/Vancouver, bought a one-way ticket to Amsterdam, found some ridiculously-colored hiking boots, obnoxiously-colored trousers and barely usable but very packable sleeping bag & mat on the clear-out table (obviously because of the color) at one of the dozen outdoor good stores in Kitsilano, and with a butane stove (loaded), pocket knife (dull-ish), cut off overalls, a travel sized wok pan, juggling sticks and a jester hat, headed off on a European adventure – not the sort of package tour with giggling youth on a graduation trip, nor the earnest guidebook-toting aficionado, just me, a patched up red wilderness experience backpack and the 1972 “hitchhikers guide to Europe” with vague plans to eventually meet up with my buddy Trevor who had gone a few months earlier (keep reading) and working as a waiter at a seaside something in England and seeing all these bands we loved at big muddy festivals.

At the risk of an extended digression, (& unsurprisingly, documentation of this trip exists in poems, paintings, two photographs, a wine label and at least one but probably more podcasts telling stories about getting deathly ill at Oktoberfest in Munich after hitchhiking from Amsterdam, meeting up with the Bad Yodelers band and being (yet again) a sort of uninvited guest on their band tour being a “roadie who didn’t do anything but smoke hash mixed with tobacco – yech”, then meeting up with Trevor in an idyllic fairytale town, picking grapes, gathering chestnuts for sale, partying in old castle dungeons, carousing with more people than should fit in a Citreön, a wild “new wine” festival [censored], hitchhike back to Amsterdam hostels & coffeshops, a bus to Belgium, a hazy ferry to England, rainy expensive London with Hare Krishnas and bad decisions and couch surfing (again) with New Zealanders (and an Australian who was convinced he was going to carry on a dozen beer steins for his flight home) after watching red dwarf… We ended up in Miami after hurricane Andrew on a cheap Virgin Atlantic flight – where we drank more than our airfare of fancy liquor & bought a bottle of scotch for a friend Who (yes, again) would be hosting us on his couch – on a fraudulent credit card. Then came all night Denny’s nursing coffees, Halloween hilarity, caught in thunderstorms, meeting sketchy friends of a sort, trying to exchange a Canadian hundred dollar bill which had been hidden in my boot for months, soggy and unvaluable, adventure down to Key West meeting neither Jimmy Buffett or Hemingway but eating some conch fritters, then a drive-away car delivery towards Dallas with at least three police incidents including a very thorough search on alligator alley none of which were nowhere near as frightening as dropping off the car to the very large, very agitated (and wearing very short shorts) recipient who was ummm concerned & confused about why the trunk wasn’t filled with a certain white powder and “who are we?” and why we were demanding he gave us $300… Somehow we ended up at the Greyhound station, scammed a scammer into a two-for-one ticket for a bus ride to Salt Lake City, i’ll never ride a greyhound again I said as I sat in the loser seat next to the toilet but still I remember every bus station was playing a different Neil Diamond song.)

So, digression over, along that trip at a payphone – maybe in New Orleans blinking in the morning sun with cheap sunglasses or maybe in Austin where we called some guys we met in Vegas after a Dead show (who turned out they were really into foosball) or maybe in Alabama with the crunchy sand on the gulf shores – called my Mom to say “hi Mom, I’m not in Europe anymore, I’m also not in Florida, I’m driving a car with purple tinted windows to Dallas” and she said “oh son!” (Because she always said “oh son!”) your brother Bob called from Japan and he has this fantastic opportunity for you: his dear friends have a mushroom farm and they’re just eager to bring over a foreign worker on our “working holiday visa” to enjoy life in Japan and give them a bit of help at the farm, they want their kids to have some international exposure and it will be so much fun! They’ll pay for your plane ticket over, “should I tell them yes?”

I said “probably” probably, thinking in my head “what’s with Japan? and do the girls there like hippie boys?”

Somehow, we arrived in familiar Utah – I remember a meal on the same fraudulent credit card (such days before verification) and running into these two effervescent sisters I knew from a previous life… And somehow Trevor got on a plane (was it this trip I walked him literally to the plane gate door paying for a ticket including spare change coins? That might’ve been another trip but anyhow) But anyhow, somehow, The “probably” turned into “yeah sure nothing else to do” – and it seemed at first blush like decent money (#Foreshadowing little did I know), & flash, i was back in Vancouver (somehow), with a laundry list of visa requirements, including an itinerary of what I plan to do with my six-month visa.

On it I included (the paper exists somewhere, when I find it I’ll share it to support my meanderings):

  • Study Japanese ceramics
  • Explore the islands by motorcycle
  • Probably something about scuba diving
  • Dig castles and temples and zen and sht
  • Poetry, obviously – teach workshops, master haiku, walk in the footsteps of Basho blah blah

I also had to show a bank statement showing enough money (my Dad lent me the money for approximately eight hours to put it in the bank, print out a bank statement, return it to him), my plane ticket (which only had a one way but printed out a reservation like it was a round-trip), a letter of “invitation” or whatever from the mushroom farm (the farm wife was American, the husband Japanese).

Turned in my papers at the Japanese consulate in Vancouver one morning, stamp stamp smile smile, my hair pulled back into ponytail, maybe tucked up into a cap, probably wearing a Pendelton woolen mills jacket as though it would make me look respectable with my 22-year-old scraggly beard and all.

{Not knowing if the Japanese girls would like this hippie boy, I figured I should go “to see some girls” so I went to the marble arch just as it opened, there was one other patron who kept on bobbing his head and cheersing his glass at me and he looked familiar and it was because he was David Lee Roth}

I actually really didn’t know in my head where I was going, i mean could find it on a map but it didn’t really mean anything as had no frame of reference. It wasn’t Tokyo or Kyoto. It was Tottori {Memo: Japan’s least populated and “47 most popular” prefecture, famous fir sand dunes and the most delicious pears}

Anyhow, before you know it, i’m on a plane to Nagoya (what’s now the old Nagoya Airport) meet up with my brother who is staying in some house behind maybe a bosses house, he wrote out directions for me to go to Kyoto by train and then from there to a bus and show this note to the bus driver and he will tell me when to get off the bus in Mochigase.

I have *way too much* gear, like a crate of classic literature (figured I’d use all this time to read all those books that you’re supposed to read if you were smart university literature type so I’m pulling a duffel bag with Moby Dick and Look Homeward Angel and so on through the Kyoto train station), thumping up and down stairs trying to find this one bus terminal because there’s like 20 bus terminals/companies. Finally figure it out, next bus is coming, I sit in the plastic seat and I read Gary Snyder‘s “the back country“ and read about him being in Kyoto at a bus station and going from a village to “things to do towards town” and thought for a 2nd “holy smokes, I’m really doing it”.

The bus comes, i’m on board with my Guatemalan sweater all purple and pink and blue and teal and my mustard yellow Patagonia pants and my pink and blue boots and my hair hanging well down my back and my mostly-neck-beard. I finally sleep on the bus until the driver grunts something that sounds like the name of the place i’m supposed to get off.

He’s already offloading my duffel bags, several duffels, I get off the bus my boots still untied and stepped into snow as deep as my knees the bus pulls away. There’s a closed gas station, closed small grocery store, and the green glow of a payphone 100 m across the road. I tie up my boots, wonder what I’m doing, then a van pulls up, an American lady.

I get in the van, oh everything‘s gonna be all right, right? We make a stop at some relatives, I say “they seem nice“ she says “they hate each other like every other couple here” and as we twist up the winding mountain road with no “anything”, she tells me everything bad about Japan and everything bad about her relationship and everything I’m going to have to do to get this farm into shape.

“Tomorrow will get you settled into your apartment which will come out of your pay and the next day you start working from eight until whenever…”

I made the guy, the new boss, he immediately asked to see my hands, I have been working all kinds of crappy jobs fixing bikes, picking grapes, gathering chestnuts, hitchhiking, rolling joints get my hands are soft, pink and calloused free, my fingernails clean, healthy and uncracked (fortunately I suppose not painted at this point) and he scowled acting like I was some kind of dainty. He sizes me up, maybe 5 foot nine, maybe 125 pounds, wearing a ridiculously oversized sweater, skin and bones and a smile. I could see he was expecting some strapping Midwestern Farm boy or something but not the waifish lad in his foyer.

We’re off to a poor start – I am annoyed because I’m tough, can work hard and been underestimated my whole life for physical tasks, and I’ve got 3 inches on him easy. I sleep upstairs in a tatami room, the smells and sounds all fresh and I am confused by the toilet.

The next day I’m into my “mansion” apartment next to a concrete factory, a gray concrete workers quarters, musty, and nearby the gas station, grocery store and and nothing else. “Don’t they know I need a coffee shop with a view and a table to spread out my notebooks?”

I’m given the keys to a little van with the Right hand steering wheel & shifter (that part was fine but it’s the blinkers/wipers that always got me). and a map for the twisty windy road to the farm.

A week later, the wife was on the plane to Nebraska with the kids, I was left with the jerk of a boss, two elderly ladies, and the daughter of one of them who helped out who accidentally mistakenly liked me *way too much* which was very complicated in between the boss yelling and swearing at me all the time. I drove front loaders, mixing rice bran and sawdust into various machines, moving racks of mushrooms from hot humid pasteurization rooms to inoculation rooms to slightly cooler rooms progressing down a series until my sweat soaked overalls were in a frozen cold room for harvesting and packing the mushrooms and then cleaning all the equipment and then loading the trays of mushrooms into the back of the K truck and heading down into the “city” to drop them off and stand around an oil barrel fire while the roughneck guy smoked mild seven cigarettes and laughed and swore at me under their breath while giant cabbages and broccoli’s were unloaded.

I worked, and worked hard but was never enough, amidst it all, managed to crash the kei-van into a ditch, backed the kei-truck into another car (which I couldn’t see because the back was filled with trays of mushrooms), that came out of my pay as well – everything came out of my pay: the dingy gray brick apartment, the kerosene for the stove (which, turns out nothing is open during new year holiday right after i arrived so I said wondering how to get warm and how to eatso I said wondering how to get warm and how to eat – the answer turned out to be bananas and beer and coffee from vending machines), I didn’t know how to shop, i didn’t know how to do anything… oh and then the boss decided to leave me in charge of the factory for a couple of weeks while he went to USA to try to sort out his complicated relationship (which didn’t seem to get uncomplicated but I don’t know/care) and he had some hemorrhoid surgery to deal with or something like that… he came back, I was blamed for not doing a good enough job (maybe you know all of this from other dispatches…). But I had a plan, to leave and to leave quickly.

So I pulled it all together and got smart enough and skilled enough, just barely enough, to run away. Despite him yelling “you have no return ticket, no visa, you don’t speak the language you can’t do this you were supposed to stay here for three years something something something, i ran away (a long distance phone bill behind me and a borrowed bicycle riding down the twisty windy road, more than a bit teary scared and confused, in my stinky overalls).

I went to a cow farm in Okayama to regroup, ship some stuff, fix my backpack (which is now I goat farm) and stuck up my thumb and kept going… Shikoku, Nagano, Okazaki in error, Shimonoseki – there was a “back-and-forth” to the other continent, a few broken dreams, battered heart, questionable decisions (all the usual ingredients but leaving all of that aside for our purposes here) somehow Guam and Micronesia and then Japan faded from view for 20 something years. You can pick up the story elsewhere as desired.

This is all to say: Pictured above is my “working holiday” visa, a simple piece of paper which was stashed in a box amongst hitchhiking maps & signs, love letters from several countries (smelling out incense burned in my apartment which turned out was *only used at funerals* to the consternation & confusion of the neighbors no doubt – except for the gaggle of Filipino girls, all seven or eight of them in one apartment, working at a textile factory, always so happy and calling me “the Bananaman“ with various offers of marriage), hundred yen store photo albums with a snap of singing “born to be wild” wearing yukata kimono at Misasa onsen plus me in Mexican vest and the mustard colored pants and Scottish hat with the mayor looking like a cardboard cut out of a mayor of a small Japanese village – by the way, it was this village that made me realize Japan has magic for me – & other evidence that any of this ever happened (oddly, a snapshot of the mushroom farm posted on the under a Creative Commons license surfaced as the lead photo for a story about “depopulation in the rural Japan” in Japan Times newspaper).

Summary: So, there wasn’t much of a “holiday” but there was a lot of “working” and that is how my Japan life began.

Questions accepted within reason. Pardon typographical / dictation errors, written in a flash, will possibly tidy up another time.

Consider perusing related dispatches in this archive including artifacts from the mushroom farm, a return to Misasa, various haiku and paintings, and the goat farm that was once a cow farm where the story started all over again. Decades later.

4 thoughts on “Riff: Japan, working holiday visa, 1992 (& related circumstances)”

  1. Thanks so much for checking it out… Funny thing is there’s so much more of course of course as I undergo “personal archaeology” and find more evidence and artifacts from that era.

    PS I returned to the scene – very gingerly – summer of 2018 (the farm and the “mansion“) and have some snapshots of the updated situation to compile one of these days.

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