Never let go

Jim Bryson’s latest record – a collaboration with the heavily praised Weakerthans – played through the off-air frequencies as we exited the cozy inaka of Yamaguchi and entered into unchartered (at least for me) territory on Japan’s Kyushu island. It was just after daybreak – a Saturday in November – chilly, yet remarkably comfortable. The sun was being anything but shy, as early-morning travelers joined us on the parade to a weekend of possibilities – ours being balloons filled with hot air. The bridge connecting the two islands, like arms outstretched for a friend, emitted that reassuring feeling that home is never too far away, and will always be there, a foundation.

Bryson’s friendly vocals sang about constellations, long drives, heavy metal girls, and fallen leaves. We worked through a translation of an eloquently composed speech. The conversation was uncluttered and reassuring as I unresponsively sipped on the less-than desirable vending machine coffee. But, Kyushu’s promise of good coffee was not too far off – oh, to be spoiled by big city life!

The GPS efficiently guided us to our destination with a little time to spare, a time to crack a few jokes, take a couple death breaths, and marvel at all the comforts a semi-urban city can bring.

Welcome to Kurume!

A handsome Italian lunch with new friends was consumed, followed by the previously alluded to coffee break – Starbucks, you are universally enjoyable, not to mention universally expensive, but let’s not argue over currency exchange.

Then it was off to Saga – a prefecture I had no idea existed until the Friday before last – for the International Balloon Festival, a festival I had no idea existed until the Tuesday evening before.

The festivities were sociable. Balloons created from all kinds of imaginations, not to mention all kinds of Fortune 500 companies, peppered the passing afternoon sky as families strolled through the fairgrounds, pointing every which way, “oooohing” and “ahhhhing” with the calmness of a kitten’s yawn. Countless food vendors lined the valley, tantalizing the spectators with deep-fried or just plain out grilled goodness. A soft cream stand beamed amidst the congregation.

Yes, it was a fair. A fine fair indeed.

At one point during the evening, photos of the infamous “Doraemon” balloon became necessary. It was now dark and the balloons were lit up like Christmas candles on an antique coffee table. As we walked upstream through the barrage of people like a British Columbia salmon run, I held your hand tightly, following your swift current. We joked half-seriously of a Titanic reference, one I could finally understand, and one that finally made so much sense. I will not repeat it here, as the necessity of doing such a thing seems superfluous and a little too personal. But to share such a moment, an understanding, a feeling, is more important than any words can communicate, anyway.

Post-festival found us singing the night away in a small room that housed two microphones, an L-shaped bench, a flat screen TV, all the intoxicating beverages you could drink, and a fury of the latest/greatest and not-so-latest/not-so-greatest hits. After a failed attempt at finding “Float On”, I settled into “Wonderwall”, a club favourite, a British disaster. Dig.

After a night of Ryokan style lodging (read: resting on futons resting on tatami), a cozy, homemade brunch (thanks Jamie!), and a little domestication, we hit the high road back to the mountains of Yamaguchi – home.

It felt even more like coming home this time around. The bridge was still there. The always incredibly delicious Indian curry restaurant still offered a cultural exchange like none other. The side streets still offering an intense aura of mysteriousness. Jim Bryson still playing through the speakers.

Someday Yamaguchi will no longer be an immediate home, but at least for now the familiarities feel, well, familiar.

性と久留米 in photos:

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How a city became a fox

A not long past festival in Kudamatsu City – one where foxes roamed the streets, children beat on drums, and laughter filled the air – dashed another eraser mark on the word “foreign” from my vocabulary.

We became a fox, parading the streets of Kudamatsu.

Nihonshu danced its way onto the pavement.

The committed onlookers dotted the street side as we rolled on by, twisting the homemade, smartly designed framework at intervals randomly determined – the nihonshu perhaps commanding the hike.

Cameras flashed at a million frames per second, capturing the moment in 1600X1200 images soon to be scrolled through, edited, posted, deleted.

Chants echoed as if a campaign of peace and harmony was about to emerge throughout the city streets.

Our disguises came off and the city once again discovered its everyday wardrobe, but this time it was different.

From afar, everything can seem foreign.

From within, nothing is.

靴ねまつり in photos:

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