Friday, June 24, 2005

Taue 田植え– Rice Planting

For the past two years Eden and I have been going to a rural region of Kumamoto City to participate in traditional Japanese activities. It is part of the internationalization part of our JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme experience. Last week we got to help plant rice. In China the farmers toss the rice seedlings into the mud while standing erect (much easier on the back). But in Japan it isn’t good enough to have rice growing this way or that, each seedling must be placed in neat, evenly spaced rows.

The two small flooded, muddy fields we planted we’re alive with leeches, larvae and frogs. It wasn’t the easiest thing to ease into, but luckily the leeches didn’t bite. All in all I’m not sure if it’s something that I’d choose to do again but am glad that we did it once. The poor old men and women who’ve done this there entire lives are bent over with their backs nearly horizontal, partly due to the hard work and I think partly due to a lack of calcium (traditionally Japanese people don’t consume dairy products, they get all their calcium from fish bones).

Monday, June 20, 2005

Need for speed

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I was caught speeding. On my commute home from school it is impossible to go faster than the limit of 40 or 50 kph in all but one place, and that’s just where I was caught. For most of my drive the roads are too narrow, windy, crowded or have too many stops to touch above 50 kph for more than a few seconds, but traffic clears up nicely when the road crosses the river and follows an overpass avoiding the intersection below. On this particular section, 50 kph seems like a crawl and everyone pushes their car to at least 60 kph. As I was descending the overpass, picking up a little speed, two men ran in front of my car waving large red flags. Not expecting someone to dash in front of a speeding car, I slammed on my brakes and swerved to avoid them. They then gestured for me to pull over and asked if I was in a hurry because I was speeding. I always think it’s unfair to point the radar gun at people descending a hill or something, but considering I was driving 76 kph in a 50 kph zone, I had little excuse. What really did irk me was the stiffness of the fine, 18,000 yen or around $220 CDN, and the fact that people don’t get in trouble for running red lights or watching TV while driving; two very common driving habits in Japan that I would consider much more dangerous.

I suppose though that the fine did serve its purpose. It has made me slow down to the speed limit (or just a little over) and I suppose this makes things safer for myself and the public.