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Saturday, June 10, 2006

JAPAN LITE

Being one with nature is ducky


The other morning I noticed some marine ducks out in the port quacking away. "Ohayo!" I yelled to them from my window. They looked at me and, much to my surprise, started swimming in my direction. Figuring they must be hungry, I went out and served them a slice of bread. And this is how I inadvertently started the Duck Cafe. We now have ducks flying in for breakfast! Not only that, some of them land on the road and walk over to the Duck Cafe. This is because they know that if they swim, the others in the water will beat them out of their "American breakfast." I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't be serving salad on the side. Or what about a filet o' fish "setto" for lunch? The only problem I have serving bread for breakfast is that I worry the ducks might choke to death on those giant Japanese bread crusts.

News photo
Manji-san, the neighborhood duck master and feeder of many critters

It's no surprise that so many ducks are flocking to our island, though -- the islanders are crazy about ducks. The other day when I was having a beer with the postman, he suddenly said, "Ah!" as Japanese people do when remembering something important. He whipped out his mobile phone, thumbed through some digital photos and said: "Look! Kawaii, ne?" I leaned closer, expecting to see a photo of his new grandson, but no, it was a tiny newly hatched duck. "The chick was right behind his mother. They crossed the road right in front of my bicycle this morning," he said excitedly.

While I serve breakfast at the Duck Cafe, a local "o-jii-chan" feeds the ducks dinner. He is the neighborhood duck master: Manji-san. Every evening Manji-san arrives on his bicycle at the waterway behind the port and unpacks a plastic bag full of food scraps from his bicycle basket. All the ducks crowd around him. Manji-san is known to feed all kinds of animals, thus a virtual parade of them is always following him around.

For years, the Buddhist priest had five ducks in the pond in the Japanese garden at his temple. But little by little they flew away. All except one, who I called the One and Only Lonely Duck. The One and Only Lonely Duck lived in the temple pond for 10 years. He just recently died -- of old age. The priest said that he was blind and finally got sick and died. The temple pond seems sadly quiet and empty now.

I daresay the ducks on this island never have to worry about becoming anyone's dinner. Sea slugs and sea urchins beware, but ducks can lounge around and even beg.

I suppose this is one way the Japanese are one with nature, by making it a part of their daily lives. Ducks add the finishing touch of life to the Japanese garden. The postman extended a nature moment by sharing it with others, and Manji-san brought nature into his life by communicating with the animals at the end of each day.

And now with my Duck Cafe, every morning starts off with a whole lot of nature: quacking and squawking. As a matter of fact, I can hear the ducks quacking outside my window right now.

My God, they're back for lunch!

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