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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007

JAPAN LITE

Jumping mullets, it's the season for fire prevention!


Ahh, autumn on Shiraishi Island when I wake up to quacking ducks paddling around in the port in front of my house waiting for me to open the Duck Cafe.

After feeding the ducks their moldy breakfast, I linger and watch the activity in the port. The wildlife gets wilder every day. The elegant blue herons stand in water up to their ankles, carefully stalking their prey. Must be nice to be able to eat sashimi three meals a day. No wonder those birds are so healthy! After all, you've never heard of a bird getting cancer, have you? And the blue heron's healthy diet probably contributes to their beauty. Maybe we should be taking our beauty tips from animals. Those herons sure have a nice set of legs.

The bora fish are busy jumping out in the deeper water. Bora in English means "mullet fish" perhaps because of their hair cuts. They swim below the surface, gain speed, and jump three to four times in a row in the manner porpoises do, except bora have long, stiff bodies so they jump out of the water at an angle and belly flop. I used to wonder why these fish were always jumping, but after careful observation, I've figured it out: They're curious. They want to see what's going on above the water. The other fish are content to swim around in ignorant bliss, but the bora want to know what all the noise and ruckus is up there making all the waves. Or maybe they just want a suntan.

But I can't help admire the bora's perfect form: no fins flailing, no crooked neck. And they seem to be having so much fun. Spies for the underwater world, they probably take the information down below and talk about UFO sightings.

It's risky swimming near the surface of the water, let alone jumping and teasing your prey. The bora are thrill seekers. The hawks, who do their hunting from high up in the air, dive straight down, and swoop up their prey in seconds. Sayonara Borace!

I start reading the island's monthly newsletter, which is one side of one A3 size paper. It brings us important information such as when the toilet men will come to clean our pit toilets this month.

On the calendar, the Old People's Club will be having a ceremony for the islanders who died during WWII and the Fire Prevention Club will have a meeting today. People are reminded to pick up the fun droppings when they walk their dogs, and there is a photo of five island couples who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

One of them is Rikimatsu-san, who gave me his fishing boat, the Fuji Maru. It's tied up right next to where I am sitting. He told me the boat was named after his wife, and in the picture I see his wife for the first time. At the bottom of the picture is her name — Fujiko. I couldn't help thinking: Gosh, she looks nothing like a boat.

None of the events on the calendar pertain to me so I go inside, kick back on the sofa, open a book, and say, "This is the life!" Or, as the Japanese say, "Autumn is for reading."

Suddenly, I hear my neighbor Kazu-chan calling me from the genkan. "Are you going to be living here on Shiraishi a while?"

Now, I've been living next door to Kazu-chan for 10 years, and I even purchased my house last year, so I found this a very strange question to be yelling from the genkan. Then I saw she was holding a clipboard and pencil. This was serious.

"If you're going to live here a while longer," she says, "You should join the boka club."

The what? "You know, the Beware of Fire people. They walk around the island at night clapping wooden boards together to remind everyone to turn off the gas at night, and they assist in fires and other natural disasters. Most people on the island belong," she added.

"Well then," I said, "sign me up," hoping that a decade of residence was indeed a prerequisite for joining. And you can include my husband too, I offered.

"Oh no," she said. The boka club is for women only. Your husband should join the fire department.

This is when I realized the island's volunteer fire department was really an obligatory volunteer fire department.

Oh and by the way, there is a boka club meeting today

"Of course," I said, and closed my book. . . . because autumn is for fire prevention.



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