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Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

JAPAN LITE

What are they thinking?


Special to The Japan Times

People in the Japanese countryside do some strange things. It's enough to make you wonder, "What are they thinking?"

Take the person who left their Guppy at the side of the port. Not in the port, mind you, next to the port. It is so close you could push it over the edge into the water. The Guppy is the color of seaweed, but is rapidly turning to bright orange as the salt air corrodes its steel frame.

On the other side of the port sits another casualty of time. This van has a logo "Here, There and Everywhere" on the side of its body, but since it has been sitting there for more than 10 years now, a more accurate phrase would be, "There, Over There and Nowhere." It sits, albeit peacefully, rusting away.

Why these abandoned cars? Because the locals are convinced they make great storage sheds. The cars keep things safe and dry inside. But I wonder, wouldn't a real storage shed be better? No, because you can't park a storage shed next to the port. People would say something. Now, they just talk.

But here comes the Joy Pop! — a Suzuki minivan relic of the '80s, taking people on an orientation trip around the island. It tootles around, happy to still be alive, its engine still sputtering with life. You'd be happy too if you were a Joy Pop because, according to the dictionary, Joy Pop is slang for "To use narcotic drugs, especially heroin, without becoming addicted." No wonder the people in that van are so happy! But some day it too will have a not-so-happy ending-as a storage shed.

Our island is quickly becoming an aged care facility for cars. And these cars lie. They lie around the island and rust.

Another thing I see around here is tatami mats being used outside. Perhaps people get so tired of their old tatami mats that they heave them out the window. I can understand this because I remember hitting my sofa limit — when I got so tired of my old sofa, I just had to get a new one. Perhaps in Japan they have something called a tatami-mat tolerance level, when the tatami mat is so old that insects have moved into the reeds and are now nesting and having extended families in there. That's when you know it's time to send the mats flying!

The more likely explanation, however, is that they are recycling the tatami by using it to cover the ground to keep the weeds down, or as mulch, especially under citrus trees. Or maybe they're trying to create a feeling of comfort for the citrus trees, as if they're growing in someone's living room. Those trees are probably holding out for a large flat-screen TV, or maybe even a heated kotatsu to keep their roots warm in the winter.

Another peculiarity of the countryside is how people treat abandoned houses. Sane people tear down their old, dilapidated houses and burn them on the beach — like elaborate house cremations on the Ganges. And if more people would do this, we could have the eternal flame of Shiraishi burning for thousands of years.

But instead, most people choose to leave their old houses to the elements to wear away over thousands of years. This is a popular option because it is free — the elements don't charge a thing.

This is a lost financial opportunity for high winds that blow away another part of the house each time they come. And pity the next-door neighbors who have to take out extra insurance to cover damage from "random flying house parts from next door."

There are many more lost business opportunities here too. Someone could make a ton of money in real estate here — selling abandoned houses to ghosts. Or think of the money Hoover would make if they came up with a vacuum cleaner that sucks up an entire house.

Since most houses in Japan are not built to last more than 50 years, they should be considered appliances instead. Then the construction companies could charge a recycling fee when people buy the house. When they're finished with the house, they just call up the manufacturer and they come and take the house away.

But even when people do tear down their houses properly, they sometimes do strange things with the "remains." After one house was removed from our neighborhood, the owners left the non-burnables such as sinks, bathtubs and hibachi behind. They're still sitting around the bottom of a tree on the lot.

Another house was removed completely by the owners, who even cut down the big tree in the yard. But they left a tree stump about 1.2 meter tall with cut limbs around the base. They wrapped blankets around the trunk like a large Band-Aid. They also used an overturned stainless steel sink to put over one of the cut-off limbs, and covered the rest of the stump with an old yellow and brown-striped animal costume. They further secured it by tying a garden hose around the whole thing. A Halloween costume for a tree who'd had its limbs axed.

Really, now what were these people thinking?



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