It's another hot day on the coast of Fukushima and it's late summer. I'm in a car and driving deep into a jungle that I thought I could not drive into. Mark has told me about a music festival that happens in the summer in the mountains of Fukushima. I don't know what to expect. An already skinny paved road gradually grows more thin threatening to disappear under the foliage and we turn left onto an old dusty dirt road that creeps its way further into the jungle. Mark and I have been meeting and rehearsing on and off for a couple months now and he has invited me and so I am there with him. He has been introducing me to the music scene in Japan and for that I feel very grateful. The dirt road winds up the mountainside and then curves around sharp turns for the next 45 minutes and then I hear music. I don't expect to hear music but I hear music. It seems to be coming from the leaves of the trees. In fact it could be doing so, but I know it's not. At that moment, I am reminded by my mothers story of how she had told me about a friend who had been hiking in the Swiss Alps. They had been in the middle of nowhere and had rounded a bend to see a green field with a helicopter landed and with the band "Yes" practicing in the middle of the field. I felt I was in a similar experience. Soon the trees opened up to a thousand people camped in the middle of a field with numerous stages set up in the background. There were artists selling their wares and different DJs lighting up dancing in different spots. Our car found a place among the bodies and undergrowth and we filed out of the van. Mark would be playing his own DJ set later that evening and I heard that I would be able to play some music as well.
Often there's a wind up clock in my thoughts that re-lives the day that I moved from Fukushima. What would've happened if I had decided to go surfing after work that day?
I remember the noodle houses in the train station at Abiko Station in Tokyo. I'd arrive when it got dark and the white bright lamps would be attracting moths that would dance around each light seeming to celebrate their own traditional Japanese affairs. It was humid and during that train ride I was usually packed in like a sardine with all the other passengers. Many would pile in at Ueno Station and the people on the outside would get pressed up against the glass. Arriving at Abiko station was perfect as the cool breeze complimented with the freedom of the outdoors and proved to be dual relief from the moments that had ticked by previously. It was on these occasions that steam rose up into the high ceilings of the train station platforms and gave off the smell of boiling noodles and breaded delicacies.
I've been spoiled my whole life when it comes to the availability of outdoor sports that have always been at my fingertips. Growing up in the mountains of Colorado let me experience everything from the rich mountain rivers to the high mountain peaks. In the summer it was kayaking and in the winter it was skiing. That being said I would say that there is a whole dimension added to skiing when partaking in the activity in Japan.
Before I arrived in Japan, I thought that I would not need a car in Japan. I was tough. Japan had trains as well. I felt I could bike everywhere. When I arrived in the town though after one week of living in the humidity and being caught in a giant rainstorm I realized that I was in someplace completely different. Again my ego had gotten the better of me and soon I was realizing that I needed a vehicle in Japan. It took me a month or so get a vehicle and during that time I made due with a bike, which proved to be a great way to get used to the intricacies of Japanese driving; for example, the fact that the lanes were opposite to that of the U.S. In the end being on a bike first was a good way to transition to Japanese motor life.
When I close my eyes I can smell the sea, but I don't know what sea it might be, as I have seen and touched many parts of the ocean so far. I think anybody can do that. They can close their eyes and see flashes of the life that they've lived up to their own point of currently living. For me, a multitude of different things come. There's the feeling of cold glass against my forehead as I take an evening train into Tokyo or there is the smell of Naraha immediately after it has rained for days on end and a crisp bright light blue floods the sky with a new sun and starts to dry everything. It feels so good to walk on the street then and breathe in perfect fresh air coming from millions of trees. There also is the smell of sweet teriyaki sauce poured over fried ramen noodles during a hot humid day. When I arrived in Japan in the summer of 2009, this was a common occurrence and there were numerous summer parties that I was able to attend. They all took place in the late afternoon around a hot grill sizzling with yaki soba noodles. "Yaki" is "fried" in Japanese and everything becomes so in late July in Japan. The humidity pours over the land and fries everything, but also keeps it wet. It would be wrong to say that the air steams everything as this would be different and Yaki soba would instead be called "Jouki Soba" or steamed soba, which is not really a thing to my knowledge. That is not to say that soba is only served hot as my preference in the summer is when soba is prepared cold, but in this case, the noodle is boiled, but not steamed. I was able to see how this dish was made traditionally later in my travels, but that part of the story will be explained later.