One of the really fun things about living overseas is seeing how different cultures approach things differently. The other day I was in the teachers room for lunch, and a fly had been buzzing around the curry rice and generally causing a ruckus. One of the teachers grabbed a fly swatter and sent the little bugger to meet his maker. Now, so far so normal, after all we have fly swatters in America too. Swatter meets fly, fly gets smooshed, we all live happily ever after (well, except for the fly, who got smooshed.) However, in Japan, rather than use a tissue or even just your hands to transfer the recently deceased to the trash can, the teacher removed a pair of special, fly handling chopsticks from the handle of the fly swatter. What a genius idea, it’s quick, easy and relatively clean. The tips of those chopsticks did look pretty heinous though.
That same day I saw the groundskeeper fire up a mini flamethrower to burn weeds. The thing sounded like a mini jet engine, and looked like both a chore and sorta fun too. Anytime you get to light stuff on fire you can have at least a little bit of fun. I have since decided that perhaps burning weeds is more common than I had thought, but for me it was an entirely new phenomenon. After all, it is so dry in Colorado that if somebody sneezes too hard you can start a forest fire that consumes thousands of acres. Burning weeds back home would be like swimming with sharks, without the shark cage and with an open cut!
As I’ve mentioned, I live in the countryside. My schools are all even further from the city center, such as it is, than I am. A few weeks ago at one of my elementary schools they did a schedule change, because the 5th graders were planting rice. Of course, in modern Japan there are all sorts of agricultural machines that obviate the need for the backbreaking task of planting rice by hand, but I guess the school felt that it would be a good experience to have. Perhaps as a way of seeing just how people lived up until pretty recently. I wasn’t there to see the planting, though I did drive by the field on the way to work, but I did see the aftermath. The kids were drenched in mud. Now, I’ve never planted rice, though looking at those water filled paddies I can imagine its messy work, but I think that you could probably do it without looking like a victim of a spa mud bath gone horribly wrong. I saw that as a (responsible?) adult though, not as a hyperactive 5th grader. I suppose that if you took my 12 year old self and dumped him in a rice paddy planting those little shoots, I would have ended up much the same way.
Many buildings in Japan have what is called a genkan, an area at the entrance for taking off and storing your shoes. Houses, schools, some hotels, restaurants and more all have this uniquely Japanese architectural addition. The idea of course is to keep the indoors cleaner by not tracking in mud, dirt and dog poop. The reason I bring this up is that it really didn’t matter that the mud drenched young rice farmers took off their shoes. It didn’t even matter that they had all been sprayed off outside, there were still little footprints of water and mud making a trail from the entryway to the changing room on the 2nd floor. I did an inform poll though, asking if their trip out to the fields had been fun, and 100% of respondents said yes!