Tane, part II: the slow disaster of a town in decline

We spent the night on futon at the Matsumotos’ house. It’s not much different than sleeping on a ThermaRest, except you have a comforter on top and a soba-filled pillow. Comforters around here have solid fabric on one side, and mesh on the other, I guess to encourage airflow in the humidity.

Breakfast was incredible, and upon hearing that I liked natto, we were served some of the stinky soybean concoction, mixed with mustard and green onions.

Tane was beautiful, the rice fields soft after the hard corners of Tokyo.

Clear sky! Continue reading

Tane, part I: Rice Fields and Shinkansen

Early last week, I was finally added to the email list of MIT interns in Japan last summer, and so I sent out an introduction email. The first person to email me back was Ira Winder, inviting me to an MIT alumni-intern retreat in a rural town called Tane in the Shiga Prefecture. I had no idea what it would entail, but I said yes and went about looking into Shinkansen tickets.

On the trip down to Shiga last Friday, I wound up sitting next to four MIT alums (plus someone’s brother visiting from Spain), eating Shinkansen bento (ekiben), and talking in the fastest English (and Spanish) I’d spoken in a week! All quite the change from working with unpaid master’s students, homemade bento, and speaking English slowly, without adjectives or adverbs.

Shinkansen bento
Travel by Shinkansen, while totemo takai, is brilliant. Hop on in Tokyo and arrive in Mibara, 266 miles away, in only two hours and 16 minutes. (Google Maps says the drive takes about five and a half hours.) Granted, this trip cost approximately 14,000円 for a reserved seat… not feasible in California, regardless of exchange rate.  The Shinkansen is amazingly precise: trains can be spaced as little as three minutes apart.

We spent a lot of the trip along the coast, seeing islands and green hills. The views of the Enshu-nada, while generally obscured by power lines, were beautiful.

After transferring from the Shinkansen to a local train at Mibara, we arrived in Kawake on the shores of Lake Biwa.

Lake Biwa Continue reading