I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rice Cutting 稲刈

Just last weekend I had the pleasure of joining in on the rice harvest in my neighborhood. Sad to say it's my third year and yet this is my first time cutting rice, but compared to most Japanese people I'm doing pretty well. I met many Japanese people in their 20s, 30s, even 40s, who were also chaffing their "rice-cutting" virginity. I'm so fortunate to have met so many fellow first-timers; I was worried I would reveal my novicery through some kind of embarrassing act.

Luckily, a couple of the other newbies helped me out with this. One woman mistakenly let go of a rice bundle while she was doing the 脱穀(separating the grain from the chaff). Because the purpose of our experience was to reenact rice-harvesting of the olden-days (oh how our grandparents toiled), we used retro a retro machine from the 1950s to chaff the rice.

I have to say I was a bit worried after seeing the woman before me cog the wheel by accidentally letting go of her rice bundle. But, luckily, I succeeded in keeping a strong hand.

Junko Nagata
I also made some new friends who live in the area, and who share an interest in sustainable living. Making this move to a more remote area has had an incredibly positive impact in my daily life. I now live about 10km from my schools, but the daily ride gives me just about all the aerobic exercise I need, and everyday I meet and talk with a new neighbor/farmer (usually in their 70s--there are few non-retired farmers here) in the area who is more than happy to teach me about what he/she's doing, or just chat about the coming typhoon.

Here's an anecdote to better relate what I mean:
Just the other day I bumped into a woman I had met many times before through the Kusatsu International Friendship Association (KIFA). I was on my way home, and somewhat in a hurry to get home before the rain, casually greeted her in Japanese (as I'm accustomed to greeting my neighbors). She paused, somewhat dumbfounded for a noticeable amount of time, before proceeding to respond in English, only in English, despite the fact that I had greeted her in Japanese. This felt alienating for a number of reasons--if someone begins a conversation in one language, especially if they show confidence in that language, doesn't it seem natural (or at least polite) that the other person would respond in the same language?? I call these people who insist on treating foreigners as outsiders, and do not want to speak Japanese to foreigners Eikaiwa-pimps (english conversation pimps).

"Ace"=he and his wife have literally tavelled the world, but the ironic thing is, even though I learned later on that they understand and spoke English fluently, they never one hinted or assumed that they understood English. Anyone living in Japan know that this is probably one of the most gracious acts a bilingual Japanese person can extend to a foreigner, because it expresses the idea that getting to know a person is more important that the language it's done in, and it accepts the "gaijin=foreigner" and respects them as someone who is competent at speaking Japanese, instead of pitying and patronizing them as someone who is constantly in need of help.
This summarized how I felt in Kusatsu--like an outsider (the literal meaning for foreigner in Japanese). As short of a time as it's been since I've moved to the boonies, I've felt more embraced and accepted in just a few weeks that I have in 2 years in Kusatsu. I know Katie would agree with me, as I heard her say many similar things about this area in Misono (my current home) as she said many times before when she lived here.

I guess the intriguing aspect is--why do Japanese people in cities choose to (or believe they should) treat foreigners as "other worldly". Are we not all humans? Do I not deserve the chance to prove that I can communicate in Japan as an active and willing member, in language as well as member of society, without constantly being treated as an "other"?

中井さん:Mrs. Nakai. She sells great homemade bread every Saturday at the morning market down the street from my apartment. Katie introduced me months ago, and I try to go now every week if I'm in town, not only because I can by organic, loca vegetables cheap, but because I can see and talk with Nakai-san.
The main thing that should be considered and questioned here, is the breakdown of communication and humanity as cities, communities, societies grow in size. In Misono--a town of a few hundred--I can treated practically as an equal. In Kusatsu, where people's mode's of daily life are much more, to say it lightly, selfish, and driven by capital and productivitiy, the end result is personal gain. The mode of communication demeans the person and glorified the hollow fear that perpetuates differences based on appearance, value based on easily-manipulated shadows.

I know for many people it just intrinsically feels better to meet and make friends with someone who genuity reciprocates one's one earnestness for kindness and compassion. Why don't we caring few make a stand against soullessness as portrayed in mundane, suicide-inducive society and band together to make this world better for ourselves, if not eventually for everyone who catches on to the trend?


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