I wonder about the beads I bought in Borneo. Were they worth the booty I pushed over the counter? Money kind of booty. I can assure you that I did not pay for my beads in any other way. Maybe they were not worth it. At the Perth writers' festival in March a woman asked me if they were Navajo, and once I said no, but from Malaysia, she all but turned her back on me. I should have said they were from the indigenous Iban tribe in Sarawak, which they were, and that I bought them in a long house after going down a river in a wooden canoe, and that the long house had dried out human skulls caught up in nets outside of rooms to ward off evil. The Iban used to be head hunters, and I believe some still practiced this until the sixties. Most of them are Christian nowadays, of the evangelical variety, perhaps, and most of the skulls have disappeared from their role as house decorations. Maybe the woman thought that Malaysians manufactured Navajo beads in the way that China manufactures Australian Bonds t-shirts and underwear. Or maybe Malaysia wasn't exotic enough for her. Could be that my breath stank.
Anyway, spring. There are your students kicking a soccer ball or ten around on the left, the oval lined by another row of flowering cherry trees, and on the right the eightfold petals of the cluster cherry blossoms have fallen whole to the ground, lying there like scrunched up tissues. The casualties of last night's fierce winds. The branches are still a swathe of pink, though. You pedal through. Some of the girls kick the ball with the boys. Your students. The sky is blue above, after the rain.
Spring. When all else fails, the garden gives pleasure. Japanese spring is gentle. Flowers that die in the ground within a day or two in Perth prosper and glow. You try to take a picture of the cosmos that has half flowered, the rest of its make-up leaf. It's slightly bizarre. You can't capture it, though, but the sun shines on another flower and shadows it on your hand. The garden doesn't fail. A small spider web, no larger than the span of your palm, and you have a small palm, is perfectly woven and linked, and too delicate for a camera, between the stems of two of your plants.
The moon is orange these days. Thicker than a fingernail clipping, thinner than a lunula.
At the park where the last of the cherry blossoms are putting on a show an obaasan and her two grandchildren wander the Iris fields, nowhere near flowering, with nets. They are looking for paddy snails, mud snails, water snails, tanishi which can be boiled and seasoned. Aya-kun, Aya-kun she cries out, urges the child to be careful, to not teeter on the edge of the muddy ditch. Kun is a suffix used for boys, but it can be used for young girls as well. Her chastising has as much effect as the birds above, as the pink petals falling, floating, softly, regularly to the ground. Aya runs screaming from her brother in a game of chasey.
A young boy cycles by, stops at the junction of paths. His father calls from behind. Naze? Naze? (nah-ze, nah-ze) the boy questions. Why? Why stop here? Why stop now?
Tsubaki have fallen whole into the trickle of water passing beneath. As if made from crepe paper, the fuchsia runs to a light purple, then blanches brown. At times, prettier off the tree than on.
Overhead, mountain hawk-eagles span the lake. One, then two, then three, four, five, six. Some swooping low, skimming the reeds that harbour ducks and heron, the smallest staying way high in the sky. A heron glides across the water and spears, a quick flash of silver, the blossoms looking on. The hawk-eagles chase each other out into the air above the surrounding trees. Sugoi, sugoi, say passers-by. Wonderful, wonderful, amazing,sugoi.
A tractor plows the newly flooded field in preparation for planting rice, the mountains still white with smatterings of snow. And now the bats are out, flittering like big, black butterflies, catching insects, like the palm-sized web on my balcony.
In the ofuro on Sunday mornings, the women, maybe heady with the good weather and the thought of sake under the blossoms, laugh and chat and are raucous and easy with their nakedness and age. An obaa tells a joke and all cackle and roar around her. I cannot get it, but smile at their fun.
A friend asks me if you can make hope, if the two words go together. I think I tell her you can make a wish and have hope. That is the downside of getting all your foreign language input in the ofuro. There is no surface to write it on, and no implement to use. Her name is Mikiko. Three hopes, she tells me. The ko, would mean child in the same way the French diminutive -ette, or -ine is often used. She teaches singing and piano. She says she has a friend, Minoru. Minoru is also a musician, and she says that the kanji of his name means to create. So between them they composed a piece called either make a hope or make three hopes. I am not sure if the mi of Minoru's name also has the kanji for the numeral 3 or not. I think the better translation would be create hope and ditch the three. The merging was quite beautiful, and the naming, or clarification of the idea, mumbled its way across the tiled floor of the baths where I sat on my plastic stool, washing down while she soaked up the warmth of the ofuro. Why don't we have this openness in the west? Women are ashamed of their bodies and have no sense of ease with the bodies of other women. Japanese women don't feel this. In fact, there used to be mixed bathing (naked) before the missionaries came. No wonder the Japanese hung, drew and quartered them. Actually, I think that was the Spanish. There was a second wave of missionaries after Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of the Japanese port at Yokohama. If you regularly go to baths, you get to see all bodies, and it seems that they are all beautiful. It seems that you get to see beyond the facade that clothes and make-up so often seem to project.
Today a student I have failed previously rushed up and enthusiastically greeted me. Luckily the students usually don't hold grudges. She and her father and some other people were outside my local supermarket, handing out pamphlets, urging Article 9 to be kept in the Japanese constitution. The flier was in Japanese, but their orange t-shirts were printed in English. Sumie and a friend stood side by side and I read them.
She introduced me to her father, and as she'd been speaking to me in English, I spoke to her father in the same. I should have switched to Japanese. Not to worry. I wonder if she had wanted to spend her Sunday standing outside the supermarket handing out political leaflets, or if her father had roped her into the cause in the same way that my siblings and I traipsed around the neighbourhood with our father back in the day, dropping off how to vote cards for the Labor party, or something similar, into the mailboxes of the punters. I think she was serious. She was wearing a swinging sixties Beatle style cap. Her father was grey but young looking, probably the same age as me, though I automatically put ten years on him, because I am after all, in my mind, only a few years older than Sumie. In my mind. Riding my bicycle home over the bridge, the ducks below peck hopefully and frantically at the cherry blossom petals as if they were breadcrumbs floating past.