7 April 2016

Discoveries with Kanji-san

Exploring the region with Kanji-san on the way to the Akechi Ceramics factory.
Tajimi region, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

On March 24, I joined my last team in the R&D center: the New Material Team. On one day, around 10 am, Kanji-san took me with him to the Akechi Ceramics factory to collect products. I thought the round trip would be done in three hours, so I was very surprised when Kanji-san started to make detours to show me different places of the region! Kanji Katô is someone very friendly and easy to approach. He was one of the first people I exchanged a few words with in my early days at TYK. Always lively, curious and with an easy smile, it is a pleasure to chat with him despite the fact that I do not speak much Japanese and he speaks very little English. Kanji-san likes to organize parties or outings with friends. He is 49 years old and comes from Toki, a town just outside Tajimi. He has worked at TYK for thirty years in the New Material Team.

First stop on the way: a very large water wheel. Located in a small park above a river and a gigantic dam, the 24-meter-high wheel turns thanks to the power of the wind, transporting water in an infinite loop and sending droplets on visitors depending on wind direction. Real water wheels (smaller in size) were once used to bring water into the rice fields. Its gigantic size is more a tourist attraction than a reality. A few steps from the wheel is a portal with a bell. The custom is to ring the bell. In shrines, before praying, people wave a bell to announce themselves to the spirits. The park bell seems to be a humorous reminder of religious practices. Before continuing our journey, we taste Kanji-san and I, a small skewer of dangos bought at the stall at the entrance of the park. Dangos are dumplings made from “mochi” (sticky rice). Soft and coated with shoyu (soy sauce), these are very good.

As we plunge into the rural hills of the Ena region (east of Tajimi), we make a second stop. There is a superb temple dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, surrounded by a peaceful atmosphere. Kanji-san explains to me that this is the temple where he always comes to pray for Ganjitsu (Japanese New Year) during Hatsumôde, the first visit to the temple or sanctuary in the new year. The interior of the temple is magnificent, with pretty drapes of different colors (typical of Buddhist temples), several effigies of Buddhas and a superb chandelier covered with gold. Kanji-san and I will then pay our respects to the gods and spirits and perform our prayers. We pull the Omikuji to predict our fortune. Kanji-san comes across some very good predictions while mine are more half-hearted. Have I exhausted my chance quota? We go to the shop selling Omamoris (amulets on sale in all temples and shrines and supposed to provide various forms of luck or protection). Kanji-san wants to give me a lucky charm! I choose the one dedicated to a journey without problems.

The region of Ena, in which we have been driving for several hours, is dotted with magnificent landscapes and small rural villages in the middle of rice fields terraces and pine or bamboo forests. Around 1 p.m., we stop in a village near our destination to enjoy a good meal in a Chinese restaurant. Kanji-san is a regular visitor since he very often comes to eat there when he commutes to Akechi Ceramiques (several times a week). Around 2 p.m., we finally arrive at the factory. Located in the heart of the hills, Akechi Ceramics mainly manufactures carbon-based products and some ceramic products, notably those that Kanji-san came to recover. Until the products finish coming out of the oven we go around the factory. I meet a few people who work at the factory. These are very nice! Photo with Yamada-san and his team and discussion with one of the workers who tells me that for his honeymoon, he went to France, to visit the Champs-Élysées, Mont Saint-Michel and that during his stay he ate a omelet (which must have been very good since he remember it very well!).

We load the products into Kanji-san’s small van and hit the road. On the way back, at an intersection, we meet two big Shîsâ with a proud appearance. Shîsâ, originally from Okinawa, are guard dogs generally always in pairs and supposed to protect people from evil spirits. The late afternoon sun lights up the landscape. The region of Ena is really very pretty! I want to get out of the car to take pictures every two minutes. But this is of course not possible since we have to go back. We arrive at 4:45 p.m. at the R&D Center, fifteen minutes before the bell of the day and unload our cargo. This concluded this day filled with exchanges, discoveries and joy. Kanji-san, arigatôgozaimashita!

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Chapter I. Japanese walkabouts

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