Monday, 26 May 2014

Island life on shodoshima

Our first Workaway experience. The deal with Workaway is that you work a certain amount of hours labour in return for food and lodging. This Workaway was with Mitsi, her two boys (and dog) on the island of Shodoshima - west of Osaka in the Setouchi Sea of Japan. Shodishima is a hilly, rugged island covered in thick woods and rocky outcrops with three or four settlements mainly on the south. Mitsi’s house was on a hillside overlooking the harbour and 

View from the balcony
reached by, what felt like, a thousand steps. We had the two rooms on the second floor with a huge balcony overlooking the bay, it was a fabulous space! In return for this space we washed her car, cleaned windows inside and out. Did a complete spring clean of the house, fixed screens, erected a sunscreen, looked after the boys and generally just chatted. One day we decided to surprise Mitsi by cleaning weeds from a wall and heavily overgrown piece of land below her house. We managed about 7 metres before she came home and told us it wasn’t her garden!!!

Mitsi, Ansell, Miki and Coco the dog were a lovely family, full of enthusiasm (well some more than others – Miki needed encouragement to pull his eyes away from his comics or electronic games!) and very warm and welcoming. Maybe not conventional Japanese because Mitsi had spent half of her life either in the US or New Zealand and the boys were only a year in Japan, but they introduced us to Japanese life nevertheless. We were plunged into the realities of being a working single parent family and helped out as we say above and with some English lessons that Mitsi gives.

Working for a change was something of a novelty so the little that was asked of us we did with good heart and relish but as well as this we enjoyed going around the island on bikes and trying soy icecream from one of the many soy factories there, seeing how life on a small island works and practicing our poor and insubstantial Japanese on the locals.

During our week here we went to the boys sports day. An odd mixture of dance, performance, small races and chanting team challenges. Who would have thought unicycles, glorified four man piggy back battles, and 5 tier human pyramid would be part of a school curriculum.

We spent a day with Akiko (a friend of Mitsi) being shown the island. Going up the ropeway to the high point of the island to Kan Ka Kei and looking down on the blue sea and craggy coastline before heading to Olive park for lunch.

Another day was spent at the local dam. This large structure spans a gorge that is some 200 metres high. At the bottom there is an outlet that regulates the water contained inside the dam and this is open enough to form a shallow stream that trickles over boulders down the length of the valley to the sea. The sun shone and we climbed the several hundred steps up one side of the dam to walk across the bridge and down the other side – strangely satisfying in a sweaty sort of way. Another family joined us and we ate and chatted whilst the children played in the 

stream, jumped from rock to rock and threw flip flops at one another. We finished the day there by going to an Onsen. A large public bath where sex-segregated groups can sit in overly hot water and chat. Potentially a pleasant thing were it to be mix sex and in a natural setting but in a square bath in a utilitarian building it was a little forced. Later, when we arrived home Mitzi prepared a meal of Sushi do it yourself dishes to try and we ate various raw fish, cooked chicken and vegetables wrapped in seaweed until it was time to have an inpromptu dance competition/exhibition in front of an ipad. Great fun and very funny.

We played badminton with a group of Japanese people and conversed through their limited language and our miming skills.

We had dinner with a family at their home which was a cross between the home of the Darling Buds of May, a Mexican taverna and a ramshackle Japanese farmhouse. This lovely family had been moved from their home near Fukushima because of radiation from the plant and they now live something of an idyllic life Great thanks to Ken chan and Ton chan for the food and huge amount of wine.

Life on Shodoshima is slow and easy and feels a little like a place trapped in time. We were so fortunate to go there and know that if we ever go back we have good friends there to welcome us.

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