On the Way Home

This is Andaibara....
Excursion to the Unexpected
Back at the beginning of June when I was in Noto, I spent a glorious day visiting various people who had been recommended to me, relying on the SatNav in the car that I was using to get me to my destinations.  I had already become quite attached to the voice of the young lady giving directions and, for the most part, had found her instructions in very polite Japanese to be clear and easy to follow.

It helped to have looked at a number of maps beforehand and having a good sense of direction anyway, I nearly always had a pretty good idea of what direction I was supposed to be heading. Later during my stay, however, the inadequacies of the SatNav were exposed and were made worse by my false assumptions.  But that is another story, or two.

Newly built and old can hardly be distinguished.
There are not many main roads on the Noto Peninsula, so even without the prompts of Ms SatNav I was beginning to find my way around fairly comfortably.  In the circumstances there was, after all little chance of getting lost.  If I was unsure I could always knock on a door or ask someone, that is if I could find someone to ask.  Apart from the main tourist centres the Noto Peninsula as a whole is very sparsely populated.  In fact, the numbers of people moving away from the area is of great concern—depopulation with a vengeance.

It was late afternoon and I was now heading back to Wajima to my guesthouse; home for the duration of my month-long stay.  I was on Route 249 moving northward.  This major route follows the coast up from Kanazawa in the south west and then turns sharply eastward and runs through a wide valley, passing close to Shojiji temple and the town of Monzen.  It was a scene of much damage as a result of the earthquake which struck the area in 2007.  There is now little sign of what happen, except at Shojiji Temple, which is still undergoing restoration.  Many of the older buildings in Monzen were spared, others have been rebuilt but in a sympathetic style, so that it is sometimes difficult to say from when they date.

Although the SatNav was guiding me dutifully along Route 249, I was already so familiar with the route I decided to ignore my attentive guide and make a detour.  Taking a left turn at some traffic lights I began to follow a narrow lane between rice paddies and stands of conifers steadfastly arranged on the steep slopes of the flanking mountains, or were they hills.  By definition a mountain is steep and as far as the UK is concerned is over 600 metres high.  So here “mountain” is perhaps the right word—steep slopes and at least the required height.

As the way in front of me began to climb the SatNav fell silent and gave up trying to redirect me. The surroundings were almost completely silent too.  No bird song, no traffic noise—I was the traffic—and no people.  The only sounds were the occasional croak of a frog and the faint murmuring of water trickling into the stepped paddies that filled the ever narrowing and inclined valley.  It was a very fine day.  Not too humid and a blue sky decorated with a few puffy clouds.

The stepped paddies here were nothing to rival those in Thailand or indeed other parts of Japan.  Nevertheless, they were worth photographing.  Their regularity and tidiness alone made them memorable.

Although there were two or three houses near to were I was standing looking down the valley, there was no one to be seen.  All the houses could have been uninhabited for all I knew, except that the small gardens were well tended.  Surely there was someone around.  Indeed there was.

The peace and quite was broken by the sound of an engine starting and almost immediately a light truck driven by an elderly man appeared out of a side road and came to a stop by where I was standing.  Konichi wa. Ii tenki desu ne.  We exchanged greetings and even commented on the weather, before discussing the location.  This was Andaibara, a small community of twelve households of mostly elderly people who were doing their best to tend the land.

Fortunately this local did not have a strong accent, or he was being kind enough to speak his mother tongue in its more standard form.  I therefore had no trouble understanding him.

It seems that just as in other parts of the Noto Peninsula, depopulation in Andaibara has meant that fewer and fewer people are farming the land and there seems to be no end to the problem.

“Of course, there were plenty of people living here in the past—farmers, foresters and their families.  Now all the young people have moved away to Tokyo or other big cities to find work and mostly only come back at the New Year”.  This I had heard before but his next statement was something of a surprise.

“When there were more people living here, some of the men went off to fight in the Russo-Japanese War”.  Pointing to a mound by the road a little way back down the valley he said, “That’s a memorial to them”. Of course, such memorials can be found in small villages all over rural Britain, especially honouring those that fell in the First World War. 

The realities of the Russo-Japanese conflict, which started in 1904, could not have been further from my thoughts.  I was standing in a little haven of peace and tranquility where nature predominated and even people were so scarce as to have no real presence.  It was nature’s domain.

I suddenly felt very privileged to be were I was and to be completely absorbed in what I was doing.  I was a spectator of other people’s lives in an idyllic location with not even the slightest sense of responsibility.  Or would it be more true to say that I was an observer benefitting from a sense of happy detachment.

As our conversation began to dry up, I asked if I might take a photograph of my new acquaintance and, out of courtesy, I asked too if I might have his name.

“My name? I’m not someone who is worthy of a name.”  There was no sense of any spitefulness or anger in his voice.  He was, however, clearly surprised but perhaps no more surprised than I was by his answer.  It might seem to some people that anonymity for the Japanese is something to hide behind.  Being publicly recognised with a name, however, does for some Japanese seem to be something they feel they must have earned rather than a given right—there is a sense of honest modesty.

My short detour into the mountains had been uplifting and interesting.  I resolved to take more excursions of the beaten track.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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