Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Thursday, 8 April 2010


I’m writing this from one of my new friend’s computers because there is no internet at my house yet; it takes ten days for one of the internet people in Nichinan to process my cash deposit, work out where I live, put down their cup of green tea and amble slowly 300 metres to set it all up, apparently. There is no internet access in the town apart from in Macdonalds, and nobody who works there has any idea at all what the password might be. My friend – who appears to like me, thus far - is currently at work, but luckily her computer is easily accessed because she leaves her front door open all day and night, every day and night, in case anybody needs to borrow anything. And because, in Nichinan, locking your front door or closing any of your windows is unecessary and socially offensive and basically bad manners: the cultural equivalent of tying your wallet around a table leg in somebody’s house.

And that, I think, tells you everything you need to know about Nichinan.

I have a habit of building castles in the air and then reacting furiously – but, for some unknown reason, with equal surprise – every time they get knocked down. Places, holidays, jobs, people, relationships, pets: all of them constructed meticulously, perfectly and in great detail, and then blown apart with either one reality bomb or lots of disappointment grenades thrown in quick succession (or when the goldfish fails to do anything at all apart from just flamin’ sit there). And – honestly - I thought the same would happen with Nichinan: a tiny, piddly little town in the middle of – even by Japanese standards - absolutely nowhere. A town consisting of one long road lined with closed, falling down buildings and 100yen shops and shoe warehouse outlets: where a tour of everything interesting in a car takes three minutes, but it’s so spread out that a stroll takes three hours, and the same man owns the local restaurant, convenience store, supermarket and my flat.

It hasn’t happened at all. My castle in the air was pretty much spot on, and Nichinan is exactly what I hoped for, and exactly what I needed. After eight months of cramped, cold, lonely, heartbroken, ugly unhappiness in Mitsukyo – where the best view involved walking past cement and wires and climbing to the top of the supermarket carpark to lean over the wall and look at Mount Fuji, some 100km away - Nichinan is glorious in every possible way. There are empty, desolate, stone grey beaches lined with jutting rocks, green mountains, miles and miles of beautiful rice fields, and trees of pink blossom filled with birds that actually sing in the morning instead of just staring at you or shitting on your head. I have a car – which has always meant, to me, freedom and inherent grownupness – and a proper, massive, traditional Japanese flat with soft tatami floors and a huge futon and a totally unecessary spare bedroom that I have no idea what to do with but am currently filling with wet laundry just because I can. There are bars and restaurants where the waiters learn your name, and lovely new friends who assume they will see you at the weekend, because what the hell else is everybody going to do? The air smells good, all the time, and the fact that I speak no useful Japanese at all has caused much hilarity and entertainment in the Post Office, the supermarket, my landlord’s house and with my new neighbours, who spent twenty minutes trying to tell me to take my washing in because it was about to rain via a mixture of charades and sound effects. And, while I haven’t started at my new school yet – I start tomorrow - apparently the teacher I’m assisting likes to use the film ‘Terminator’ as an English education tool and tells the sixteen year olds how to correctly pronounce the phrase today I’m very hungover.

I’m not stupid: I know that this is the first rush of love, and the rosy glow will wear off eventually when real life starts nudging in. And I also know – and have already felt in the last few days, unfortunately – what I knew anyway: that heartbreak doesn’t go away just because you’ve moved it a few thousand miles, and that you still think of him and her together and cry a little bit and throw things very hard whether you’re on your tiptoes in a supermarket carpark or sitting on the edge of some rice fields in the sunshine. But I can tell you something: it’s much, much nicer hurting somewhere beautiful and calm and clean, and it’s a lot less dangerous to throw pebbles into a lake than from the top of a three story building. And I suspect the healing process is considerably quicker, too, when you’ve got a big blue sea to run into, rather than just a whole load of freezing cold memories.

It’s difficult to say, sometimes, whether decisions we make are right or wrong: there are always so many other paths we could have taken that could have been better or worse than the one we chose. But every single day, now, I wake up and I can feel the pieces of me very slowly, little by little, shred by shred, knitting back together again. I can feel my belief in good things and in beauty and in love gradually reshaping. And I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where that would have happened; where the peace and prettiness and friendliness would have healed me so quickly already. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where I would have been so willing to let it happen, or so prepared to help it along.

I love it here, and as far as I’m concerned, Nichinan can be as slow as it likes; and the internet people can drink their tea and take their time and turn up when it suits them. I think I’m probably going to be here for quite a while, and I’m more than happy to wait.