Seaweed Salad Days is back in the house! After an eighteen month hiatus I'm pleased to say I'm still alive, and contrary to the premise of this blog that ‘nothing lasts forever', so is the Good Hood.
Only, it's a new hood.
A year and a half ago I gave up documenting the slow death spiral of the Himeji neighbourhood in which I had been resident for 22 years. The paving over of its rice paddies, the felling of shade trees, and pulling down of its old mud-walled and tiled-roof homesteads to make way for seas of 7-Eleven asphalt and spruiked real estate, was a story only growing darker by the day (I typed one of my last dispatches on a shaking table as a Caterpillar crunched Mrs Fukumizu's house like breakfast cereal next door).
Then something fortuitous happened. A real estate leaflet dropped through my mail slot: a large, airy home on the mountainside overlooking the city was up for sale.
I consulted with my tribe, counted my beans, found a clean collar and paid the real estate man a visit. He looked at my salary stubs and told me I'd need a jitsuin*. He said we'd pay the bankers a visit. The bankers were nice, like the smiling regulars at my standing bar near Himeji train station, only sartorial. Soon I was pressing the business end of my black buffalo horn jitsuin onto a flurry of IOUs and joking that I'd be Himeji’s oldest 7-Eleven clerk by the time I’d paid off their loan. They smiled politely and took my signed papers.
Now the view is truly grand. From the window of my new abode I look onto a mountain side where a lush forest of giant bamboo, cypress, and ancient camphor trees grows; I hear birdlife—swallows, blue rock thrushes, warbling white-eyes, bulbuls and herons--and the tolling of a temple bell three times at dawn. My new neighbours are quieter, more polite than the lowlanders I left behind and they come bearing cucumbers and green peppers, sweet potato and bamboo shoots. In the old Good Hood I got gifted onions and seaweed.
I won't miss eating wakame for breakfast (soup), lunch (salad) and dinner (side dish). Neither will I miss those hot July nights lying awake listening to the old hood blow its rivets: the husband-and-wife warfare across the street, the ferret chasing a bottle cap in my roof cavity, the midnight newspaper man on his farting Honda, and the solo drunk singing in the dawn as he cycles home from Fish Town** on Saturday mornings.
The new Good Hood has a different set of sights, sounds, smells and personalities to fuel this blog over the coming months. I have been listening, watching, sniffing the air and making notes. I've seen four seasons come and go, and with them ceremonies, celebrations and rituals which make a Japanese neighbourhood a unique and stimulating place to live--a place worth writing about.
Nearby my home, Hiromine mountain rises in a steep verdant wave. A trail leads up through the forest to an ancient Shinto Shrine where babies are blessed and fortunes dispensed and to climb through the mist during tsuyu, the rainy season, and find a couple shoulder to shoulder before the robed priest receiving their wedding blessings is a thing worth celebrating. On hikes like these, I make a point to pack a can of Kirin 'road soda' in my rucksack to privately toast the newlyweds, drink to their gods, and on a clear day, admire the view of Himeji city all the way to shores of the Seto Inland Sea and beyond.
On the west side of my new neighbourhood the Ono river rushes by quickly. Above it lie the terraced fields of Kamiono town, once famed for their strawberry farms, but now swallowed by creeping subdivisions. In the east stands Koryo Junior High School where Kenzo Takata studied on his way to becoming an international Paris-based fashion designer. And to the south, Himeji Castle stands sentinel over the city, as it has done for more than 500 years.
'Nothing lasts forever' has been the common thread of the Seaweed Salad Days blog: be it the seasons passing, the vanishing rice fields, the destruction of traditional abodes and the passing of their aged denizens. Peace-of-mind ebbs away, too, if you stay too long in one place. Change is a good thing. A new Good Hood brings a new perspective--one I'll be happy to share with you.
*Jitsuin is a Japanese name seal used for large financial transactions and/or weighty legal matters in Japan
**Fish Town (Uomachi) is Himeji's wonderfully raucous nightlife precinct
Previous dispatches from Seaweed Salad Days can be read here:
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!