Sunday, March 30, 2014

Return of the surfer

Her name is Nobuko, she is forty something years old. Nobuko owns a house in the neighbourhood of the city of Kaiyo. If there is a place furthest away from any japanese urban area, it is Nobuko's house. This is Japanese countryside. The space around here is mostly used for rice fields. Large square fields filled with muddy water. In some squares, rice has already been planted, some are still riceless and waiting.
Nobuko lives in the middle of rice fields

Nobuko doesn't have a rice field, she just had a small garden with some salad and oranges. She is not from here, she used to live in Osaka and she was a surfer. She used to be badass, super tough. Everyday, she went to the sea with her surfboard. In Australia, in Indonesia, in Hawai, here in Shikoku as well. Everything went into that passion, no money for food either, she was up for a meal per day. Malnurished but it doesn't matter as long as she can surf all day long, the energy will have to come from the mind.
And she became famous. She went to competitions. She had people who love her and hate her. Doesn't meet she got money from it though. Unfortunately Nabuko didn't like the fame as much as the surfing. She ceased competition from one day to the next. She continued surfing, just for herself.
As many japanese people, Nabuko became lost in her life. She didn't have a steady job, no husband either to her mother's despair who wished but one thing, that her daughter became normal as defined by japanese traditional society.
She established herself in the countryside, doing everything by herself. House repairs, gardening, cooking, she can even ride a tractor. No space to play princess as many japanese girls like to do.
That is around the time when I met with Nobuko. We are riding in her ridiculously japanese car that is the exact opposite of what a european person would buy. It's basically a paralellepipedic rectangle on wheels with a slightly kawaii look. I have no idea where we are going, I have the impression she wants to show me around. That's nice. After a while, we drive through rice fields and stop in front of what appears to be her house.
A house in the area

Rice fields

"This is your bed," she points at a comfy bed in the corner of the living room. It has curtains for privacy. Here in Japan, nobody would dream of letting you sleep in contact with seven different people in the same room, privacy has its foremost importance. I am also glad I am at last in a country where I can sleep at a single woman's house without it being a big deal. "A boy can't sleep at an unmarried girl's place" that is officially the most stupid tradition I encountered all countries included and I count the bridenapping tradition in the mix. Bonus points to Japan for blowing it to smithereens.
Judging by the rural area, I don't expect warm water, even less a shower. I am hoping for running water since I am in Japan, one of the most civilized countries in the world. My surprise is whole when the place has toilet, hot water and a shower. I can take a shower! That's the thing I needed the most, I didn't care for a shelter so much by comparison.
Nabuko cooks dinner and turns out she is a professional level cook too. Seriously, the food is deliscious and the presentation of it is restaurant style. The only thing that it lacks is quantity. Nobuko is on a really tight budget.

Dinner at Nobuko's, Sanshimi and cooked fish

She loves the countryside but she can't make much money there so she works one week at a department store which should give her 3 weeks to survive here. And after being used to eat a meal per day for a competition level physical activity, she really doesn't need much to survive. That's not my case, I am a big eater but I am on zero budget so I won't buy anything else, I'll eat Nobuko's style. It would be extremly ungrateful to ask for more.
The first night I sleep like a baby. I haven't had such a comfortable mattress for a long time.

I am supposed to leave the next day but Nobuko decides to show me around. Cherry trees are blossoming everywhere and offer a stunning sight. Then we go to the nearby temple where I meet Koya, a buddhist monk and friend of Nobuko. Koya is 34 and head of his temple which makes him the youngest head of temple of all of his Zazen order worldwide. He and Nobuko decided to organise yoga classes with some super good teacher who has come from india. She asks me if I can set up a system on the internet so that users can subscribe for yoga classes online. I manage to do that but I end up staying another day.
Koya comes in the evening to have dinner with us and I hear his story, how he bacame a buddhist monk. He was a student in one of the biggest universities of Tokyo but he was fascinated with temples since he was 10 so after graduating, he just went to a temple and decided to be a monk until the end of his days, just like that.
I also learn that all the beautiful temples in Japan rely only on donations to make their living. There is no help from the government nor are there any wealthy investors. The life of a temple relies only on what will the local people give in a radius of only a few kilometers. The donators ae usually simple people, villagers who struggle to make their living and don't have too much money to spare. Turns out that most monks live in poverty most of their lives and their budget isn't much higher than mine. The free meal I am enjoying is as important to this monk as it is for me.
Koya, the Buddhist monk came for dinner

The next day, Nobuko shows me around, she drives me in the mountains, teaches me more japanese (I am getting better now) and cooks us deliscious food. I learn that japanese men are afraid of her because she is too direct and has too much of an athletic body which is seen as a manly characteristic and isn't considered as womenly attractive in Japan. We go to see a waterfall which looks very nice and it's part of a small schrine. In the Japanese mountains, thee are schrines everywhere.

Some other tree blossoming

The next day we decide to get up at 5 in the morning (actually we have decided it several times but never succeded) to attend a buddhist morning ceremony led by Koya. It starts at 5:20, we all go to a dimly lighted room where we sit in the meditating positions with legs crossed and start meditation. At least they do, my legs and ancles start hurting after ten minutes so I can't concentrate on anything except that my ancles are hurting. Nobuko is motionless next to me and so is Koya, probably freeing their mind of all unrest and wondering places that only buddhist monks can get to. After meditation, blood starts flowing back into the lower part of my legs. The monks (Koya and two apprentices of his) put some religious symbols all around the altar and bow everytime they take the thing. Then Koya sounds the gong and we all watch him perform the ritual. We are now sitting on our ancles and knees in the same position as when people salute in Judo or other martial arts. It's more bearable that the meditation position but still becomes hell after a while. The ceremony is really interesting and Koya makes it accessible to everyone, even complete ignorants like me with no sensitivity whatsoever. However, with my legs and ancles hurting so much, I stop caring about the ceremony about halfway through.
I wonder how do the other people feel but chances are they've got quite a lot of training from previous sessions so they are alright.
We proceed to chant some lines written with very complicated chinese characters. The characters are so complex that even Nobuko hasn't encountered some of them before.
After the ceremony, we are going to breakfast

When the morning ceremony finishes, I can't feel my legs again. The monks have gone to the kitchen to finish preparing breakfast and then we proceed to the meditation hall again.
Everyone has three bowls piled one in another and everything is wrapped in a handkerchief. There is also a spoon and chopsticks. Koya leaves to get the food, then comes again. Each of us bow down before we recieve rice porrige. Everything is done is silence, a hand turned upside down means "I've had enough." We are supposed to eat very slowly, tasting the food is considered to be part of a meditation.
Koya says that out bodies are not owned by us, they are a tool we should use and respect, therefore we should be extra careful when insterting something such as food into them. I guess we should try to give them back in the best condition that we can manage as you would do with anything you've borrowed from someone else.

It is really healthy food. Not the tastiest I have tasted but enough to give you energy for the day and a step of health towards the rest of your life.
I wanted to leave in the afternoon but turns out waves are good and Nobuko can go surfing. I can't miss that. It's the first time this year that she will feel the waves. Each year she wonders weather she can still stand on the board, weather she is not getting too old for that.
We drive to the beach, there already are some people with surfing boards int he water.
There already are some people with surfing boards

 Nobuko's suit is not so good so she gets another one. It takes her forever to find a good wave, she doesn't want to waste any energy. Then she takes it, stands on the board and surfs to the beach. I have never been interested in surfing but I can't deny than in the water, she has some style.
They take quite long so I go for a walk on the beach. This 5:20 morning ceremony has left me quite tired and I need to sleep and prepare to leave tomorrow.
The beach has a cute little fishing harbour
The next day we leave just after lunch, deliscious deer cutlets with rice and vegatables served on restaurant-type dishes, god knows where Nobuko has found them. She also writes me a bunch of useful sentences in Japanese, especially one to ask for a free place to stay in a hotel. She drives me a long way out of the city towards a parking lot where I can easily get a ride. Easy is quite an understatement, the first car stops. It is a spors car that will drive me to cape Moruto. It is a great place to see the sunset but tonight, I am expecting heavy rain. But I have a plan for that. There is a luxury beach resort on the beach and Nobuko's free-hotel letter will came in handy.
I take a look inside my bag, there is still a lot of food, maybe two days worth of provisions. And I still haven't spent a dime, so I have my 1200 yen of donation money ready to be used if things get really bad.
In a few days, I should be in Kyushu.
Me and Nobuko