“Im at an ENEOS petrol station now.” Ishizuka-san tells me through my mobile phone. B-san and I have been lounging about on the picnic tables next to the baseball field behind my apartment building, waiting for him to find us, eating some combini breakfast. “Do you think it’s the right one?” asks Ishizuka. “I don’t know. Any landmarks?” “There’s an old woman cutting trees next to it.” A typical Ishizuka landmark. “O. I wonder whether that’s the right one.” I can’t remember any trees anywhere near my house, never mind an old woman cutting them. B-san and I walk down the motorway towards the petrol station. Indeed. Right next to it, there is a small old woman, cutting small young trees. And a few feet away is Ishizuka, leaning against the white littleToyota Vitz he has rented in
It is a truly golden day, blessed with sunlight and freedom. The road is busy but not crowded, so we drive on to a soothing, tickling, trickling soundtrack kindly provided by B-san. “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life!” Nina Simone’s voice melts from the CD player in chunks of forgotten ice cream at first, then flowing more smoothly, like beer from a rusty old barrel in a summer cornfield waking from the night. I turn up the music, and we ride away into the sun towards our appropriately touristy Golden Week initiation destination: Ninja-mura in Iga, Mie-Prefecture. At several points, we have to stop and queue, and pay motorway fees. Ishizuka pays for everything. We will sort it out later.
The drive is pleasant and quiet, with stretches of conversation and longer stretches of thoughts, three worlds quietly evolving, floating about the car, flying out the window, and coming back in, inducing, killing other thoughts, idle driving dreams changing shapes with the passing landscapes, in the speedy breeze. Clouds in the wind, shadows in the sun.
Finally, around , we arrive in Iga and find a free parking lot a short walk away from the village. We are not the only ones who have made our way to this rural tourist spot today. Amidst other groups of people, families, friends, couples, senior citizens’ gate ball clubs, we make our way up the shady path, between big, old trees. It leads up to a landing surrounded by yaki-soba fried noodles, tai-yaki fish-shaped sweet bean paste cakes and other fast food stalls. A souvenir shop to the right. In the middle, there is a group of people in ninja costumes, smoking cigarettes, munching on yaki-soba, talking about the weather.
We cut through the square and enter Ninja-mura proper, where we buy tickets for the first attraction: a ninja farm house. At the ticket booth, we get given English pamphlets with explanations on them. Many ninjas lived like normal farmers, so this is what a typical Japanese farm house would have looked like during the
We join the long queue up to the farm house and let our eyes wander about, leisurely travelling from face to face, past sunny patches dancing across fallen leaves and shoe prints in the sandy ground, catching drops of idleness running down the chins of child ninjas. My eyes are still in the process of opening up to the world. In everyday working life captivity, blinds grow on the sides of my eyes, narrowing my vision to whatever duty needs to be performed next, switching my facial features to mechanical smiles mode. The blinds are receding, the muscles relaxing, I can see the sun, and with each breath, the air in my lungs lightens my body and cleans it from the coal dust of the GEOS mines.