I spent an entire week in Nagano last week. Spent several nights at a business hotel where the owner looked like a bar tender from a Kitano Takeshi movie–very polite, grinning all the time, but putting off an aura of the underworld. I’m not even sure what that means exactly, but maybe I should borrow Kitano’s line that “the Japanese are so inscrutable.”
On a visit to Gunma prefecture, I asked a cab driver what the regional specialty was in the area in terms of food and leisure. The driver’s response was that Gunma has always been a region that is historically poor. “We don’t have special foods around here. I remember right after the war, when I was a little kid, croquettes were considered a luxury. We’ve always lived on simple foods like yam cakes. My brother was a young salaryman then, and we were in such shortage of food that I remember his body was skeletal. Aside from archeological digs, we really don’t have much going on around here.” I suppose the area has always been a tomb: frequent landslides, famine, and desolate mountains. The isolation here isn’t necessarily pretty like other rural areas in Japan, but it seems to have some familiarity that is strangely comforting. Can’t pin it down.
This has been quite a hectic week. I drove for the first time in a city, then took a bullet train to the countryside on a business/training trip for a couple of days, eventually coming back and seeing a handful of operations. The highlight of the week was a 24-hour hot spring attached to the business hotel, as well as passing through beautiful mountains and rice fields in the area. Nagano prefecture is famous for buckwheat noodles and hot springs.
It’s hard to say what I do in Japan in one phrase. I usually say that “I catalyze osteosynthesis.” I push product at hospitals, go into OP rooms and explain to doctors how to insert metal implants into bodies, and eventually hope that people walk again. What’s great about this routine is that I know I’m constantly in the in-betweens of birth and death—I help periosteum cells regenerate and die, eventually in hopes that this process form into callus. Resorption, death on one side; birth, life on the other. Seems to perfectly describe many of my past experiences.
After a day’s work, I usually go to Bar Zero, a nice little neighborhood pub run by a 40-some year old ex-salaryman. The old men are beginning to get attached to the idea that I’m a once-a-week regular. Anytime I leave out a week, they say “where’s Michael.” They call me Michael, Richard, or John. Any male “foreign” name that comes to mind. The bar master usually rants about how he wants to keep the institution a healthy & neighborly climate, and he makes sure the exhausted laborers don’t drink too much and asks them to leave if they look a little too drowsy. Resorption, drinking at night; birth, waking in the morning.
Maybe I will go take the Shonan Shinjuku Line this weekend to see a play in Tokyo. I think I reserved some tickets online earlier—a play about rewriting the constitution, another story about death and rebirth.