The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
I can’t hear “White christmas”
1.THE ODD FISH ‘CAMANPIS’(1952).
Written by Y. Otsuki (Sendai, Japan)
Translated by Y. Otsuki (London)
The boy could roughly understand the difference in behaviour between the fish in ravine, but he couldn’t explain that of the Camanpis. While the boy was fishing, he tried many techniques; placing the bait gently in front of the fish, changing the height, moving the bait up and down, left and right, further away and closer. This time, the boy tried all the ideas he could think of, but none of them could attract the Camanpis. The boy’s experiences tells him that when something touches the fish’s body, they all escape. But in today’s case, as soon as he brushes the bait against the nose of Camanpis, it happens to take a bite. Is this a new behavioral pattern or merely a fluke? The boy thinks that, compared with fish-catch in other ways, such as hand-catching or fishing with a pole, fishing with a line held directly by hand offers him same amusement as engaging in psychological fights with the fish.
Then there comes the question, “What shall he do with these fish?” Yes, the boy ate them. After the second world war, Japan was in a state of extreme poverty. The boy’s family used to live in the biggest city in the northern part of the country before they moved to a small village in a mountainous area to escape air raids by US army during the War. They lived by peddling sundries, which they bought in the city. They hastily acquired farming land. Life was so hard that they tried selling household items to farmers in exchange for food. This was known as “Bamboo sprout living”, because by selling household items, especially clothes one by one might give the impression of bark peeling from a bamboo sprout.
Of course, the boy often played with children of farmers in this village, but he was usually alone, because his family was sometimes estranged by villagers. The boy’s family originally came from different area from northern part of Japan. His mother’s dialect was that of the south of Osaka, so ultimately the way she pronounced words was different from the locals. Moreoever she taught at the local primary school, so the villagers couldn’t express their repulsion of her directly. Instead, the boy might feel the effects of it through their children.
For the boy, the fish caught was a valuable source of protein as a snack. (Of course, the boy didn’t have the knowledge of “catch and release” manner in fishing.) The boy grilled the fish lightly on the charcoal burner, dipped it in soy sauce and then grilled it again. The boy invented this recipe by himself and it is very delicious even now. Of course, the boy was able to eat bigger fish when he caught them by pole fishing, hand-catching or digging mud. The boy also gathered fruits from the mountain and fields, which were cultivated partly by farmers. Using these kinds of methods to avoid hunger was common among the children in the village.
There was a snack, ‘Skanpo’common among this village children, which is never eaten now. Skanpo is a type of green grass with thick trunks. The trunks were soaked or dusted in salt and then eaten. The taste was purely sour, but at any rate it was an escape from hunger. ‘Umeboshi’ (pickled plums) are also extremely sour and salty pickles and are often eaten for breakfast even now. In some cases, it is dipped into Shochu, one of the special Japanese alcoholic drinks for the sake of seasoning. The recipe of Umeboshi is:
Green-coloured Japanese plums are gathered from the trees and washed in water. The dried fruits are then soaked in salted water under some load for about a month. The fruits are dried under the sunshine for several days in the summer. Each fruit is wrapped in Shiso leaves and soaked in salted water again, under a load for more than 6 months. The longer it is soaked, the more delicious it becomes. I have heard, Umeboshi produced in a handred years ago is very delicious, even though very expensive worth 6,000pound/piece(150yen/pound).
Returning to the snack of the village children, Umeboshi is also one of them. They suck the sour juice from the folded “bamboo sprout snack” which contains Umeboshi inside it. At the time, when there was a lack of food, such non-sweet foods also became snacks. In other words, they knew that sour tastes would diminish an apetite. In comparison with the above mentioned snack, the spoils of the boy were superior nutritionally, which resulted in praise of his bone and teeth by doctors, even after he became an adult.
In this essay, I am going to describe the Japanese way of living, culture, children and nature in the commom small village just after the war, reflected through the boy’s eyes. If you are interested in them or have any questions, please write me a comment on this home page. It’s my pleasure to tell you about this.
In a steep ravine, there was a narrow brook with a rapid stream and a stone in the middle of it. The stone was as big as the one sat on by the Mermaid princess in Copenhagen, which created a pool against the steep flow of water.
From a distance, It seems that a straw hat on top of the stone is forming a shadow on one area of the pool’s flar surface. As a matter of fact, a boy is wearing that straw hat and he kneels down on the stone, staring at the surface of the water at least one hour. A fishing line is hanging down into the water from the tips of his arm, which is outstretched and quivering slowly. The bait, usually earthwarm, just sits at the bottom of the river. As the reflection of the sunlight on the water’s surface is diminished by the boy’s hat, the boy can see the underwater world in great detail, except for the ripples aroused by the wind and stream. The boy has acquired some fishing skills, even before entering the primary school. For example, the way he swings the fishing line almost makes the bait seem alive. One fish is facing the bait as it pokes its head out from behind the stone it has been under. While there are many kinds of small fish, swimming around and sometimes biting on the bait, it seems like the boy is only aiming for that fish under the stone.
Only the small-sized fish can inhabit the ravine, maybe due to the rapid flow and the fish that the boy is aiming to catch belongs the group of the fishes that are comparatively bigger in size around 4-6 inches. It has a body with a square-sectional head, which gradually becomes round towards the tail, and it has a light brown zebra pattern integument, which is probably so that it can blend into the colour of the riverbed. It also has a strange face, which seems to jar on one’s nerves. It usually moves slowly, but occasionally makes rapid movements that are typical of a wayward character. This attracts the boy, who understands the behaviour of various kinds of the fish in the brook as well.
One thing that attracts the boy further is fish’s name, “Camanpis” , which doesn’t have a Japanese-like pronounciation. Instead, it sounded like foreign origins. Of course, the boy doesn’t know the origin of the name. Each Camanpis may have its own territory, and only one of them occupies one of the pools created by a big stone by itself. Just as the boy catches the Camanpis from under the stone, another takes its place in the pool. Then, it moves forward with half of its body and approaches the bait until it is about 4 inches away from it. The boy is wondering whether to swing the bait or keep it fixed in one place. He recalls that he had already succeeded by moving the bait away from the Camanpis. Whilst he is deciding on his next move, he stands firmly in place so he can take in the sound of the brook.
The boy anticipates the perverse character of this fish and pulls the bait upwards. As he does this, it moves straight to the place where the bait has been. The sudden pull of the fishing line results in the fish escaping. Failing to catch a Camanpis and then trying again lasted for more than one hour. It never bites the bait when it exposes its whole body on the sandy bottom, even if the bait almost touches the tip of its nose. The boy has experienced this many times. Therefore, the boy should restart his match of wits once fish goes back underneath the stone. The boy unintentionally draws cold water from the brook using his left hand and pours it over his back.
Though dipping his hand into the water may let this fish notice the presence of the enemy, the boy does this to try and tell the fish to go home by way of a warning as well as the fact that it is too hot. As expected, this fish hides itself under the stone once again before poking out its head, and seems to be checking out the current situation. The recent memory of the enemy’s presence must have already been erased, because of the fish’s small brain. The boy wins with his bigger brain. The boy, with not-so-big brains struggles to count how many times he has done such things before concentrating on the next round.
When the position between the fish and the bait has been decided, the boy recognizes the success pattern he has already had and unconsciouly exclaimed “Yes!” as he feels the blood pulsing through his body with excitement. In the next moment, a small fish disturbes the bait which confuses the boy as well as the Camanpis. Because small fish is also a fish, the boy catches it and puts it into the bucket. The new bait is hooked onto the hook and put into the water. The boy has to restart from zero. The boy can’t keep his attention fixed on one thing for too long, so naturally he is looking dimly at the clouds, which are being reflected on the water surface. This takes the battle out of using the fishing line. The boy is so absorbed in watching the metamorphosis of the clouds brought about by the ripples in the water that he doesn’t notice that a fish has taken the bait. The boy notices and pulls the line. The boy congratulates himself on his win, even though he is displeased with this fluke.The boy is not yet a full-fledged fisherman. Fortunately, It wasn’t the Camanpis.
Re-gaining heart, the boy drops some bait into the water, drawing up another scenario until he wins. Of course, the boy has changed the bait, because he thinks bait which has been bitten by one fish can’t attract another one. The boy sences a slight vibration through the line. The boy gives the line a strong pull upwards by aptly bending his finger tip. His voice resounds naturally “I did it! “