Week 54

On Sunday night I drove in the dark and the rain to get back home. I was driving back from Tony's new house in Nishiokoppe. Between Nishiokoppe and Yubetsu is a surfeit of forest and of darkness, and the rain coming down in big silvery drops flashed me back dangerously to the blizzards of January and February, to that shuddering motion through white noise. I kept unconsciously slowing down, as if the road were slick with ice and snow, which it wasn't. But which, in any case, is probably a good idea, is slowing down. Not just in a car, but in general.

When the rain falls on Penelope's windshield it falls in big globs, as if the rain itself isn't water but something thicker. It beads, somehow, on the windshield, which I think is because Penelope's wipers coat the windshield maybe in some kind of oil or something? I remember, back in something like April, the man at the Autobacs car store telling me that the wipers have some sort of Advanced Japan Technology, but I didn't understand it at the time and don't presume to be able to understand it now. The wipers as they go by leave thin watery strings behind, distorted and bubbled; and when the rain falls on the windshield between trips of wiper the rain collides with such force that it leaves a little circular shadow among these watery wiper-trails, a shadow that you can only see in the headlights of other cars. And in those headlights you can see the original shadow-casting bead of rain, pearly, right in the center, and if you look hard enough you can see an inverse picture of headlights and vehicle coming at you in the opposite lane. But I don't advise looking that hard, because taking your eyes off the road for any significant amount of time while driving in a rainstorm seems to be more or less equivalent to leaving a flaming bag of dog turd on the doorstep of the Deity of Road Incidents, in terms of like Asking For It.

The sound of rain is a little like static, a little like hail, a little like small, solid objects hitting the car, rather than liquid. It's barely audible under the music, but lends to the music a weird depth, like reading a book wearing someone else's weak prescription glasses. Your eyes can adjust for the most part -- your optical system can figure it out -- but your brain knows that something isn't quite right: shapes and lines that you ought to know, you find that you don't. With music it's interesting, not wholly unpleasant; but I wouldn't listen to music over rain that often, given the choice.

In the headlights of the oncoming cars, too, can you spot the long worn-in grooves of so many vehicles across the asphalt, where the wheels of uncountable cars have all left their microscopic marks. The water pools very shallowly in these grooves -- not deep enough in most places to offer any significant resistance, but deep enough to throw up a little hissing sound out from under the car. Now and again the groove deepens without giving any warning except for a kind of bulging of the groove, width-wise, and this is where your late-night driver really has to pay attention: because these deeper grooves, fuller with water, will tug at your wheels unilaterally, pull you to one side or the other of the road. On Penelope's 13-inch tires, this effect is particularly pronounced; and for that reason I drive offset to the grooves, my wheels for the better part of the journey edging up against the dividing line between my own and the oncoming lane. When a car comes along I edge over back into the center of my lane, navigating the grooves of water on the road by the delayed dimming of the other driver's highbeams, catching himself throwing up those flares in my face, probably issuing the Japanese equivalent in his dark passenger compartment of, “Oh, shit, sorry!” to no one in particular.

Another curiosity that your standard daytime/dry-weather driver doesn't realize about Hokkaido is that the grooves worn into most of the roads out in the countryside actually consist of two pairs of parallel grooves, worn in by the double-tired wheels of bigger trucks, which are significantly heavier and for this reason wear much deeper grooves. Every now and again one has to cross one of these service-type roads perpendicularly and rattle across the (count them) eight worn-in truck-grooves, which presents an awful rattling of everything you're hauling at the time.

And every now and again, maybe at five-minute intervals, great purple lightning flashes across the sky. The first one that I really notice, relatively nearby, appears to meander, flashing first in one direction among the clouds and then changing directions mid-flash to go somewhere else, which struck me with a really weird immediacy as emblematic of the way that we ALTs move around Hokkaido. I'm not convinced that that lightning wasn't made up of maybe two or three separate strikes, though -- all of the lightning that ensued was brief and traditional: a big zig-zagging flash down from the clouds out to some place beyond the trees on either side. What was really strange was that I didn't hear the accompanying thunder; but Penelope was loud and the rain was loud and it's possible that that tag-team noise drowned it out. My brain couldn't help, though, listening for it with every great flash -- and when it didn't come, it left the kind of sense of incompleteness that you get from seeing a quotation that the writer left open.

[Note: the following day I went for a bike ride in the evening’s pre-storm. Lightning boiled through the clouds again but in the hot, moist wind, in the air’s electricity, I still couldn’t hear the thunder. I’m beginning to believe that Japanese lightning doesn’t make a noise, which I don’t know why but that wouldn’t surprise me.]

By and by I get home. The sky is dark and distantly rumbling, continuously, deep in my pectoral cavity, as if by the sound of all that moisture rubbing up against itself. The narrow corridor between my house and shed is thick with dripping sounds. I'm vaguely worried that leaving the windows open with screens in place is going to have made something wet that shouldn't have been wet. But it's late, and I am very tired, and not equipped to engage with worry or concern or anticipation -- anything but sleep, really -- and so I tug off clothing without turning on lights and collapse amid the dark and the rain.

Everything You Have Heard Japan JET Programme


Week 55

Camping down south, at one of the welcome parties I think, coinciding with the Jigoku-matsuri in Noboribetsu.


Week 53

Driving down south, visiting the Jozankei sex museum, sleeping in the Matsumae Michi-no-Eki parking lot