Must be May; the sound of running water is everywhere, rushing through the sluiceways and gushing from the culverts of the Good Hood. It’s ta-ue, the time when every slip of cultivated earth not yet paved over is flooded and planted with rice seedlings. Soon will come the frogs, then the hungry paddy snakes and after them the sky will be dark with dragonflies.
Air space over the Good Hood is already crowded. Those damn noisy bulbuls outside my front door, looting and pillaging the gardens of the hood as they do every year before the wet season humidity drives them back to the mountains. But give me squabbling bulbuls any day; when the nauseating drone of cicadas arrives after the wet, neighborly conversation becomes a cross-street shouting match and sleeping late is only for the elderly, the dead and owners of heavy industry ear plugs.
But now time to enjoy the cool, quiet evenings. Almost quiet; that new bugle player from the Self Defence Force (SDF) base up the road must be on loan from the Ueshima Underwater Orchestra (UUO). His Taps and Reveille sound like a bulbul with the flu. But enough of the bird flu...
More and more I’ve come to recognise the denizens of the Good Hood by their sounds. Pre-dawn brings the Opera Singer, an elderly woman who cycles by my house singing songs from old Japanese operas. Her voice is strong and feminine. I have never seen her face.
There is the Running Man who appears after dark on weekdays. He sprints the length of the street, the bata-bata-bata of his rubber soles like a machine gun on the pavement.
Night-time also brings the Newspaper Dude, the screech of his bicycle brakes his signature, a lingering tail of cigarette smoke his calling card. His female counterpart is The Drill Rider, a female shift worker who rides an electric bicycle that sounds like a high-speed dentist’s drill.
If I miss the Opera Singer at 6am, there is always Miss High Heels who passes at a tottering gallop as she tries to make the 7.05 city bus. In my half-dreams I imagine a camel in stilettos. I have never seen her face.
And there are other sounds:
The loose sheet of rusting iron on a house down the road indicates wind strength, rattling violently in typhoon season. The screams from the English teacher's house across the road as he makes love to his girlfriend in his lunch hour. A housewife arguing with her mother-in-law. Mother-in-laws talking about their lazy daughter-in-laws. My neighbour discussing the high price of kerosene with my other neighbour. The baby screaming above the Funabiki Barber Shop. Maekawa-san scolding her two shitsu dogs for pooing outside the barber shop. The kendo club across the Semba River whose clack-clack of wooden swords sounds likes a gazillion raining chopsticks. And finally, the rhythmic, hypnotic chant of the Himeji Kogyo Highschool baseball team as they do their calisthenics. This is a day in the life of a small Japanese neighborhood—told in sound.
What is the essence of a traditional Japanese neighbourhood? Writing from my home in Himeji, a castle town in western Honshu, Seaweed Salad Days distills, ferments, presents!