A First for Everyday

My time in Japan has been all about firsts. First time eating a raw egg, first time riding a bullet train, or first time seeing a dragon fruit plant. I thought it would be neat to keep a list of the “first experiences” I have on this adventure, but I quickly came to find that there would be no way to capture it all. Everyday Japan teaches me something new and that’s part of why I find myself so fascinated here.

The bullet train, called a Shinkansen, arriving at the station. Not only is it incredible to see how fast it moves, but also to see how short of a period of time it stops at each station!

The bullet train, called a Shinkansen, arriving at the station. Not only is it incredible to see how fast it moves, but also to see how short of a period of time it stops at each station!

Dragon fruit on the plant!

Dragon fruit on the plant!

A couple weeks ago we did a placement at Sorakuen, a garden in Kobe that was first commissioned in 1885. Once completed around 1920, the garden has remained a feature of a city that has drastically changed around it. At Sorakuen, I learned many traditional Japanese gardening techniques for the first time. We started with studying the method of tying bamboo fences. This was truly a lesson in our knot skills, of which I discovered I have few! The fences remain useful for approximately 3-5 years, with the rope outlasting the bamboo.

Knot tying lesson before the real work

Knot tying lesson before the real work

Pruning of pine trees was the next first. We went through each branch individually and pruned them to encourage the shape that the Japanese pines are known for. We removed older needles from each branch leaving around 10 needles per bud. As we did this, we also thinned the buds to encourage more open growth.

When pruning the pines, you start from the middle of the top and work your way down and out. This prevents you from damaging areas you've already worked on by reaching beyond them

When pruning the pines, you start from the middle of the top and work your way down and out. This prevents you from damaging areas you’ve already worked on by reaching beyond them

Pruning the pines in this method will result in twisted, interesting branches. When removing buds, you often remove ones that would allow the branch to grow straight.

Pruning the pines in this method will result in twisted, interesting branches. When removing buds, you often remove ones that would allow the branch to grow straight.

It is a time consuming process, especially when considering the large number of black pines on the property!

It is a time consuming process, especially when considering the large number of black pines on the property!

With careful attention and pruning each year, the trees develop beautiful shapes over time. This was an older tree at Ritsurin-koen, a garden in Takamatsu

With careful attention and pruning each year, the trees develop beautiful shapes over time. This was an older tree at Ritsurin-koen, a garden in Takamatsu

A view underneath the tree shows just how intricate the process becomes

A view underneath the tree shows just how intricate the process becomes

In addition, I learned to sharpen my tools using wet stones, how to lay rock in a meaningful way, and was even gifted my first happi. We had an inspiring week at Sorakuen and are very grateful for the time they spent teaching us. Thank you for your kindness and especially your patience!

The materials for the sharpening all laid out. You begin with a rough stone and use several that become more fine textured. Then you finish by running your blade over newspaper

The materials for the sharpening all laid out. You begin with a rough stone and use several that become more fine textured. Then you finish by running your blade over newspaper

Keeping tools clean and sharp is important for their longevity

Keeping tools clean and sharp is important for their longevity

At the end of our week at Sorakuen, we were given happi cloaks from the garden. Here we are standing with our adviser for the week. Having worked in horticulture for 40 years, he was an invaluable resource to our studies. We were very fortunate for our time at Sorakuen.

At the end of our week at Sorakuen, we were given happi cloaks from the garden. Here we are standing with our adviser for the week, Horinouchi-sensai. Having worked in horticulture for 40 years, he was an invaluable resource to our studies. We were very fortunate for our time at Sorakuen.

Helping with a rice harvest is another first experience that I can credit to Japan. Since arriving here, we have been watching the surrounding fields of rice mature and have seen farmers begin to cut their crops. We were fortunate enough to be invited to help with a harvest. We learned how to harvest the rice both by hand and with a combine. Without a doubt, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

The combine cannot cut all the way to the edge of the field, so we started by cutting the first couple rows by hand

The combine cannot cut all the way to the edge of the field, so we started by cutting the first couple rows by hand

Freshly cut rice along with the tools used for cutting

Freshly cut rice along with the tools used for cutting

The rice combine in action. Rice fields are found just about anywhere, even in urban areas. Therefore, the fields are often small and so is the machinery. Both Tim and I were given the chance to drive the combine and harvest a few bags each!

The rice combine in action. Rice fields are found just about anywhere, even in urban areas. Therefore, the fields are often small and so is the machinery. Both Tim and I were given the chance to drive the combine and harvest a few bags each!

Transporting some of the harvested rice to the drying area!

Transporting some of the harvested rice to the drying area!

After the rice harvest we were invited to partake in the family meal. They made it a fusion of Japanese and American food items. Incredible lunch and very kind of Fudano-sensai's family. Thank you again!

After the rice harvest we were invited to partake in the family meal. They made it a fusion of Japanese and American food items. Incredible lunch and very kind of Fudano-sensai’s family. Thank you again!

People often ask what its like to be traveling this extensively. Well, spending this long of a time away from home is a first. It’s not always easy. I miss home and the people there terribly. But, I have come to learn that home is where you make it. Every so often I will feel something familiar, maybe a smell that brings me to another place or a song that takes me to a different time. It takes me home. For a while that came as sadness: missing those people, places, and times. This adventure has taught me to find happiness in those moments, however, and to cherish the ones I am in right now. One day smells and songs will remind me of this. It will be a time in my life that I miss because of how much it has taught me, so I must live in the present. Through the TRIAD I have learned to thrive in the moment and that is a first.

– James

3 comments

  1. Berty

    Finally I get round to commenting! It sounds like you’re learning so much from Japan, it all looks breathtakingly beautiful.
    Keep up the great work, we miss you both!

    • James Rockwell

      Better late then never eh?? And yes, we are learning so much in Japan. We miss Hidcote and you all the time! I can never say cow in Japanese without thinking of you.

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