Komangane Re-visited!

by Stefan Chiarantano, Jun 15, 2006 | Destinations: Japan

It has been about eight weeks since I have returned to the beautiful town of Komagane located in Nagano prefecture. Komagane straddles the central and southern Alps. The scenery is breathtaking and the air clean and crisp. When I was given the opportunity to return to teach in this spectacular place, I jumped at the chance. When I left Japan last summer, I had the feeling that my sojourn had come to an end. How wrong I was and how pleasantly surprised to find myself on an airplane coming back. It felt like I had just won the lottery or been given a second chance at life. I found it was easy to settle back into a routine since I was given the same apartment to live in. It felt like I was coming home. What a lovely feeling it was!

Some things have changed though. In one of my pieces, I wrote about the flock of birds that had taken up residence along a main road. I am sorry to report that the trees have been trimmed of their branches. They now look like stumps. Poor things! How sad it must be to have limbs shorn! And where did those poor birds flock to I wonder?

The frogs have re-surfaced in the rice fields. I hear them every evening croaking and while some may find the noise annoying, I, on the other hand, find it comforting. I prefer the croaking to the din of traffic any day. The night skies are full of bright twinkling stars and I often sit on my balcony in the late evening admiring their beauty.

I was able to discover more of Komagane's attractions. A visit to the Kappa museum in the valley was a delight. These ugly creatures intrigue me. Here's a description. They have webbed feet and hands, are the size of a small male child, have a depression, a cavity, on their heads that is filled with a strength-giving fluid, have a snout, a shell on their backs, are greenish-yellow in colour, and smell like fish. They are water dwellers and inhabit rivers, ponds, and lakes. They are adept on land and water and are incredibly strong. Legend has it that they drag their victims into the water, drown them and then proceed to suck out their victim's entrails or blood through their victim's anuses. How ghastly! What a way to go! Legend has it that they attack horses, cattle, and humans and have a particular fondness for the flesh of young children.

They are considered malevolent and mischievous but have been know to do good deeds if subdued and do so, in exchange for their freedom or if helped when facing mortal peril. Legend has it that they have been known to impart the art of bone setting and are reputed to keep their promises. They delight in challenging humans to single combat so beware, if you happen to meet one who happens to be in the mood for a toss. Remember to bow very deeply. The Kappa should follow suit, thereby spilling the contents on top of his head, which gives them their strength, making itself feeble and forcing it to hastily retreat to its water abode. But if it doesn't, then you'd better prepare yourself for combat, and hope in hell that you win the wrestling bout.

On display were dozens and dozens of Kappa in a variety of poses. The Salary man Kappa was charming. The outdoor Kappa garden was magical as they were arranged in a variety of poses and groupings.

A friend took the opportunity to visit me one weekend, which gave me another opportunity to visit Kozen-ji Temple. The weeping Sakura were in bloom and framed the temple grounds making Kozen-ji look spectacular. As I had been here before, I was able to point out to my friend the luminous moss, another fascinating feature of Kozen-ji Temple. We visited the museum next door and had coffee in the café adjacent to the museum. The patroness remembered me from my last visit a year ago. Perhaps, I made an impression or I was supposing that it's not easy to forget a very large, overweight man with graying hair who had taken an interest in her establishment.

A few weeks ago I visited Yomeishu, which is located near the school where I teach. Yomeishu is a fabulous medicinal drink made from rice alcohol, and herbs and flowers found growing in the surrounding mountains. It turned out to be a lovely day and my students and I enjoyed our outdoor lesson. Although we were offered a sample taste of the elixir, strict orders prevented us from consuming any alcohol during class hours. But we were able to purchase some bottles to take back with us to be consumed during off hours.

One lovely Saturday afternoon coming home from shopping I chanced upon some of the neighborhood children fishing for frogs in the rice fields. We have become acquainted. They love to practice the little English they know with me and I enjoy teaching them some basic English greetings and words. Jokingly, I said to them, "Are they for eating?" in Japanese at which they made such grimaces and body contortions that I laughed myself silly. "No!", they screamed in Japanese in unison. They were caught to take to school for show and tell. They let me have a go but I came up empty. I stood back and watched them to do it. They were quite adept and had devised a foolproof method for capturing them. They would quickly run their nets along the embankment of the rice field which made the frogs hiding along it to jump in the flooded rice field at which time they were quickly scooped up and neatly deposited in their little portable aquarium. How I envied them! Their youth, vitality and innocence were captivating.

On my return, I had popped into a number of shops where I had previously shopped and was greeted with warm greetings and friendly smiles. The joy of being back hasn't diminished and my affection for this lovely place deepens daily!

* * *