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Monday, July 16, 2012

Ohtawara - Natural Beauty

When people hear me describe Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken in Japan, they seem to develop a perception that it's a boring place with nothing going for it. Especially since I left.

There's some truth to that, I suppose. But it's also completely wrong. There may indeed be many other touristy places where the beauty is breath-taking, but they are also touristy places, and thus lose their appeal, at least as  far as I am concerned.

Ohtawara is a place of infinite beauty as yet unsullied by the crass commercial tourism that bespeckles much of Japan.

Don't get me wrong. As a foreigner in Japan, I enjoyed doing the touristy thing - to see the most beautiful castles, waterfalls, lakes, buildings et al. And I enjoyed the various fine dining and drinking establishments throughout Japan.

But just like where you are from, you tend to overlook the beauty in your own hometown. Because Ohtawara was my home town, but also because I was a visitor, I have conflicting tendancies when it comes to describing the place.

Oh-ta-wara really does translate into Big-Rice Field-Field. Yup... big and full of rice fields and fields. It's a boondocks kind of  name that the city seems to have every intention of living up to.

But for me... I hate the city. I hate the noise. I hate the smell. I hate the congestion. I hate all the people. I hate being anonymous.

In Ohtawara, a city of some 50,000 people that had an inconveniently located train station relative to the core of where people lived... that's okay. The trains were so far away - maybe five kilometers or more to the west from my building, that I never heard a train. The main highway is even farther to the west, running north south... I rode on it maybe four times in three years, and truthfully, who wants a highway near their home?

Sure the homes were kind of ... hmmm... crappy-looking, I guess... and the fact that my apartment complex was the tallest building in the city at 7-stories... well, you know what... that's cool.

Yes, I could have thrown a rock in any direction and hit a 7-11 or a ricefield, but at the same time, I could get on my bicycle and ride 15 minutes in any direction and find myself alone.

And that's what the photo above represents. I took this one in April or May of 1993 on a Saturday morning, as I got on my bike and headed west. Just off a main road where there was an old man fishing from an overpass, I rode my bike down a grassy hill and left my bike unattended. No one would steal it.

I walked for a minute to the southwest, as a hillock bent, and discovered this view.

It's a quick moving, - but certainly not fast enough to knock over a 10-year-old. It was also very shallow river. Rocks for a beach, rocks all over the first two feet of water from the shore... and then, it goes down to maybe one-foot in depth. Maybe more. And there... rising to the southwest, was a hidden earthy cliff. Trees everywhere... and me, standing alone in a field... a big field, separated from the hill by the speedy river.

I was going to cross it, but first decided to sit down and have some water I brought.... there to my left... a snake hole. Like Indiana Jones, India Joseph hates snakes.

I got up quickly and moved away from the snake hole... I moved towards the river... and then moved away... I saw a snake with its head out swimming in the middle of the river.

Screw trying to get over to the otherside! There's snakes in the river! And what might there be on the otherside up the hilly nit of hidden nature? More snakes?

I'm not afraid of snakes... I just hate them. Yeah... that's right. That's sounds strong, right?

And this was all a 15-minute bike ride from my apartment in the middle of the city. And snakes or not,you can keep your huge city... I'll take my hometown any day.

Andrew Joseph
I will continue to publish more photos about Ohtawara as I continue to run afoul of my own self-imposed deadlines.

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