Rural Caprine Farm and Market (Okayama)
acrylic on stretched canvas
Rural Caprine Farm and Market (Okayama)
Rural Caprine Farm and Market (Okayama)
acrylic on stretched canvas
In 1993-4, I worked as a mushroom farmhand in Tottori-ken (prefecture), a rather remote area of Japan (southwestern-ish Honshu). The work was long and arduous and the boss was a jerk so, I eventually split unannounced one day.
Determined to explore some of the country before my visa ran out, I stuck my thumb-out seeking a “bouken” (adventure) after making destination signs by copying place name kanji characters onto 100 yes store notebooks with crayon and decorating with some lucky words and stamps (not sure if this helped).
Hitch-hiking isn’t very common in Japan but by sticking to rural areas – including the traditional “o henrosan dori” (the pilgrim’s path) on Shikoku (the smallest of the 4 main islands of the Japanese archipelago) which has seen many wandering poets, seekers and prayers over centuries – I skidded along alright.
Getting rides in the country areas was usually rather quick but often times, the ride would insist of showing “hospitality” in form of taking to their hometown to show off “the thing their town is famous for” (of which every town has one thing). Not ideal for fast moving but well… the take the ride, you go where it goes. Getting between big cities along the expressways was much less enjoyable and relied on waiting around rest/service areas in these cases.
I pitched my small tent most anywhere (beaches, shrines, parks etc) much the chagrin of caretakers and so on who would scold aloud in the early hours. In these situations, I poked my shaggy head out of the tent flap and yammered confused apologies in my farmer Japanese – this tactic would usually confuse the situation into submission.
Some of the time I was accompanied by a mysterious and intrepid Japanese surfer girl who thought my ridiculous plan was worth trying. I liked this part.
What follows are a few pieces of photographic evidence from these journeys, snapped with an early generation panorama camera – but developed “normal aspect” hence black framing bars on some shots.
Riding the Rails in Japan: Various trains (including shinkansen and futsu-densha) from KIX (Kansai Airport) to Shin-Osaka to Okayama to Zyoto (Joto) – stitched together as-is for your meditative enjoyment.
Hitch-hiking signs from travels in Japan, 1993, created by copying street signs and maps, and drawn with crayon and marker in a school notebook or various papers (from 100 yen store).
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.
Take a soak in: A Return to Nippon – Postcard #70
(44MB, 29:31, mp3, stereo)
Q & A Interview for a web mag (reference lost):
-Did you know anybody in Japan when you went?
Nope, didn’t know anyone or speak a word when i arrived. My older brother had lived in Japan and heard from a friend about a mushroom farm looking for a foreign worker. At the time, I was hitchhiking through the southern US after traveling Europe when i called my Mom to check in. She told me about that he’d pay the airfare. So, 2 weeks later i was standing on the side of road with my backpack, late at night with snow up to my knees waiting for a van to pick me up. The next day i started a 6 day a week, 10 hours a day job growing enoki and shiitake mushrooms.
-How did you survive the communication barrier?
First, humility – you have realize you will sound like a child or a caveman saying “I need food” “where is toilet” and basic tasks become tricky and people will try not to snicker
Second, smiling – i had a long hair and big beard and wore worker’s overalls and rubber boots so people didn’t quite know what to make of me in the rural area where i lived so smiling helped ease the surprise and awkwardness
Third – if you learn a dozen “special” words, you can totally act like you know it all ;-) Domo, dozo, so desu ne, so desu ka, hai hai, itsu, doko, suimasen …
-Any tips to people going to Japan?
Be prepared to simultaneously step 100 years into the future and 100 years into the past. Stay away from everything familiar (restaurants, hotels) and embrace the weirdness. Soak in hotsprings, eat octopus, get lost, head into the mountains and stay in a hut with strangers. For me, hitchhiking the country roads was totally safe and fun – folks picked me up and often invited me to their fave restaurant, tourist attraction, house, bar or temple. I stayed almost entirely away from the cities and found countryside somewhat unexpectedly wild and full of old agricultural and spiritual traditions. I also grew to savour the classic and modern literature of Japan – read these rather than guidebooks before going to better appreciate Japan.
From a new backporch high on the mountain slopes, Uncle Weed talks about his collections of t-shirts and lighters and long-ago trips to Japan – then discusses stoner culture, legal penalties, and travel observations with a Japanese cannabis enthusiast who tells his favourite strains, how he met ganja in Japan, compares Vancouver and Amsterdam, and documents the many strains of BC bud enjoyed on his visit while eating curry rice.
Pack your satchel for Toking and Traveling in Nippon – Choogle on #67 (.mp3, 21:27, 20MB)
Wandering the streets of Austin with old pal Yaki Niku, Uncle Weed recounts a strange international steel ball tossing tournament in a remote Japanese village known for radioactive hot springs.
The multi-national, dignitaries, dubbed the Genki Monkeys, represented eagerly through much drunkeness at the hands of mayor and his cohorts, followed by Born to be Wild karaoke and outdoor hot spring soaking riverside. Followed by an early morning breakfast of raw eggs, a hungover beat down by of old folks with tape measures, and a long afternoon of waiting around in the valley in discomfort due to a queasy formal dinner and an endless tour of world liquors.
Stumble along for Drunken Japanese Petenque Storytime – Choogle on #64 (.mp3, 22:21, 18MB)
Note: the mentioned Mad Dog (the other Genki Monkey) is featured in:
More Podcast Goodness:
A quick preamble to this stunning narrative …
I wrote the ground-breaking essay “Hemp Culture in Japan” which turned into a collaboration with HempMan, a German in Japan, to create a comprehensive clearinghouse of all information about Cannabis in Japan called Taima.org. This site is maintained by HempMan but in dire need to “web 2.0″i-fi-cation to make more searchable and participatory and such but i digress …
As part of my research, i get interesting things in the snail and postal mail – from angry letters from Iran PhDs to cool grow shot shots to other”researchers” wanting all my contacts.
This note though is heavy duty as this older gentleman recounts the dystopia experience of being shook down. Frustrating to be sure as no one would add any reason or sense to the process and he was cut off from most anyone but a rubber-stamping attorney.
I’ve followed up with the gentleman for some more insight, but for starters, get comfy and give this a read.
I arrived at Kansai Airport last March with around 15g of marijuana. I’d bought it in Amsterdam and thought it would be OK as I’d travelled in and out of Japan for years and never been searched – this time it was different. I don’t really know why they searched me – the sniffer dogs weren’t interested. Anyway, they discovered the stuff. Later that day they searched my apartment and discovered about 20g there in deep freeze – pretty bland stuff and I was hoping the import from Amsterdam was going to give me a better buzz.
I was kept at Kansai kouko police station for 18 days and then transferred to Sakai detention center in southern Osaka, where I spent a further 42 days (almost 2 months in total).
Even though I’d cooperated fully with the police, confessed and didn’t try to hide anything, the prosecutor demanded a 2 year prison sentence as I had a ‘significant’ amount. I’ve lived in Japan for 18 years and this is my first offence. In the trial, the judge regarded my ‘addiction’ as a big problem as I’d admitted to first smoking cannabis when I was 19 (I’m now 54) he said he was giving me a 18 month sentence suspended for 4 years. Very surprisingly I was granted bail after the first court appearance (the hearing and presenting of evidence). This cheered me no end as it seemed to indicate the judge and prosecutor did not regard me as a danger to society. At present I’m waiting to see what Immigration has to say as they decide to deport or not.
I did try to get my lawyer to emphasise the relative ‘harmlessness’ of cannabis abuse and the fact that I had often stopped smoking – sometimes for months at a time (couldn’t buy it) and also this was a victimless crime – smoking alone in my own home. This was ignored and not brought up at the trial but I suppose the lawyer had good reasons, he was pretty indifferent about the case to begin with and only after constant prodding by friends did he start to work a bit harder. I was still amazed at the possible harshness of the sentence. According to the lawyer, the maximum penalty for smuggling or possession of cannabis is 5 years in jail and/or a 30 million yen fine.
Detention in Japan was extremely boring and there were hundreds of rules to be obeyed. Sitting on a hard floor (this is Japan – no chairs are allowed) was very uncomfortable for me. If it wasn’t for friends bringing books and a decent cushion, I may have tried suicide in detention. The food was reasonable, though. I wasn’t made to pay court costs although my lawyer charged me his ‘standard’ fee – $4500. So now I’m out of a well-paid job and a lot poorer and still have the possibility of being
kicked out of Japan.
For anyone else contemplating bringing drugs to Japan, I’d advise – DON’T take the risk. Buy it in Japan. Grow it in Japan, (seeds are ‘apparently legal’ as there is no THC – but they’re always confiscated) but DON’T bring it in. According to the web site http://www.customs.go.jp/tokyo/english/iio/iio-cased-y2006.html even amounts as small as 1g are prosecuted.
If I’d done the same in my home country (Britain), I’d probably have been kept overnight in a cell or simply cautioned and then released – the police there have far better things to do with their time. The Japanese police throw huge amounts of money (and police time) at these prosecutions and my ‘file’ was 4 inches thick at the end, with scores of colour photos and colour copies of my diary, travel notebook etc. There were at least 3 complete copies produced. My home was searched by 10 officers for 90 minutes – while they discovered cannabis seeds hidden in a box, they failed to find a large bong filled with cannabis and may not have found my deep-freeze stash if I hadn’t pointed it out!
Police here seem to rely on confessions and don’t seem to have the ability or desire to ‘investigate’ cases thoroughly – which is why many Japanese kids ‘stonewall’ the cops, when arrested.
For alternate versions, visit Taima.org, a site dedicated to Hemp in Japan. Published in Cannabis Culture magazine (#13 & Best of …), the Journal of International Hemp Association (V.4 N.1) as well as excerpted in several books including Hemp Horizons and “Hanp” from Norway and Hemp for Victory from UK.