I know, I know... 2.67-million isn't a tremendous amount of people relative to Mexico City or Tokyo, but when it's all you know, it's a lot.
So... when I moved to Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan back in August of 1990, I enjoyed the fact that if I got on my bicycle and rode 15 minutes in any direction I would essentially be outside of the downtown area... where I couldn't hear the noise of people or cars...
It wasn't that Ohtawara was noisy... far from it. They rolled up the sidewalks at 9PM and aside from the nearby bars - about a five minute stagger from my apartment building, which was the tallest building in the city at seven stories - it was reasonably quiet.
The thing was... it was still a city and there were still people and there was still a lot of concrete.
Being a moody, bastard who always had a smile on his face for anyone, it was nice to kind of get away every once in a while... to be out where the buses don't run... to not see people... not not have to be reminded that I was a stranger in a strange land... that I could just go and unwind and relax and snap a few pictures of the beautiful countryside.
Sure Oh-ta-wara means Big-Rice Field-Field, and sure I could throw a rock in pretty much any direction from my apartment and hit a rice field or a 7-11... but you have to remember... I had never seen such sights before. Especially the 7-11's. Honestly... I had never seen a 7-11 in Toronto as of 1990. There's still not one near my home or work.
So for me, the small town mentality of Ohtawara was a godsend. And I say all of this for my buddy Mike Rogers who once said he would never visit Ohtawara because it looked like a boring little town.
And to him I say... yeah, maybe... but there was always something new to see... something I had never seen before... something that could make me shake my head in wonder as to how the hell I ever ended up in such a wonderful place.
It must have been more than the booze and the women, Mike. It was my home.
Why would I be impressed by a big city? Bars? Women? Sure. Tall buildings, cars, too many people - I get that in Toronto? Busy subways? Restaurants - more variety in Toronto... but to me... the soul of a country is in the country. Japan is still an agrarian society. Rice. Rice is Japan. And I live in Big-Rice Field-Field.
Maybe it's just me... but my home is anywhere I put my head down to sleep... and here in Ohtawara... it was a fascinating time in my life that obviously inspired me enough to start writing about a country I left 19 years ago. Who does that? Who writes a travel log about a place so far out of date? Easy. The whole country is out of date sometimes - despite the preponderance of robots and vending machines.
Look at the photo above. Another typical gray Ohtawara sky, with a lovely reflection of the hillock in the freshly planted rice field. And the oh-so-untypical ancient car traveling in the middle of it. What the hell is that? How old is that car? And why is that farmer actually using such an antique for farming? Because he can.
Seriously... where in Tokyo are you ever going to see such a sight? To try and take a photo of the vista only to have it gladly interrupted by the put-put-put of that vehicle? That's bloody awesome.
I guess I'm a bit of a nutty romantic. If I made the photo into a black and white one, you'd be hard-pressed to know if I was traveling back to 1910 rather than 1990.
Oh... and to Takako Hall nee Kurita, a gorgeous, cool Ohtawara-chick who married my buddy Matthew... Happy birthday.