Thursday, November 30, 2006

Like Clockwork

In Misawa, like most Japanese towns, there are daily chimes. Not so much chimes as it is taped music played over a PA rather than a real carillion, but still, it serves the same purpose--to piss off the newly-arrived Americans to no end and then eventually be ignored as part of the noise of daily life. Actually, I joke about the ignored part. We have actually come to appreciate the daily chimes, even if we don't consciously hear them. We've internalized them and in doing so, have adjusted our daily rythyms to that of Misawa. There's a lot that goes like clockwork in our lives here.

At 6:00am, Eidelweiss plays. At 6:03, Shimoda's PA goes off, slightly behind schedule and plays Ode to Joy, but it gets all garbled up with Misawa's Edelweiss, so we just call it the morning cacophony and leave it at that. Most of the time I am up before that aural craziness, but sometimes it wakes me up. Although, having grown used to it after two years, I can and occasionally do, sleep right through it.

At 12 noon, the "lunch music" plays. Not sure what the tune is, but Chris and I made up words to go with it. We sang it once for Sly, who just about cried, she was laughing so hard:

"nooOOOOOoon o'clock, NOOOOooooon, o'clock! Time for runch in Meeee-saaaaw-wAHHH!
Will you eat runch with meeeeeeee? Will we have uuuuudon? Or will maybe sooooooooosheeee? Will you have runch with meeeeeeee? We can have keki* or we can have steak-y, will you eat runch with meeeeee?"

*Japanese pronounciation(and spelling) of "cake"

We live near a high school, so we sometimes hear their noon recess bell.

At 4:30pm, due to the proximity of the base, we can sometimes, but not always, hear "retreat" or "colors" (if you are Navy). It starts with the Japanese National Anthem and then goes into an abbreviated version of our National Anthem. They play it on Saturday and Sunday, too, which is weird. Sly said she was never stationed at a base where they did retreat on the weekend. This is not part of the Japanese daily chime tradition, but it fits in with the theme, so I've included it.

At 6pm, they play Eidelweiss again, but I usually don't hear Shimoda's tuneage. Maybe they subscribe to a cheaper plan, which excludes the dinner time announcement and which would also explain why their morning alarm goes off at 6:03 instead of 6:00 aye-em proper.

At 8pm, they play something else, and whatever it is, it sets the neighborhood dogs to piteously howling-- it must really hurt their ears. This is the time we start really winding down, we turn off our porch and yard lights, draw the curtains, run the bath, get things ready for the next day, especially if tomorrow is a work day.

In addition to the chimes, I also regularly hear:

A delivery guy at 4:30 in the morning, on his scooter.

Another delivery person, this time a lady, at 5:00am in her car. Actually, what I hear is the delivery lady doing a high-speed reverse wind out of our dead-end road. Having seen her do this (on my way to the gym for an early workout), I reckon her speed to be about 100 clicks. I'm suprised that the rubber band hat powers her ridiculously teeny white cube of a matchbox truck doesn't break from the strain.

I believe both of them deliver papers. Sometimes they wake me up, sometimes not. Sound carries oddly in our little neighborhood.

Sometimes, I can hear the trains crossing-kachunnga, kachunnga, kachunnga. This depends on the weather. I hear it more often on cold, clear nights or breezy, clear days. Japanese trains maintain their schedules flawlessly so i should hear them every day at the same time, but I don't. Same as the delivery people, sound carries oddly around here.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, at 7:30am the garbage truck comes. He's quiet and fast, and half the time,we don't realize he's come and gone, until we see a forgotten trash bag in the foyer and go to take it out and the bins are already empty. He never varies more than five minutes in his schedule, even with 158 inches of snow.

On a bigger time interval are the "shout trucks" which we hear twice a year when the elections are being held. It's a truck with a PA mounted on it and a nasally woman shrieking her support for whomever is trying to get elected. It is horrid, particularly at 7:00am on a Saturday, when you're trying to sleep off a big bottle of sake, three beers, two glasses of raspberry liquer, and a bit more than half of a cheese pizza.

A few times during the winter, the fella that sells steamed imo (a yammy sort of root veggie thing, quite filling in a marvelously starchy way) will come around, with the steam whistle on his truck going fwoooooooooo. It's a very distinctive and hair-raising sound. The first time I heard that whistle, about 8pm on a pitch-black steel-cold winter night, it scared me half-to-death and sent me running, full tilt and terrified into brightly-lit safety of my little Japanese house, where I peered out the window, watching for the end of the world to come around the corner, going "FWOOOOOOOOO!" All that came round the corner, however, was a diminutive white van swaying to and fro as it made the rounds. A little white van with a glowing red sign atop it, like a oversized nightlight, hardly as frightening as what I had imagined. While the imo are never a let-down, I was disappointed to learn our guy doesn't really have a steam whistle on his truck--it's a recording, meant to evoke the old days, when they really did have whistles powered by the selfsame steam used to cook the imo.

Every year, at midnight on New Year's eve, they purportedly toll the bell at the nearby Buddhist Temple. It is tolled 108 times, to represent the 108 evils a good Buddhist must overcome, but I have yet to stay awake to hear it. I fall asleep before midnight, almost every year, like clockwork.

1 comment:

Susann said...

Thanks again for writing about your life in Japan. I always enjoy that very much.