I’ve got my soundtrack to the gardening down to a fine art now. Every night I create a playlist for my iPod for the following day. I use three sources: podcasts downloaded from the likes of the BBC, TWiT.TV, Guardian Unlimited, New Scientist; my second source is a collection of self-development seminar things that get me thinking about me; the third is a recording of the stories related to the kanji that I’ve learnt over the past few days. My playlist cycles through this collection, thus giving my brain a rest between lessons and the like. I LOVE learning though, it’s such a thrill.

For the past couple of days though, I’ve been thinking that there’s something missing – Music. Nowhere in my playlist does music feature, despite the fact that I have over 13,000 songs to hand. I’ve started to miss music, and when out in the garden have thought ‘hmm, must put some in the playlist tonight’.

I’ve also been feeling increasingly emotional over the past few days. It could be due to tiredness, although it’s more likely to be PMT. Anyhow, when I awoke this morning, I knew that I could wait no longer – I NEEDED music. I had my iPod by the bed having fallen asleep to the kanji last night (I tell you, apart from Glenn Hook, it is the BEST way to bore yourself to sleep!), and so it wasn’t that hard to navigate away from the Gardening playlist and onto one that I have imaginativley called “4* and above”.

I was in for a bit of a shock; the effect that the music had on me was extremely powerful, and within 30 seconds I was in tears, desperately holding on to my teddy bear. Power of association. And it happens to be a beautiful song.

I’ve been only too aware of the power of music ever since I carried out that experiment (of which I’ve spoken before) when, on my first trip to japan, I listened to U2’s ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ first thing in the morning and last thing at night during my two weeks in Hokkaido. Even now, hearing that takes me straight back to that room, with the stinking kerosene heater, the ice on the windows, the smell of urine rising up from the communal hole-in-the-ground outside, my makeshift curtains, and the magnificent cranes standing motioneless together in the frozen ice-paddy to the front of Shin Shizen Juku (“New Natural School”) where I was an inmate. I chopped wood, I attempted to pull up daikon (Japanese radish)s from the solid earth, I visited local colleges where I was due to start teaching English later that month (terrified, I skipped the island and got a ferry to the south!). My first visit to a Japanese post office took place there too. I can still remember trying to buy stamps, not knowing what the word for them was, let alone “England”. Oh, and of course my legendary first trip to a public bath where I knew nothing of the protocol, and thus caused a great commotion.

Incidentally, I have just received an email from a student in the year below me at Sheffield, who, upon my recommendation, decided to go WWOOFing in Japan this summer – they are having a fantastic time. Coincidentally, and rather bizarrely, they have ended up at ‘Heart’n Tree’, the family owned restaurant/pub just a couple of miles down the road from the New Natural School where we spent virtually every night getting drunk, before heading off in two cars down the long, straight deserted highway at crazy speeds, driving side by side and trying to attack one another with mops through the open windows. Ahh, happy days.

Last night I watched a superb NHK production that the BBC had bought and added a David Attenborough soundtrack to. It told the story of a village not far from Kyoto that is surrounded by wetland, where the people live and work in harmony with nature (they do things like get the local overgrown goldfish to do their washing up – a clever idea or what?!). That really made me feel that I MUST go wwoofing again this coming year. I miss the isolation of rural Japan, most noteably Hokkaido.

I’ve also been trying to get hold of another friend in the year below me at uni who was seduced by WWOOFing tales on TGW, and is now somewhere in the Japanese outback for a period of three months. I’m assuming that Saimon sama does not have internet access as he has been ignoring my requests for information on his well-being: if you are reading this get in touch you lazy b****** or you shall have your access to the TGW network withdrawn forever (evil cackle).

The emotions connected with this September’s return are beginning to accumulate. It really feels like it is a return home. Yes, yes, I know I was there last summer, but one is in a very different frame of mind when one is on a 3-month tourist visa! One’s relationship with a place, if just visiting, is so different from that if one is staying. Constantly burdoned with a backpack, and no roots. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the freedom that the road provides, yet I feel that at heart I am a very homely person. I need to feel settled somewhere; constant limbo is exausting. And of course I’ll have stability in my love life too, in the form of *Twinkle*. …unlike last summer, when I was dogged by a rather complex situation involving someone whom I referred to as my ‘friend’, someone with whom I had a rather torrid 2-year on-and-off relationship. I won’t criticise her in public.

But she was completely insane.

I was thinking last night, I’d really like to do a bit of a cycling tour of Japan. Train is all very well, but you miss so much. It’s only when you go off the beaten track, as I did in Shikoku last summer when attempting to hitch-hike the 1000km back to Tokyo that you find yourself momentarily involved in other people’s lives – and isn’t that what we are all about – interaction? Remember the women in the little shop who gave me some watermelon? The local teacher who bought me bread? The village idiot who couldn’t stop walking backwards and forwards in front of the strange foreigner? The pilgrim on her tour of the 88 temples? The train driver who abandoned his train on the platform and followed me downstairs to the ticket office to help me buy a ticket?

I never finished writing that story on TDM, but I have it here, beside me in the pages of my 49th diary. This weekend I shall type up the remainder of the tale, in which I was charged 30 pounds to cross a bridge, then had to spend a night out on a pavement being watched by the local police, before managing to travel hundreds of kilometres by train for 80p.

Ha! 38 days! That’s only 17 days off the magic 3-week mark, and we all know what that means!

Hmm, I’m ready to face the day now.


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3 Responses

  1. Hey I was looking into applying to the new natural school. What is the application process like? How fluent do you have to be to go?

    My email is mirrorphantom@hotmail.com. I would love to learn more about that particular experience so I can decide if I really want to do it!