– something soft

for the eyes.

Snow falls like genteel manners. Soft, constant, the table set and dinner waiting on a surface you didn’t even notice was bare.

A square is cut into the vacant block next door. A father takes his snow shovel/pusher and makes a mountain in his driveway. Then he smooths the front of the slope while his son cannot stop laughing and wriggling around in excitement.

The snow falls heavily then it stops for a day and rains and clears and then falls again. It is manageable. Further south it is heavy day-in, day-out, but they don’t get the winds that we do. They get more snow, but warmer temperatures. We freeze our arses off.  This year though, more snow has fallen than it has for twenty-six years.

I’m secretly glad. It’s my last year and I don’t mind getting just one dose of the snow that the area is famous for. If I knew it was likely that it was something to expect year-in, year-out, then I think my grumbles about it being mendoi, a hassle, a pain in the butt, would be more vociferous. It is mendoi, though. I don’t have a car and bicycles don’t have snow tyres, not average bicycles, anyway, and it takes a while for the footpaths to be cleared, if they get cleared at all.

Across the way from the father and son’s house is a block of flats and the kids the other week had piled up the snow and were taking turns to slide down it. Their parents would take them to the skiing fields, to other places to enjoy the snow, but to have enough locally for periods longer than a day or two, long enough to try everything they have seen everyone on television do, must be a lot of fun.

Not my pictures

I come back from swimming. I swam an hour and had a very leisurely bath and sauna, so it is maybe two hours or so since the father and son were making the snow-slide. Three boys live in this house. When the weather is good, futons are always hung from the windows to air and the clothes racks outside are full of clothes. It looks like a very masculine, organised kind of a house. There is the father and the mother, but no little girls. The boys often practice baseball in the vacant lot when there is no snow, even with snow. You pitch the snow ball and then smash it to a few hundred smithereens. Sometimes the father plays with them.

Not my picture

At times I see them all eating dinner together as I walk past. There always seem to be fishing nets drying, some kind of paid work which involves physical labour. The wife does most of the housework, I think, and I know that involves physical labour.

The kids are used to having foreigners living down the street. None of the, “Harro, Harro, This is a pen,” I used to get when I first came to Japan 19 years before. I have only lived in Japan, on and off, eight years, but my first visit was 19 years ago. I was going for a dusk walk the other day and a young boy and his sister were out riding their bicycles. The snow was still piled up, but it must have been a day of some sun, or some rain, because there was enough cleared bitumen for them to circle around and around.

“Hello,” the boy said, and I said a grudging hello in return. Now, it is grudging because if you are greeted by a kid in English, or anyone that you don’t know, there are two presumptions going on. One is that you speak English because all foreigners speak English. The second is that you are a bit like a monkey in a zoo, there for entertainment and gawking at. “Hello. My name is Ito Daisuke.” I nod. I am walking forward, but of course a bicycle can easily keep pace.

At that time Ohno San drives by. I know her from the health club. She teaches singing and piano and her house is near my flat. She calls out in Japanese and asks me if I am going for a walk. Once I retrieve the word for walk from my memory, I assure her that I am. She is maybe on her way to the baths. We say our goodbyes, and then the young boy, in Japanese, and quite incredulously, asks me if I can speak Japanese.

A little, I reply. Then in Japanese, he restates his name, and I say my name, and we part our ways and I feel like a total bitch, because really, he was just curious and didn’t think I could speak his language. As instructors, and on language programmes on television and so on, teachers are always urging learners to strike up conversation with native speakers, yet, quite often when they do, they get someone surly like me. Not just kids, I have a kind of strained politeness with adults who I don’t know as well. Japanese describe themselves as shy. I think that reticent is probably the more exact word. Reticent and reserved, easily embarrassed, so it is difficult for them to embrace English as one of their languages.

It really is a different matter when they speak to me in Japanese, though the questions and information offered are often the same. Maybe it is because they assume I can understand them, and I have to struggle to keep up the pace and to try to understand them. It seems a lot less like performance, and a lot more like interest, and definitely gives me a challenge. However, I want to be more open to opportunities, and not cut off from them, so tempering my resentment is something I’m working on. And being thankful, of course for the wonderful hospitality that I do experience here.

Back at the house, there now was a cave in the slide mountain. A square-cut within the oblongy-triangle, and a hard-hat squished into the side. I guess that the father had let the boy borrow the hat, maybe. Or perhaps he had insisted that he wore it as he explored the confines. When I passed today, I saw a small round hole which I guess is a spy hole burrowing through to the other side.

Not my picture, but stock image from a clothing shop. Sorry, I can’t find the link.

Earlier on the day that I first saw the father creating the slide, I had passed a house where snow was piled up in the driveway. A young girl, she looked about three, but was probably about five, had squished together two oblong snow shapes. She had a bright yellow shovel, and was wearing purple. I thought she had made a snowman, but then she sat on one of the shapes and the other shape was behind her. It was a chair. You could see that she really hoped that it worked. That she wasn’t quite as satisfied with her work as she could be. A bit like when I so desperately tried to write my name in the name section of a Little Golden Book, but it came out looking like a penguin.

I was quite surprised it looked like a penguin, by the way. I would have been four. I didn’t stick around to see if her chair held her weight. Her parents probably wouldn’t have been too keen to have a large foreigner standing out the front of their house, gawking at their little girl.

The day before I had been walking to the station and a woman and friend were in the park. The footpaths were maybe about 5cm deep in snow, but the parks, which are quite flat and hollow – kids practice baseball and soccer there – were at least up to your knees covered in snow. A woman and her friend were taking photos. One threw a ball for their dog who tried his damnedest to go leaping through the snow. I think he stopped before he got anywhere near the ball. The woman waded into the snow either for the dog, or the ball, or both.

Boots and Little Golden Book name plaque not my pictures.

Around here we wear boots to the supermarket and into the city as well. Rubber boots. Trousers tucked into your socks and wellie boots, boots. There are some really cute designs, and mine can double as a decent pair of shoes, so I’m not always pulling them on and off, replacing one type of footwear with another.

My American colleague comes from the North Of the States so he worries about looking like a hick when he wears boots, but I think everyone looks kind of cool. But I made sure I didn’t wear the obvious boots down to Tokyo when I visited.

Actually, I saw a very cool pair of leather boots the other day, and I just might buy them. I think they are my size, but I have a broad foot, and these look like they have a narrow toe. Story of my life. Why is leather no good in snow? Now, I am sure there is a very logical reason that I could just google very quickly – you know, something like it is pretty porous, and not as waterproof as you think, even when it is water-proofed. But, coming from Perth in Australia, there is only about a month when it is cool enough to wear my boots, though my friend wears hers in summer. The good thing about Perth is that it never gets so cold that you can’t wear a skirt and boots. Here, when I wear boots, the weather is no good for wearing a skirt, that and the fact that I ride a bicycle and I need pockets. Pockets, skirt designers, please! I need pockets.

So, you come to an area that is cold and snowy and you think, yaaay, I can wear my boots every day or at least for half the year! Every day that it isn’t snowy or raining that is. I have had enough sodden socks to know that it is so. Rubber’s kind of cute, anyway.

Oh, not quite finished. I was slushing through the snow home the other day, marvelling at the mountains of snow that the bulldozers/ploughs have pushed to the sides of the carparks, and the students of the university at which I work had hollowed out a huge cave for themselves in one of the mountains.

Large enough for two chairs and a bench. It was too late for any of them to be hanging out, and exams had just finished, anyway, but the snow pile is right near the music room and some of my favourite students spend all their spare time in there playing the drums, guitars, keyboards. I could just imagine them huddled in the cave in their very thin clothes (clothes? warm clothes? who needs warm clothes? we’re waaay cool, brrr) and gorgeous EMO haircuts, sharing a cigarette and celebrating their last few years of freedom before joining the working drones. Of course, they will all be famous musicians, so they will escape and inspire countless others.

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2 Comments on “– something soft”

  1. Somebody Somewhere Says:

    As a Libran, I thoroughly endorse this message.

    • theheartbeatsoftly Says:

      Fast, my friend. It’s about to be updated, I think. Thanks. Hey, that was a pretty decisive statement for a Libran to make 😉


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