Story: Sometime around 1993, 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.
Returning to Japan for the first time since working as a mushroom farmer in the Tottori-ken mountains decades previous, Dave rambles on about the circumstance – then and now – while wandering near his pal’s goat farm. Riffs include: arriving in the snow and getting settled, bailing on job, hitch-hiking around islands, falling in love(ish), eating okonomiyaki, soaking in hot springs and living simultaneously in the future and past. Also persimmons and goats, pigs, cows et al.
This photo shows a mushroom farm in Tottori, Japan, where I worked a few days in 1991 with Tyler Smith and Jared Scott; and where my brother Dave Olson toiled for almost a year. Dave took the picture sometime in 1993, scanned it about 10 years ago, and stuck on his Flickr stream under creative commons license. Now it has recently shown up in a Japan Times article. You’d think the Japan Times would have a gazillion stock photos of the Japanese countryside, but they chose Dave‘s evocative image of a stark, cold winter along the Sea of Japan.
Shape-shifting: This village in Yazu District, Tottori Prefecture, is much like the fictional one in ‘Red Girls,’ which suffers from an aging population and changing customs. | FLICKR / CC BY-SA 2.0
This is Saji-san, Yazu-gun, Tottori. The boss was a collossal jerk and made my life miserable (his wife had just split, he had hemmoroids (which he talked about endlessly) and had been a foreign exchange student in Yakima WA and Couer d’lene Idaho in the 70/80s so think he was using me to exact revenge for the treatment he likely received.
I am hard worker and got paid shit (especially after rent in my bunker-like apartment) but man, this was repetitive, redundant and entirely un-fun after a couple of days.
I drove k-truck to market in Tottori down windy snowy roads and then figured out a way to feed myself and stay warm and do it all again and again. 6 days/week. I finally borrowed a bike, put in back of k-truck, and told him i was leaving. He shouted, “you have no visa, no return ticket and dont speak language!” – he was correct on all accounts but i stuck out my left thumb and had mighty adventures through Shikoku and as far up as Nagano where i found Japanese (and one ex-American Navy man) hippie squatters living in abandoned villages way up in mountains. Lived old timey. Hot springs, gathering mountain vegetables, harvesting rice and wandering high in the hills with my notebooks.
Made a map of various places where I lived and worked in Tottori, Japan during 1993-4 including an enoki mushroom farm in Saji, an apartment in Kawahara, another in Hamamura, and a few friend’s homes. Note: many of these communities are now amalgamated into Tottori-shi (city).
Musing from 2008(?): I feel so old thinking that when i was there, there was no internet access, no cell phones or other common communication tools. It seems like so long since i was in japan and i always thought i’d be back time and again. I still remember the smells, sights and feelings of the materials there – paper walls, tatami floors, kerosene heaters, heavy, overhanging ceramic roof shingles i’d always bump my head on!
I almost never get to use Japanese any more. There are heaps of Japanese ESL student here but they are all young kids trying to be cool ;-) and i haven’t urge to make temporary friends, however we picked up 2 lost hitchhiking Japanese girls trying to go snowboarding and they were really surprised when i busted out the Nihongo and explained where i lived (Tottori is the lost Japanese province i think) and i still get excited when i find the REAL 20th century pears from Tottori (rare usually crappy Korean ones).
Update 2017: I’ve since returned to Japan a few times but not to Tottori… yet.
Update 2018: i returned and documented, coverage to come eventually