The port of Shimoda at the tip of the Izu peninsula is the place where in 1852, commodore Perry’s black ships were first sighted. America came requesting a trade route, they were refused, so came back a year later in warships and requested again; thus signifying the end of Japan’s self-imposed isolation from the world for over two hundred years. I stood by a large model of one of the ships, waiting for a bus. I was heading to a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) farm further south.
The previous morning I had left Tokyo, and after three weeks was city-tired. As the train rolled slowly out of the station, something began to lift; it was a mind frame born out of adjusting accordingly and without my noticing, to things like: how to deal with 24hr crowds of consumerism, 24hr neon adverts on video screens almost the size of the buildings of which they adorn, and the nightly trawl of prostitutes pimps and drunks that worked the street where I slept in an internet café.
As the train left Tokyo then Yokohama behind, the view out the window changed from man-made concrete cityscapes to nature’s ocean-wide blue; the sight of coastline and pine-covered morning- mist-mountains eased me fundamentally.
It was a half hour bus journey to Shimogamo where I met my host Mikiko; long black hair past her shoulders and a smiling pretty face beneath a straw sun hat. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was harvest day and we headed over to her friend’s house, just ten minutes by car and we were friends when we arrived.
There were thirteen of us in total including three children. The machine that cut the long rows of rice was no bigger than an old petrol mower, spitting bundles of rice out of both sides every dozen paces, already neatly tied with string: a modern invention that saved days otherwise bent double.