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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Back Pages

(L-R: Iso-san; Hanazaki-san (standing), pear farmer and wife, my mother Lynda Hyacinth Joseph
It's been an exciting past two days, as the people of Japan have really taken a shine to my mom, Lynda, as she visits Ohtawara-shi (City of Ohtawara), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), Japan from Toronto.

I've been here 13 months already, so perhaps I am old news to the people of Japan... but then being invited to participate in - not just watch - the Sakuyama Obon Matsuri (Sakuyama Festival of the Dead)... well, it's nice to feel good again. I've been on a major downer lately as my girlfriend or woman troubles have really taken their toll on me. I'm not clinically depressed or anything, but I wonder if anyone I know is? Hmm. I'd ask, but I'm too much of a coward.

Yesterday, the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) took my mother and myself all around the outskirts of Ohtawara to see sites I've not even seen before. I'm unsure if that was because my mother was with me or if it was because I brought a large bottle of good Canadian whiskey for the OBOE superintendent.... I'm sure it was my mom!

It's Thursday, August 19, 1991, and I go into the office again in the morning. My vacation is up, so even though there is no school for me to teach due to summer vacation, I am still expected to be at work at the OBOE. That's fair, of course.

At the OBOE, I try to sort out the upcoming issue of the Tochigi JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme newsletter, The Tatami Times. I'm the editor-in-chief, which means I have to put the content together. Because a lot of new people have just arrived in Japan (and Tochigi-ken) one month ago, I need to make sure that I present them with interesting and useful materials along with the usual mindless comedic crap. The magazine is a mess... as I have no idea what to include or where to put it. I actually have too much material.

I head home at lunch and then pick up my film (or rather my mom's film) from the Iseya department store. When you receive your film back (remember, this was 1991!), the clerks open up the film envelope and show you a photo so that you can assure them that it is your film.

At Iseya, the place is essentially run by pretty young Japanese girls in their early 20s. They took great delight in opening up my mom's entire set of photos and placed them out for me—and the other young girls they called over—to see. I am always an object of great amusement for them. I wonder why I've never asked any of them out? I guess I need to gain greater Japanese language skills.

They ask me all about the places in the film, and who is taking photos of me. They giggle with delight as I try to explain that it is my mom's film and that I do not have a girlfriend right now.

I head home totally bedazzled by all of the female attention and chat with my mom a bit before heading back to the OBOE at 1PM. Hanazaki-san asks me with a pained look on his face of I am busy.

"Then let's leave."

So we do, dropping my my apartment to pick up my mom. I love surprises!

Iso-san, the gentleman who usually drives us around in his white van, joins us, but this time we are in Hanazaki-san's white Jaguar... what he calls his Toyota Camry. I'm telling you, I got lucky! My office crowd has a wonderful sense of humour... I've heard of other offices for AETs (assistant English teachers) are often rather dour.

Oh... and juts so you know, I had already given Iso-san (and Hanzaki-san) a present earlier, to thank him for looking after me here in Japan. It's nothing great, but it's from the heart.

We first go to the Sakuyama district (in Ohtawara) pear farm I visited last year (photo HERE) and get to load up on free pears and grapes. Okay, I do the loading up, as my mom is leaving for Canada tomorrow. Remember mom - don't tell Canadian customs you visited any farms!
Catacombs with 100's of Buddha statues.

Then we drive out to Yawn, sorry, Yaita-shi (Yaita City) to the Sawa Kannon-ji (fountain spring-goddess temple). It's about 400 years old and is in really great shape. We head down into its catacombs where there are hundreds of Buddha statues! Back topside, my mom and I load up on good luck charms (all of which I lost in my house fire three years ago).

It's raining now. What with Ame Otoko (Rain Man = me) and Ame Oka-san (Rain Mother = my mom), how could it not?

Iso-san then takes my mom over to the kimono school across from the Nozaki-eki (Nozaki train station) that is currently the only JR (Japan Rail) station in Ohtawara. To me, it's actually farther away than the one up at Nishinasuno-machi (Nishinasuno Town) to the northwest of Ohtawara.

My mom tries on a kimono... photos galore via her camera, and just to prove that it's not really a mom-thing, but a camera-thing, it runs out of film. I can see now in 2011 why digital cameras are so awesome.

Kimono school teacher and my mom.
My mom bought a kimono - just not this one... hers was purchased while out west. I'll see if it still fits me and take a photo. Not.

The school has a scale there to weigh bolts of cloth, so I get on and weigh myself, coming in at 77 kilograms (which is just under 170 pounds). All right! I've lost 3 kilograms (~6.5 pounds) since arriving. How the heck did I do that considering all of the booze I've been imbibing?!       

We then head back to the office, as I'm supposed to meet the new English teacher taking over for Nozaki Chu Gakko's (Nozaki Junior High School's) Ishihara Norko-chan (surname first), who was a good friend of mine. She introduces herself as Mrs. Hiyama... so I have no idea what her given name is.

Her English is rusty, but she's really nice and we chat for an hour. Why won't she leave and go back to her school?!

Hanazaki-san then drops us off at my apartment, and by US, I mean myself, my mom and Hiyama-sensei (Hiyama teacher). I guess bevause it was raining, I left my bicycle at the office - and it is now, in fact, pouring like someone should be building an ark and gathering the animals.

I was supposed to have dinner in Nishinasuno tonight with all of the other AETs in our northern section - including Karen, the new girl in Yaita who wants to be my girlfriend. I just want to get laid. I don't want a relationship. Anyhow, since it's my mom's last night here, I stay home and eat a burger and fries dinner.

Naoko and Suzuki Tokunori (the gentleman who allowed me to participate in the Sakuyama Obon Matsuri) come over to make their good-byes to my mom. I think she wishes I would have hooked up with Naoko, as she really took a shine to her.

She shows Naoko some photographs of her trip to western Japan, making sure she sees pictures of a guy she met that she thinks would be perfect for Naoko. Ah... my mom the pimp.

Everyone wants to talk to my mom - including Hiyama-sensei who is still there and joined us for dinner. I have to admit, it was nice to not be--or want to be--the center of attention for once.

Naoko, ever the classy broad, phones for a taxi to come and pick us up tomorrow. Nice.

Somewhere wishing these past three days could have lasted forever,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is originally a Bob Dylan song: This VERSION is sung by Roger McGuinn (The Byrds, whose version of this song I love), Tom Petty (& The Heartbreakers), Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - he's Canadian),  Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds; John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers; Cream; Blind Faith; Derek & The Dominoes - his dad was Canadian), Bob Dylan, George Harrison (The Beatles). Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.
PS: The photo up above is indeed one from my mom's camera - I took it. Hard to believe my mom is Indian with that complexion, eh? Plus, she's 52 in this photo. I refrained from posting a photo of her until this moment, her last fun day in Japan... she died two years later of a disease you only hear about on the television show House. It breaks my friggin' heart to look at her photo, let alone write about her. I know she would have laughed her head off reading every single one of my Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife adventures. She missed me getting married, having a fantastic son, and would have been there for me when I needed her the most. It hurts everyday knowing that and living in the house where she died. Crap. I'm tearing up now.


  1. I am also missing your mom! So glad I had the honor of meeting such a wonderful person.

  2. Thank-you Matthew. She mentioned many times to me what a fine and interesting person you were. Thank-you for helping look after here!