On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

7 February 2016

Sea creatures, misadventure and Tajimi

Last visits on Okinawa and return to Honshu to settle in Tajimi.
Okinawa Aquarium Churaumi, Ryukyu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld
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Thursday January 28 I leave Kiyuna Farm early to visit the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, located on the Motobu peninsula northwest of the city of Nago. Located in Ocean Expo Park, the aquarium is home to the world’s largest 7,500m3 pool of species (including whale sharks and giant manta rays) found in Okinawa waters. These are particularly prolific due to the benefits of the “Kuroshio” (“black current”), the second largest sea current in the world after the Gulf Stream. It is the Kuroshio, hot current, which allows the existence of the coral reefs which surround the Ryukyu Islands.

At the start I had not planned to go visit it but Kristin (the young German girl I met on the island of Aka) convinced me to go there. Better to get there in the morning to avoid the hordes of tourists arriving around noon. It is 10 am when I arrive, by the time I make the trip Ôgimi-Aquarium by bus and the park is already full of tourists. Fortunately, it is still possible to move relatively easily within the aquarium. I stroll through the different basins (coral sea, tropical fish sea, the world of corals, travel in the coral reef) my eyes dazzled by so much color and strangeness …

The largest tank in the aquarium: The Kuroshio Sea is a huge water tank filled with fish, rays of different sizes and sharks including three whale sharks! Perfectly harmless to humans and feeding on seed pieces, they can reach twenty meters in length. I stay a long time watching the ballet of sharks and fish impressed and mesmerized by the majesty of the animals. But a feeling of sadness filled me slowly as I watched the horde of tourists taking their photos in front of the majestic animals indifferent to the condition of the animals they photograph. These go around indefinitely trapped in their glass cage. Although I greatly appreciate being able to observe them, their place is not here in a cage.

Once out of the Aquarium, I take a tour of the park. I attend two shows of dolphins and killer whales but who sadden me again (poor animals in the service of human entertainment), go see the manatees (all cute swallowing carrots) and finish my walk on Emerald beach, superb little stretch of white sand. Some fishermen are snorkelling and a group of high school girls are having fun on the beach. I feel a little strange, divided between wonder at the sight of the animals and sad about their condition in caged life.

The end of the day will be difficult since I am short of cash (all transactions are made in cash in Japan, they hardly use credit card to pay). I spend more than two hours in Nago with my two bags on my back, looking for the post office (the only place with a distributor capable of handling foreign bank cards) without finding it. I am a little nervous, since without money I do not know how I will take the bus to reach my hotel this evening (still an hour’s drive from Nago), nor how to pay the hotel, nor how to eat in the coming days … In short, it is not joy. Finally I end up finding it, completely soaked (the weather is very hot and humid) and tired. But my problems do not stop there, since I manage to take the last bus leaving in the direction of my hostel (this one being at the edge of the road connecting Nago to Naha), but I fall asleep in the bus and miss my stop. When the driver realizes that I did not get off at the stop I told him, we are already (according to the driver’s estimates) five bus stops further. It is 8:40 p.m., dark and I am starting to worry again about check-in at the hostel (usually the times for check-in are between 3 and 9 p.m.). So I go on foot in the other direction. No one on the road, a few lampposts to the right and left… and I only have a not very detailed plan. Forty minutes later, I arrive at the place where I think my hostel is located but nothing. Big panic, I venture into various places but no sign of my accommodation. A big moment of depression hits me. I am going to have to sleep outside. I go back the other way praying with all my mind to come across someone and miraculously, a group of five Okinawaans are chatting in a small shack by the road. Some language difficulties later, they tell me that yes, they know where my hostel is, they will drive me there! The mother and son invite me to get in their car. A little embarrassed to annoy them I apologize but they reassure me with a smile that it does not bother them. It takes ten minutes by car to reach my hostel! On my own I would never have found it. The bus driver was wrong in his estimates and I was not at all in the right place on my map. During the trip I chat with my rescuers, very friendly and interested in my trip. The kindness they show instantly cheers me up and I thank them warmly when they drop me off at my hostel. The owner accepts me without problem (despite the fact that it is after 10 p.m.) and it is with immense relief that I collapse on my bed.

The next day, my miles with bags on the back of the day before are felt and I am in pain everywhere. I spend a quiet day resting at the hostel and taking a stroll around. Not much to do anyway, the hostel being surrounded on one side by the main road and on the other by the sea. A pretty white sandy beach is a short walk from the hostel. I have breakfast there. Saturday January 30 I leave the hostel early to catch the bus that drops me off at Naha airport around 1 p.m. My trip to the Ryukyu archipelago is coming to an end, I take a plane at 3.30pm to return to Japanese soil. I put down my bag, go through the security procedures and wait for the departure.

My next stop on my journey is in the city of Tajimi. Located in the center of Honshû (the largest island in Japan), in the Chûbu region and in the prefecture of Gifu, the city is renowned for its clay. Gifu Prefecture is also known for being the center of the creation of ceramics in Japan. Many craft or industrial companies are located in the region. Including the TYK factory located in the city of Tajimi where I will work for the next two months. Yes, the trip costing a little bit of money, I need to top up my bank account to continue the rest of it. TYK is a factory creating refractories and technical ceramics. Refractories are materials capable of withstanding very high temperatures, especially used in the steel industry. I am not hiding it from you, it is my dad who works at Arcelor-Mittal (the largest steel producer in the world), at the Fos-sur-Mer factory (Bouches du Rhône in France) who has contacts with TYK who found me the job. In the end, it is more of an “internship” that I do than real work. Which makes sense given that I have no experience at all in the field.

I go to the airport souvenir and specialty shops to buy a little gift for TYK people. My choice ends up for small donuts made with Kokutou (a syrup made from sugar cane). The packaging is very pretty.

A few hours of flight later I arrived in Nagoya, one of the largest cities in the country, located in the Chûbu region. There, I meet Mr. Susuki, one of my contacts at the factory who drives me to Tajimi. On the way we pass on the outskirts of the town of Toyota, home to the famous automobile factory. An hour and a half’s drive later, here we are. It is the beginning of the mountainous region of central Japan, it is freezing. The shock is severe compared to the pleasant temperature in Okinawa just a few hours ago. Mr. Susuki takes me to TYK’s dorm where a small studio has been prepared just for me. Hallelujah, I have my own bathroom. I meet the couple of very nice little old people who don’t speak a word of English who manage the dormitory. Then Mr. Susuki offers to go eat together, which I gladly accept. Mr. Susuki is very kind and particularly impressed with my trip to Japan. He tells me that I am going to work in the Research & Development Center and that the fact that I have no knowledge in the sector is not a problem.

I spend a quiet Sunday resting before I get to work. So here I go for two months of factory work in central Japan. I hope to be able to sympathize with Japanese people and integrate myself a little more into the culture. I will also take advantage of my weekends to visit the region.

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Chapter I. Japanese walkabouts

Kyoto, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Six months in Japan

Six months in Japan. Six months of familiarity and strangeness. Misunderstanding and wonder. Contrasts.

Mitaka, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Last days in Japan

My stay in Japan is coming to an end and I take this opportunity to stroll around Tokyo and visit the Ghibli museum.

Osaka, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Across the Kansai

Discovery of Osaka and Nara then weekend on Mount Koya-san before returning to TYK to celebrate hanami.

Takayama, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Takayama matsuri

Stars in my eyes at the superb Takayama Matsuri dedicated to the celebration of spring and good harvests.

Kyoto, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

The art of Kimono

I walk in Kyoto, my eyes dazzled by explosions of colors and varied patterns wandering in front of me. The Kimonos are out.

Kyoto, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Glimpse of Kyoto

For my last day of work at TYK, I was treated to an organized day trip to Kyoto.

Kachigawa, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

In company of Polina

Meet Polina and her family, a young Russian woman working at TYK whom I met a fortnight before the end of my stay in Tajimi.

Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Touches of Spring in Tajimi

Second month of work in Tajimi more pleasant than the first and return of the buds and flowers in the trees.

TYK, Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Portraits of TYK

Portraits of some of the people I met during my two months of work at TYK.

TYK, Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Another vision of TYK

Through twenty photographs, a stroll to discover the factory and its graphic aspect.

Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Tajimi and ceramics

Tajimi, an industrial city located in the prefecture of Gifu is renowned for its ceramics. I am working here since the beginning of February.

Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Wwoofing in Yufuin

A month of volunteering in the middle of the onsen smokes in the small Youth Hostel Country Road.

Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Arrival on Kyûshû

Arrival on Kyûshû, cradle of Japanese civilization, where I will spend the month of December.

Minami, Shikoku, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Minami, facing the sea

On the south coast of Shikoku, the small town of Minami exudes tranquility and a maritime atmosphere.

Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

First steps on Shikoku

Arrival in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four big islands of Japan.

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