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O Fim duma Viagem

Everybody Needs a Break

JAPAN | Tuesday, 3 May 2016 | Views [530]

Saturday, I got confirmation that the children woke up early when I woke up to the sounds of little feet running around the house. I checked the time, debated whether or not it was worth getting up this early and decided it wasn't. Two hours later, when I went downstairs, Yuma and Itsuki were still running around. There was also still breakfast and coffee waiting for me.

Breakfast was bread that had been baked that morning and spreads. I had the option of an orange jam or a peanut cream. I say “peanut cream,” because it's important to draw the distinction between that and peanut butter. In Japan, you can only get real peanut butter at great personal expense, however you can occasionally find reasonably-priced things that label themselves as “peanut butter.” It's hard to explain the difference because it's been close to a year since I've had American peanut butter, but I think it tends to be weaker in Japan, if it makes any sense for peanut butter to be “weak.”

The main plan for the day seemed to be climbing the nearby mountain, which I was up for, and not too particular on when. So Youhei decided it would be best to go in the afternoon, and that left me a morning I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with.

Yuma and Itsuki suggested “sanpo suru.” Sanpo suru is a word I would translate as “take a walk” or “stroll.” It's distinct from the word for “to walk,” “aruku” in that the latter is used as a verb of motion, and the former is more of an activity. You aruku to get to school. You sanpo suru when classes are over and you need to spend time moving outside instead of staying cramped in a classroom.

That, at least, is my understanding of the verb “sanpo suru.” Yuma and Itsuki had different ideas. So after deciding which way to head, they went racing up a hill leaving me no choice but to go chasing after them. Then they decided they'd gone enough in that direction and went tearing back the other direction. And then we paused in a field, and before I knew what was happening we were playing jangken to decide who was the oni in a game of tag.

So we played oni tag. And oni and cops and robbers. And soccer. And oni hide and go seek.

Hide and go seek, at least the way they played, was odd. Rather than counting to 100 straight off the bat, you count to ten. And then you ask “more time?” And they say “more time!” and that means you should count to ten again. Unless they call that out in the middle of you counting to ten, in which case you should stop counting and go look for them. At least, based off observation and the explanations I received, I'm pretty sure that's what was going on. It's possible that I was even more confused than those rules left me and just couldn't tell.

When the kids were bored or tired or something, we headed back to the house. After a little bit, Yuki suggested I go sit outside, so I found a beach near where Youhei was cooking rice with an actual fire and Itsuki and Yuma were playing. It was nice, peaceful, and pastoral.

Country living

Breakfast’s bread had been baked that morning by Yuki in a bread machine. The jams had been made by a friend. So was the soap I used to wash up the dishes after I was done eating. Youhei chopped wood. It all had a very natural country feeling.

At the same time, the house was very modern. It might not have had central heating, but it did have a self-heating bathtub, a nice kitchen, good heaters, and decent insulation. And Yuki and Youhei were by no means confined to the house in the country. Youhei had been in Osaka Friday, and Yuki went there Saturday afternoon.

Basically, it was lacking the contrast I've come to expect.It wasn't city vs. country life and never the two should mix. They might have a friend who makes dish soap, but the shampoo was generic and store-bought. They cut their own wood, but didn't appear to harbour any ill will towards people who lived in the city and let other people worry about it. And, of course, we weren't that much more than an hour out from Osaka. Nature and modernity mixed with ease here, and it was neat to see that.

Lunch was onigiri and miso soup. I helped make the onigiri, and learned valuable lessons in the process. Chief among them: do not try and make them with dry hands. Your hands must be wet and slippery or else the rice will stick to them badly. I also learned how to shape them into a triangle, and although they were nowhere near as good as Yuki's, they were better than Itsuki and Yuma's. (I need to take my victories where I can get them.)

In the afternoon, Yuki went to Osaka, and a bit after she left, the rest of us set out to climb the nearest mountain. I knew setting out that I was likely to be shown up by Yuma, Itsuki, and their nearly boundless energy. I was not wrong.

Climbing a mountain

The only other Japanese mountain I've climbed was Mount Fuji, which was a very different experience. Actually, the only similarity was that I was being shown up by small Japanese children in both. The mountain that I was currently climbing was a lot gentler, and also a lot less popular. Mount Fuji has checkpoints and vending machines and stations selling food all over. This one didn't. When we reached the top, the only thing there was a shrine. It was a lot less commercial, and given I don't climb mountains for the opportunities to buy things, that made it much nicer.

View from the mountain

Plus, it wasn't raining. Lack of rain makes hikes way more pleasant.

We were resting at the top for maybe a couple of minutes when Itsuki suggested we play hide and go seek. This very quickly turned into a tag game where I spent most of the time as the oni.

We were at the top of a mountain. Which we'd just climbed. Call me weak, but I did not want to be running around at the top of it. Besides, even when I did tag Yuma, he would make only a minimal attempt to tag his brother before turning and going after me. Itsuki was faster, liked climbing father up the brush, and wouldn't even try to go after Yuma when he was tagged. So I mostly just paced around threateningly and occasionally held my arms out like I was trying to scare away a bear. Coupled with the occasional lunge where I'd succeed I tagging one of them, this made up my attempt to pretend I cared about the game.


I quickly became more interested in the song that Yuma was semi-tautingly singing.

“London bashi ochiru, ochiri, ochiru.” Literally, London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. He continued to sing, or at least hum, the rest of the verse. But, much as I tried, I could not make out what he was saying. My attempts to listen failed, and when I asked, Yuma said nothing and Youhei said he must have learned that song in school, since he didn't know it.

Which is just as well, since once I knew the proper Japanese translation of “my fair lady,” there would be very little to stop me from trying to translate and sing the entirety of the song to an increasingly bored audience. It's the kind of thing I do.

“London Bridge” stuck in my head, we started our descent. Again, since the mountain was much less popular than Fuji-san, and since we wanted to end up on the same side of the base of the mountain that the house was on, we took the same way down that we'd used to get up. We didn't run into anyone on the way down either.


Dinner was takoyaki, and I quickly proved to be useless at any tasks involving them, including flipping the balls so that they could get equally cooked all the way around. It was also a gradual process, with 18 takoyaki being made at a time, and split unevenly between us. At the beginning Yuki made sure to give the children and guests more, but she kept making them, so she and Youhei got plenty to eat as well.

After dinner, I went up to the room to rest and avoid getting dragged into any more oni games. I wasn’t sure how much longer Yuma and Itsuki would have energy, but I didn’t want to discover it firsthand. Besides, I had another long, tiring day in front of me tomorrow.

Is this how people end up with sane sleep schedules?

Tags: food, mountain, nature, oni games, tag

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