Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Day Hebiura Elementary School Marched into the Sea

Hebiura used to have the Ainu name “Kamaya.” The story goes that about a thousand years ago the village supported the wrong side in the war that drove the Matsumae clan from Shimokita to Hokkaido. As a punishment, their new feudal lord gave them the name of Hebiura which means Snake Harbour, because "fishermen hate snakes." About one hundred and thirty years ago Hebiura (蛇) was amalgamated with the hamlets of Ikokuma (易国) and Shimofuro (下呂) to form the village of Kazamaura (風間浦—a name formed by taking a character from each of the three). Ikokuma became the administrative centre, Shimofuro became the relatively prosperous resort town, and Hebiura was left to just be itself.

This has made them “hard.” This is the entire student body autonomously carrying out their ceremony to begin picking “funori.” For the uninitiated—Funori: a polysaccharide mucilage (similar to carrageenan), made from the seaweed >gloiopeltis, which is harvested from natural populations in Japan


The Chairman of the Kazamaura Board of Education This man is the patriarch of Hebiura. I don’t know much about his personal history, but it has obviously given him an enormous sense of entitlement. He as appeared in a previous post as “the ancient ex-superintendent of schools [who] told [the German exchange students] that Japanese people his age have a special place in their hearts for Germans and [who] then (turning to pat me, the Canadian, on the arm reassuringly) said ‘not, of course, that it has anything to do with our axis alliance or the fight with the Americans’." He also received an oblique reference in a comment about “a diminished alcohol intake (except in the case of certain privileged village elders)” in my post about Ikokuma Elementary School’s graduation party. At that party in Ikokuma the old boy got a little full of himself (in combination with alcohol) which provoked a lesser star to mutter “where does the bastard think this is? Hebiura?!” He’s a pretty cool guy, though.


Pig Stew from the Communal Pot for Lunch


Oi, Where Do You Think You’re Going with That?!


There are a number of institutions in the world that send grey clad people two by two to spread a message. In Kazamaura this role is filled by J-Power employees who ooze their way through every local gathering, spreading the good news of nuclear energy. They spent the lunch break chatting up taciturn grandmothers and photographing small children. They will never answer our big question, though: "If it's so wickedawesome to host the nuclear powerplants that will satisfy the Tokyo area's growing appetite for energy in the twenty-first century, why are Japan's great urban municipalities so anxious to make sure that we're the ones to get the privilage?"

My little fifth grade buddies from Hebiura picked about five times as much “funori” as me, respectively, but still found time to repeat everything I said into my cell phone video camera and to educate me on how to sex crabs. The one on the left is a male, and the one on the right is a female. Can YOU tell the difference?




Fishermen are a species apart. When you live in a fishing village, you can’t just assume things about the people. For all you know, they’ve been clubbing in New Zealand while on shore leave, or have spent a couple of years in a Russian prison for violating territorial waters.