A bit overdue but I should mention that we have now been away from England for over three years. We left on October 8th 2012 with the intention of travelling the world for a couple of years before picking a place we had visited and loved and settling down. Didn't quite work out that way since we are still in Asia and looking at the big wide world on a map makes one realise that we have a lot to do. How we got stuck in Japan for so long is beyond me. We never even intended to to come here but something about the place just worked. Fear not though. You will not have to read blog after blog of gradually less interesting things as we are set to start moving again around March. The plan at the moment (and this is always subject to change) is to do some volunteer work in Nepal for a couple of months. We have been in touch with a guy who has built a school in a little village that is 2 hours walk from nearest road and we will be living there teaching English in the school and generally helping with rebuilding work in the village which is still largely effected by the earthquake. After that there is a good possibility of a housesit in Spain before heading off to travel around South and Central America... No more brush festivals for us.
So, on with the blog.
Where to start.........OK. A short while ago, Lee and Tohru, some friends of ours here, took us out for a traditional Japanese meal at a very swanky restaurant. Lee - a diminutive Australian fitness freak, teacher, recent mother and resident of Hiroshima for 12 years and Tohru - a Japanese, stocky wakeboarder and Manager of the 2nd best sales in the world Ferrari dealership have been good friends to us and due to a corporate gift were able to treat us to a very special evening.
Now as stated, Tohru (and indeed Lee) are wakeboarders. I've never wakeboarder and had been unable to try the whole of the summer due to my broken wrist (for which,incidentally, I just got a 91,000¥ rebate from the already 70% subsidised medical costs - result!). Anyway, feeling that my wrist was capable of taking the strain (unlike when i learnt to mono-ski years ago with a different broken wrist - thats' another story though) we drove down to Etajima and suited and booted to the water. Each of us taking turns. Lee wakeboards on a board that is not affixed to her feet so can't do complex tricks but is very proficient. Tohru does somersaults, huge jumps and other impressive tricks. Having never wakeboarded, or even snowboarded, myself I still took to it with relative ease. A couple of wipe outs and false starts but on the whole I was pretty good - managing to come out of the wake and turn in the calmer waters, slalom about a bit and twist the board from goofy to regular positions (i know all the lingo, me).
Sumo. The first thing to say is that these enormous blokes in nappies smell really lovely. At the Hiroshima Display Tournament which we recently attended we were able to stroll about amongst these man-mountains. Rachel kept sniffing the air as they walked by - a combination of scent and Johnson's baby powder lingering in their wake. It was a bit surreal buying a coke and a snack in a small shop in the concourse leading to the main hall and standing in a queue between two of these men who were also buying snacks (4 packs to my one).
There is a quiet confidence that is quite palpable within these men - a confidence borne of being treated special over a long period and of being huge and somewhat daunting to Joe Average. They are extra-ordinary people and the concept of them being just big fat blokes soon disappears after watching them for a while. They simply cannot be compared to fat blokes you see in the street. They eat, drink, live, train and fight Sumo every day of their lives. Beneath the mass of flesh (that seems harder and more taught that Roland of Grange Hill ever appeared) is muscle - lots of muscle. And seeing them in their natural habitat (much like a Hippo becomes graceful when in water) was a joy and wonder to behold.
Sumo is a lot about ceremony. Like the salt throwing and posturing. All has significance and other meanings. Initially it was a Shinto ritual to entertain the gods at festivals and those rituals have remained fairly consistent throughout its history. The salt for instance is about purification, the stomping of the feet is to scare away Oni (demons), The raising of the decorative apron called the Kesho-mawashi is to demonstrate they have no weapons. The wrestlers are actually called Rikishi and not Sumo wrestlers. There are various rankings within the sport with the highest being Yokozuna (Those who have won two tournaments consecutively). there have only ever been 70 Yokozuna and we were fortunate enough to see two of them. If interested look up www.sumotalk.com - complete with fantasy sumo. Something Rachel suggested we play in the bedroom the other night but i had trouble with the pampers wrapper.
We went and got married!
At 2am, about 15 months ago, on a deserted beach in Tonga Rachel and I lay on a duvet looking up at an amazing sky of glittering stars in the cool, clear night. As we lay there staring up in in wonder, a shooting star flew overhead and I asked Rachel to be my wife. She drew in breath and answered and we laughed, cried and clung to one another with happiness. Marriage was something we had spoken of and discounted as an irrelevance over the years because we both gloried in our relationship as it was. A relationship during which we daily had that feeling of carrying a heart that is too big and one in which we have never had an argument. Not because we are not passionate about things but because our passion is in accord with one another's. I love her and she loves me. End of story. But it wasn't the end. Love evolves, we all know that and we had come to realise that for all its archaic symbolism it was still the ultimate expression of feeling one could make. And we both wanted it.
And so here we are in Japan and we're now husband and wife. Its not easy getting married here as a foreigner. Planning is required. In England during the summer we had to apply for Certificates of No Impediment and get it translated into Japanese. We had to send for our birth certificates and again get them translated in the same format (for identification) into Japanese. We had to check regulations and get forms written in Japanese that needed translating to us so we could then complete them in a combination of English and Japanese. Having completed this we had to make a couple of visits to the ward office to get them to check in advance that everything was as it should be. Then comply with slight variants that they could throw into the mix. Eventually though we were ready and we gathered our Inkan (personal seals), passports, residents cards and paperwork on the 20th November and biked down to city hall.
Our planning had gone a bit topsy turvy because of work commitment, health issues and bad weather the previous weekend. So after getting up and having breakfast during which I gave Rachel an origami bouquet that had taken 8 hours to make. I had to go off to teach in the mountains for a parents day and Rachel had to go to the dentist. Weirdly we sort of liked this anomaly in normal wedding day protocol. However, by 2.30pm we had arrived at city hall and after 2 hours of sitting and watching a woman a across a desk from us scour the paperwork, run off for advice on certain issues, return and make us fill out more paper work eventually - only once we had asked - we were told we were married.
Our flat is registered in Rachel's name so when we had to state who was head of the household during the registration of marriage process (so romantic!) it seemed natural that she be so. Consequently my health card has been replaced with my married man's health card and has my name on it now but beneath states that Rachel Anne Elliott is head of the household......I am officially Rachel's Bitch! She has been milking this ever since).
We left city hall, tied our tin cans onto our bikes, put signs on the front and pedalled off into Hiroshima to our hotel. People clapping and smiling as we passed them by. Our afternoon and evening were lovely with a meal on Peace Boulevard and a walk amongst the seasonal decorations. The following morning we rose early to go to Miyajima to do the romantic version of the previous days officialdom. This was to be a bit of a pilgrimage since we wanted to go to the Lovers Sanctuary - a shrine atop Mount Misen on the island. What with driving, parking (nightmare as many people go to Miyajima for the autumn leaves viewing - "Kouyou"), taking the ferry, walking to the cable car, taking the cablecar, then walking a further 500 metres up a steep path - we got there. All worth it though. The journey was an event in itself and made the getting there even better. We then wrote our wishes on offering candles and lit them from the eternal flame in the shrine (a flame that is said to have burned for 1200 years). We placed them at the Shinto alter looked into one another eyes and ran gasping for air from the smoke filled room. It was supposed to be romantic not dangerous. After, we went to a quiet platform at the rear of the shrine and I placed the ring on Rachel's finger and we said our promises to one another whilst looking out over the fantastic view across the Seto sea. Again more tears of joy but hopefully the beginning of living happily ever after.