I heard the first cicadas of the season today.
Day dreaming of the summer, I arrived to work only to de-jumper to reveal a short-sleeved shirt. "summer has come" cried my new vice principal. I blushed and realised that I had possibly jumped the gun, but this weekend again as I hike through the thick bamboo forested southern mountain of my island, I could smell the beautiful smell I had endured all winter to taste again. There is something about the smell of the air in Japan, as the heat gauge begins to rise.
It reminds me of trips to southern France with my family when I was young, the foreign smell that somehow smells so much nicer than anything in your own country. Like pine trees.
The first cicadas were lightly buzzing away outside. A brief lived emergence before the rainy season, when the buzzing is damped and drowned out by the croaking of millions of frogs coming out for their crack at parenthood in suitable, June.
When given half a chance, the weather in Japan and especially Ehime can heat up pretty quickly and on a cool spring day you can suddenly find yourself sunburned yet
smiling at an almost English summers day.
My folks and I experienced this pre summer as we met amongst the modern landscapes and cherry blossoms in Fukuoka city. A city inhabiting the southern most island of Kyushu and a traditionally international city for its proximity to Korea and china.
They would spend 2 very different weeks in my company compared to last year, a time of old temples and traditional inns. This year by contrast we would spend most of the times in some of the more modern and international parts of Japan, sampling different foods and a contrasting side to old Japan. It was, I believe a thoroughly successful trip, although I would go through 2 full weeks of work, and the commencing of work at my new school.
My JHS having sadly closed, at an official and gut-wrenching emotional ceremony just a week earlier, I would now officially no longer have a base school at my time until finishing my contract and time in Japan in the summer would see me being allotted 2 days a week at a primary school on the neighboring island of Yuge.
How to spend the little time that
we had together wisely, was therefore a top priority for a long time and I had decided on a truly different experience, based on the recommendation of my friend Denis.
Naoshima, roughly translatable, as fixing, or mending island (wha?) is another member of the thousands of island that dot the Inland Sea, although this one, was floating north off the both modern and historical city of Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture.
Having only a few days with which to sea this island we set off late Friday evening. As we waited at the port, the evening sun was beckoning the days fisherman to my small pier located about a hundred meters from my house.
2 such leisure fishermen, landed and walked in our direction with a plastic carrier bag of what looked like a lot of freshly caught fish.
“Would you like to join our Namako party?” Asked my vice principal one night as we were drinking beer around his heated table a few months earlier. I quickly agreed, and the next morning we met at 5oclock out side my house. It was still dark and barley above freezing, as mist pored from our mouths and we tiredly climb
into a car to head tot eh sea front. The tide was down and the rocks we revealed to show their slimy green, glistening faces. Within these were Namako, or Sea cucumbers, waiting to be prized out by tongs.
A delicacy in Japan, on can fetch up to 5pound s pop, and the so called sea slugs even came in a variety of colours and textures.
We landed a few before our hands became too cold to bare any more seaside hunting. I even managed to pry one out.
That evening we feasted on these, err, creatures the Japanese way, although if there is another way I am not sure what it is. Raw, sliced and in vinegar. Despite their soft, giant slug like appearance, hey are surprisingly hard, but still slimy. In a word I have never had a problem with most foods, and I managed to chow don a fair bit of the slippery beats, but I would not exactly order them if I had any knowledge of doing so, however, I would recommend a namako party.
As the fisherman approached than man beckoned us to have a look inside, and what we saw seems to have
scared my mum for life. The namakos I collected were on average about 25 to 35cm and that was large enough, I have you know, and they looked like the size of a hot dog. In this bag there were only 2 beasts, slowly trying to curl and writhe their way out of the plastic bag. They must have been over a foot each, and seemed the size of a rabbit. 2 giant muscle that looked like they had been dipped in mud and made a little angry.
Anyway you get eh point. The fisherman offered them, and I, having learned my lessons on excepting random seafood from passersby, in the form of a massive string ray, still taking up most of the space in my freezer, declined the offer of taking it home to, I suppose, batter to death with a frying pan and then eat raw, and instead we set of on a hour trip south the island of shikoku.
Form there we traveled the 2 or so (plus a few more for my bad navigating skills) and checked into a hotel. The following morning we set sail on yet another ferry to the Naoshima. The sun
was warming the island as we approached and we were looking forward to a relaxing 2 days.
Naoshima is a very beautiful, peaceful island that has become the centre for a local and international arts project and accompanying hotel, which is in itself part of the art project. As my friend put, was is the same thing about very hotel you stay in? That it is just a hotel. In Naoshima the hotel and surrounding pieces of modern art have are incorporated together, so as to give a really very different say on the island. You can wander the various art museums late after everyone has left, and even stay in the museum itself. Thos lucky enough to get a room can stay in the oval complex, a super modern sleek, piece of art in itself, located at the top of the mountain and surrounding art complex.
Located in the nearby quiet sleepy town, not unlike my own, are 7 art installations. Old historic houses and shrine that have been converted into pieces of modern art.
We rented bicycles and over the next few days we toured the island and visited many of the art sites, and
generally just soaked up the quiet and picturesque scenery. I would truly recommend Naoshima to anyone who can pocket it, as I am not really sure if there are any other similar sites in the world.
The sun was shining again as we arrived home the following Sunday. The summer was slowly making Japan come back to life and the cherry blossoms were on the outward side of the bloom.
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