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Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006


One man's trash, another's treasure

I remember my first years in Japan rummaging through the garbage on "sodai homi no hi" (big garbage day) I couldn't believe the things people threw out: perfectly good furniture, practically unused stereos etc.

News photo
Amy enjoying her revolving rocket light. PAUL HOOGLAND PHOTO

It is well known that some gaijin outfit their entire apartments with sodai gomi. After all, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

But I no longer rummage through the garbage. No, not me. I'm above that now. Now, the garbage comes to me. I even wonder sometimes if garbage, I mean treasures, aren't taking over my life.

You see, every day I take a walk on the 5-km road around our island.

It helps me keep in touch with the island -- the seasons, the people and the slow changes that take place in them all. And you never know what you're going to discover on a walk around the island.

Last winter, I passed by the Rock Man's house on the other side of the island.

The Rock Man, who owns the last surviving rock factory on the island, is in his 50s and has a big bottom lip. Whether he is in his crane moving around rocks or working inside his factory, he always stops what he is doing to have a short chat.

He always tells me, "Amy, you've got to enjoy life while you're young!" And I don't think I've disappointed him.

The Rock Man has all kinds of cut rock, polished rock, and half-something rock laying around his house.

I inquired about a stone slab that had been sitting there untouched for years. "It's gomi," he said. The next day it was inside my house, converted into a table top.

In the springtime, I was walking around the island when I discovered a new pile of wood.

Someone had torn down a house. Although most of the wood was unusable, some of the beams were in very good condition.

I inquired at the closest house and the old man said, "Sure, take what you want. We're just going to burn it."

I went and got my truck and as I was loading up these treasures, Hide, the cargo ship driver, passed by and stopped to help. "Want some more wood?" he asked.

He took me to his house and showed me a large pile of slats of wood. "I'm just going to throw these away," he said. I hauled these treasures away too.

I used the beams to build a shop on the beach, and the wooden slats to make some beach furniture.

Just the other day I was walking around the island and when I passed the beach I noticed three men tearing down a house.

It was an old house that has been sitting unused for over 20 years. It had those huge, curved roof beams which were used in older Japanese houses because they are stronger than straight beams, and old Japanese houses were made with very heavy ceramic tiles.

"You're tearing down this house?" I inquired. "Can I have those roof beams?" "Sure, they said."

I went and got my truck and they helped me load them in. Just as I was getting ready to take the second load back, one of the men said, "Hey, Amy, do you want this red light? We're just going to throw it away."

He pointed to an electric contraption 150 cm high. It had been used by an old lady who used to sell fireworks on the beach in the summertime.

Outside her "yatai," she had this red light, shaped like a rocket. When plugged in, the light inside revolves like a disco light. They helped me load it into the truck and I took it away.

It now sits in my living room, with all the other treasures I've collected over the years. I believe I may have the first-ever gomi house.

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