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Sakai-san: Prelude – 2006 – <br /> <b>Deprecated</b>: Function wp_specialchars is <strong>deprecated</strong> since version 2.8.0! Use esc_html() instead. in <b>/home/ommphoto_ftp/owensark.com/wp-includes/functions.php</b> on line <b>5453</b><br /> Owen's Ark

Sakai-san: Prelude – 2006


Running late. Nothing new – it’s the norm. Taking short cuts, familiar back routes through the rice fields of Toyama on route to something else; always something else, some reason, some rush, some… Rarely a drive now, for a drives’ sake.


65km/h, bend in the road, bridge ahead and on it an old man. He’s waving a hand and with it, an umbrella. I slow down thinking maybe he needs directions or some help – waiting for the moment he looks at my face only to wave me on having predetermined I can’t speak the language. Not today. Window goes down – face peeps in. Old, white hair, crooked teeth, split level glasses slightly dirty; umbrella in hand has wavered down, too.


“Tsurete iku?” (take me with you)


Caught off guard – he’s asking for a ride… Nobody hitch hikes in this country, nobody asks – it just doesn’t happen, if they do they’re young and elsewhere other than back roads.


“Tsurete iku? 10pun dake…” gesturing in the opposite direction of main road, towards the mountains.


A car passes – I’m late already, no time, caught up in a moment: ears open, mind closed. However, it’s raining, and he’s old, stooped with what looks a heavy bag in the other hand…


“Amari jikan ga nai – tomodachii to yakusoku ga arun kedo…” (I don’t really have time – got an appointment with friends, but) I open the door.


“Uchi made, sonanni tokuani – koko kara 10pun dake” Not far to my house, only 10 minutes from here.


“Shiteru ne?” Nod of the head. (You understand [Japanese] don’t you)


“Un” (yes) I do– a little, but right now I’m thinking I’ll just drive you as far as I can – 5 minutes perhaps, halfway maybe, then see whether you can’t get a lift from someone else…mind elsewhere – preoccupied…


His name is Sakai Shouta, and he lives off in the mountains of Osawano. No family, by himself. Or rather, with two cats – “it’s a little lonely you see”… He’s just been into town to get some groceries; tinned food, wrapped with newsprint carried in a plastic bag next to umbrella on the thigh of slightly unkempt trousers.


“Things aren’t like they used to be in the old days, not many people in the mountains anymore – all moved to the cities. Used to be able to live off the land completely – healthy Japanese food – lots of fresh vegetables, and so many fish…”


“Takes a long time to walk this road – perhaps an hour and half for an old man…meet a bear and that would be the end,” he chuckles…


“You know if you go straight on this road it’ll take you through Osawano onto the 41, down into Gifu – only in the summer mind you – winter’s a different story”…


I’ve started listening now – rather than automatic replies, rather than thinking about the next place to drop him off. As the road continually narrows, my mind has opened ever so slightly.


“What do you do in Winter?”


“Not much – stay in my house – can’t go anywhere, the roads aren’t open.”


“What about food?”


“Buy some in the village…”


“But the roads are closed…”


“Un” (yup)


10 minutes, 20 minutes, late, not late- it’s all relative. Sakai-san has a mouth full of teeth ready to drop out; black, crooked – two missing on either side of a front tooth, withered away by the years. His suit is old, dirty in all the spots that show wear easily — I’ve noticed now — Sunday best from 20 years ago, and perhaps without cleaning since then either. But behind split level glasses, and gap-toothed mug are eyes that smile and conversation that’s genuine. I drop Sakai-san off at his house – in the middle of nowhere, on a road scarcely wider than a car; abandoned houses scattered around lonely rice fields surrounded by forest. Boarded up, splintered roofs, crumbling walls…


“Lot’s of green out here” Sakai-san remarks. He tries to push money into my hand for the ride, but I won’t accept it.


“9 gatsu gurai, uchi e iku to hanashite mo ii? Yes he’d like that, it’s lonely up here all alone – nice to have someone to talk with, other than the cats.


“Out in the mornings mind, around in the evenings.” Old man with crooked smile, young man with time on his mind: we’re both looking towards September…


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