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Akita’s hidden surprises – Part 2

We awoke with the sun, and under blue skies, set off through countryside that was brimming with reminders of an ancient past. More than a millennium ago, Japan’s first people existed here in small organized communities that, while not nomadic, hunted and gathered from fertile surrounds. Their reliance on nature brought with it an understanding of the seasons and of how to survive year after year, for thousands of years often in the same area. Named after the rope patterned earthenware that was always found amongst their settlements, the Jomon were a group that were, by all accounts, ahead of their time. With each prefecture we passed, locals told of Jomon sites that had been uncovered ‘just down the road’, each one unveiling a new chapter in an already long history. The stories had filled our imaginations with adventure and the thought that our every step might be hovering over some yet to be discovered Jomon village made each river or roadside grove an exploration waiting to happen.

Today, our own adventure was about to begin. After stopping in a local petrol station, we got chatting to the owner whose walls were adorned with Jomon artifact after Jomon artifact. The only other place we had seen so many had been in the museum at Aomori’s Sannai Maruyama site, the largest Jomon excavation to date. In front of us however stood a life time’s collection, all of which he informed us, had come not from a museum, but from the river that ran parallel to the next village. It was the most exciting news I had heard since we began and with some vague directions to his site, we were off to find our very own Jomon relics!

As we crossed a bridge spanning a running stream at the bottom of an overgrown gorge, we could almost feel the presence of Jomon hunters chasing their prey below. Somewhere underneath was the stream of my dreams. The only challenge now, was to find out how to get to it. Before us stood a shear drop, 30 metres long with an impenetrable forest guarding its banks. The only way in seemed to be around, a trek of a few kilometers through rice paddies to one of the stream’s branches and our door to the past.

Leaving our stilts and bags on the highway above, we skipped down, well I skipped down in anticipation of what lay ahead, while Miki followed shaking her head at the thought of me crawling through snake infested forest. As we followed a tractor path beside rice fields, we stumbled across a monument stating that this was an area of some significance. To be here, tucked away off the tourist trail, completely unknown to all but the people living beside it made its discovery significant in itself, however, whatever it was on top of that warranted the placement of such a plaque, was lost to me in my search for something more historic, something more exciting. As such, even as I look back over the photos, I have no idea what it was that had made that such a place of importance, for a few metres behind it lay a small, still stream, and the threshold to what I was hoping was the remains of my Jomon village. As Miki stood back, happy to support from the safety of the gravel track, I ventured forth over scraggly rock and through a thick layer of scrub to the stream, eyes alert to anything out of the ordinary. While it wasn’t the stream we had crossed, it was still hidden enough to provide a potential bounty for the trained, or at least enthusiastic speculator.

As I began digging up the bank of the river, my thoughts became lost in the excitement of the moment, and with each hole I made, I disappeared further into the brush and into nature. Now up to my knees in soft sand, and with a small army of angry mosquitoes biting at my exposed parts, my concentration was suddenly broken by the sound of a movement in the grass off to my left. Snakes had been a part of our daily existence on stilts, but from our perches above, posed little threat. Here however, up to my knees in wilderness, the situation was much different. Stories of the deadly ‘mamushi’, a snake more likely to bite first, then sit back and watch its victim die a slow death next, flooded my thoughts as I scanned the ground around for scaly intruders. It was the first time that I noticed where I was. The bush had now become so wild that I was beginning to hope that I wouldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Just as I was about to go back to my search for a little piece of history, Miki’s voice pierced the silence of the stream.
“Snake Mick!!” My legs moved like they hadn’t moved for years. In three leaps, I had escaped the stream, hurdled the thickets and was back on the track faster than Usain Bolt’s legs had carried him to his world record the week before, holding my heart as it threatened to beat out of my chest. As I turned to ask how big it had been, there was Miki, doubled over in fits of laughter in front of me. It never helps to have a wife whose sense of humour has developed around your own insecurities. The laughter continued as we returned to our bags, my hope of finding my Jomon stash, dashed along with my nerve at the bottom of the stream.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 5:45 AM,

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