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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, especially  in places like Tohoku and Kanto regions.  August is also  the most contentious month of the year in Japan; with the end of the war and war-related guilt.    Then there's the great exodus back home for millions of Japanese.   Obon season is what it's called in Japan, and it's  where families return to their hometowns to remember their ancestors and to spend time with loved ones.  Gravestones are visited, cleaned, and washed; rice or alcohol is often placed on  miniature altars next to a  headstone.  This is a way for Japanese to reconnect with their roots; a way for them to stay grounded and founded in the ways of tradition and cultural protocol.   

For the foreign tourist, some places will be overcrowded and expensive to reach; for Japanese, this is normal and can't be helped.   Wherever you go there will be lines and hordes of people  driving on highways and riding on buses.   Restaurants will be filled to capacity where the lines stretch on and on seemingly endlessly.    Japanese fathers will be overworked on supposedly what they consider a holiday, is just another work day for them,  but with family.   The tourist will definitely be headed to far away exotic locations for respite.   Youth hostels will be filled to capacity.  

August is a soul searching month for the Japanese; a time for family and "Japanese" friends.   A good way for the foreigner  to enjoy the long Obon holidays would be to surround oneself with nature.  A good camping expedition in some remotely located region of Japan works wonders for the soul.   In my vast experience, I had spent the hot summer months camping up in Hokkaido near a lake or an onsen town somewhere, making sure to pack plenty of bacon and salmon.   Fresh coffee grounds have to be packed in with everything else too, along with a pot for boiling water and rice.   Tents and grills; the camera and tripod; the fresh bottles of chilled sake; eggs and sausages.   Now there's a trip.

August is prime season for self-reflection much like the throngs of Japanese who return home to pay homage to their ancestor's tombstones, and to reflect on family and self.    Three days is enough for me when it comes to camping out, though.  It's so hot, humid and sticky in August.  Having less is often more when out in the sticks.  We value the necessity of electricity, toilets, and water, even a television set.   This is the value of camping out and getting away from the August rush.     

I don't know about you, but waking up in the morning to the smell of sizzling bacon and freshly brewed coffee is sublime, next to a pond.  On another grill, there's some salmon and eggs working together; adding to the harmony of breakfast...   I like to catch up on the news, too, but since there's no wifi out there I can tune in on AM radio.   Yasukuni Shrine would be the most likely topic of discussion.     I'm sure many of us have completely forgotten about real radio broadcasts sounds in the morning from the AM station.    

After breakfast and a quick power nap, the morning bath must be sought out.   Many of the natural hot springs in luxury hotels use sumi products for face washes and shampoos.   Sumi is a type of petrified wood used for centuries by the Japanese who value the therapeutic effects of natural soaps and cleansers.   The smell of fresh calcium in rich mineral springs is intoxicating, too.   Soaking the bones and refreshing the mind and working up another appetite for lunch.    

On the road again to a remotely located temple or shrine.   Perhaps some light hiking around a small valley gorge somewhere is really nice.    Never see the point of returning home to the U.S. on long summer holidays,  nostalgia just isn't there anymore, at least not for me.   This far away from my homeland - not motherland - I reflect on a lot of what's been happening in D.S.A ( Divided States of America).   The endless chatter about a Trump America, and stuff about Hillary Clinton.

The Japanese police are chubby, cute; perverted, kind,  and overall cordial when dealing with non-Japanese.  I like it that way.    In my time here they have stopped and carded me over a dozen times for speeding, loitering, and parking.   They have dealt with me kindly, unlike a time in the U.S.  when the Redondo Beach Police pulled me over at midnight.   35 police officers strong plus one ghetto bird  circling above drew assault weapons on me at a gas station; 3 12 - gauge shot guns, 3 or 4 AR-15s, 9mms and so on.    An officer approached  and cuffed me rather firmly causing me to have a light strain in my risks for several weeks.   The lead officer asked if I had understood why I was pulled over.   I nodded my head "yes."  Once I gestured with my head they released the cuffs and let me go at the scene.   They never actually told me why they pulled me over; I assumed it was because I was driving with an expired drivers license....which I have done for several years in Japan...Or when I welcomed President Obama on my Uyoku Gentsuki the first time he visited Tokyo and was pulled over by an army of Japanese police officers - they were thoroughly confused!   They didn't know whether to ticket me or arrest me, so they let me go.

Getting out on the road and taking in nature has a way of giving you perspective.   Most foreigners most often will never realize how good they have it here in Japan, and I hope they never realize it to be honest.  Leave Japan, but don't take the Jukujo with you.  They belong under my jurisdiction.   This summer I plan to focus on enjoying summer sakes while on business trips this summer.  Might pay a visit to Kuheiji Brewery in Aichi Prefecture or Asahi Shuzo in Niigata for some delicious Genshu ( Undiluted sake, that is higher in alcohol content), which is extremely rare to enjoy at a sake brewery if you are not actually in Japan!    I will bring a nice bell shaped wine glass this time around.   The traditional serving size is typically a 50ml cup from a Japanese "ochoko."  This drinking ware only serves to properly ration out sake in order to give everyone a chance to enjoy sake whereas in modern day society the need to serve in portions is relative to the number of people in your group.   If you are solo or with another person these measurements have no usefulness.  Wine glasses are perfectly fine to enjoy the bouquet that each and every sake has, along with the visual appeal you get from glass drinking ware.   If time is on my side I will also stop through Yuya Onsen to commune with the onsen gods.   

Enjoy your August


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