Subject: Local Color: Update

Hi, all,


      Just a brief note. I asked my teacher Mitsuko her opinion about whether or not Max's and my sushi benefactor was really a yakuza (Japanese Mafia guy): she says probably. It isn't strange for the other men to kid him about it (gently); in fact it's a kind of deference, a way of acknowledging, "hey, you're the big shot." Also, she told me that his buying us the sushi wasn't so strange, if he is either a yakuza or rich, because one of the backward traditions that lingers around here (backward in her eyes--she's a native of Osaka, which is part of the real world) big shots of whatever stripe--the local yakuza, the rich guy in the neighborhood, the patriarch of the prominent or noble family--are expected to treat anybody special, such as a newcomer or guest. If such a man fails to do so, he fears looking cheap in the eyes of the other men around. However, the usual expression of this is to buy the special guy a drink or a few extra dishes with his meal, with a richer person perhaps springing for the whole meal--the bill for Max and I together was under $30, though I think the PTA guys subsidized a good bit of Max's sake. Going as far as a hundred bucks worth of sushi seems to be the confirming detail for Mitsuko. Of course, he could just be really rich. Anyway, her social analysis was helpful--in my own self-centered cloud, I hadn't really thought of how the gesture played in the relationships among the local men, but of course what she said made perfect sense. I don't want to demean what the fellow did for us at all, though, because it was still a fabulously kind and generous gift--it made us feel welcomed and befriended, which of course is also an important reason for such behavior over here. Damn, I like this place.
      And I saw some more local color today. Hiking on a ridgeline between two peaks two or three miles from my house, I met a couple of our local bears. Fall and winter's debris is still thick on the ground, so I was making plenty of noise, and the first bear heard me and shot off from perhaps a hundred yards ahead of me, off the path and then down the slope to my right. I jumped to the edge of the ridge, but I never saw him. From the sound, it was obviously a large animal moving very quickly. I heard more movement a hundred yards ahead, on or close to the path (I still couldn't see anything), so I tried to be a bit quieter so I would be close enough to see it when it bolted (I realized I couldn't be quiet enough--at least not without a lot more effort--to get close enough to be in danger when the animal got frightened). I was still hoping it would turn out to be a monkey--I've seen wild monkeys in Nagano, but never close to home. I'd forgotten about bears. Anyway, I didn't hear anymore for a few minutes, but then there was a sudden crashing through the underbrush 30 or 40 meters ahead of me, and I was able to see the back of the bear as it tore through the forest. I'd say it was about the size of a large St. Bernard, but more rounded at the shoulders, uniformly dark brown, with erect half-round ears. I'd guess it was a decent bit heavier than me. I hadn't really wanted to scare the hell out of it; I'd assumed it would hear me coming from quite a distance away, especially after its friend had just bolted, and slowly amble off. As it was, I was quite far away and moving slowly when it became aware of me, so there wasn't much of a need to take off at top speed. Given the density of vegetation here, I almost never move any more quietly than that, so I'm not too worried about getting much closer to a bear and startling it into attacking me in self-defense. From what I've read, the bears here are pretty shy and timid, and bear attacks (except in self-defense against marauding high school girls) are next to nonexistent, though the locals mostly profess to worry about them quite a bit (most serious hikers wear bells, but I usually can hear their footsteps well before I hear the bells). Apparently, the bear I saw was a large one for Japan, although it would be pretty small for a black bear in New England
      Last note: what does it mean when a mosquito bites you and then dies? This happened to me twice today. I looked down, and there was a dead mosquito, its proboscis still stuck in my arm. Maybe I should change my diet.

O genki de,

Peter

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