Monday, March 17, 2008



A Story Near—But Not Very Close to—Sera Dream Park

My weekend was an adventure, well, in a roundabout sort of way that is. You see, Sayaka and I decided to trek up our local mountain and find the mysterious park which was painstakingly built at the very top.

Like many small Japanese towns, right before the city files for bankruptcy they have an allotted budget means, which is to say, anything they haven’t spent for the year is free money for them to use any-which-way they see fit. Most small Japanese towns opt to build amusement attractions hoping to attract some tourism and spark some life into their gradually dying rural economies. Some go as far as to build entire theme parks –in the hopes of gaining the much needed tourist attention. But more often than not these wayside parks close down after full fledge city government bankruptcy, and with nobody there to run them these parks become abandoned ghost parks. Such is the park on top of our mountain.

A large grassy field, full sized amphitheater, children’s rides, artificial lake for swimming, and other conveniences were installed back when Sera was experiencing its first rise to fame and simultaneously its eventual threat of extinction. Of course this park was too far out of the way, let alone there are no good roads to get there, which causes us to surmise that the money stopped before the concept could be finished. This fact is obvious on the way up the mountain. The two lane road becomes one lane, the retaining wall is only half complete, and the rest of the roads are either partly paved or partly eroded. It’s an adventure to get there, for sure, but the view of the valley is worth the trip.

Luckily Sera wised up and realized people weren’t going to flock from all over Japan just to go up their lonely little mountain and come back down. Japan has enough mountains as it is and whoever thought up the idea in the first place was clearly flexing their muscle in the retard department.

The good news is Sera abandoned this project and moved their remaining money into a major seasonal flower dream park which captures all the main tourism form the highway. This park includes everything from Sera’s famous nashi (Japanese pears) to riding horses and milking cows, to touring the flower garden, trying out the Italian styled gelato ice-cream shops, buying Sera beef at low low prices (steak is nice!), and enjoying the sunshine. This chance to go out from the big city and experience a little bit of the country bumpkin aspect of life makes more money than anything for our little town.

The Japanese really do love their seasonal migration habits as they commute out of the city for a few days each year –especially during the national spring/summer holiday of Golden Week (the first week of May). If you hadn’t guessed the official name of Sera’s own attraction, it is “Sera Dream Park.” It being a seasonal park also helps the town save money since they don’t have to keep it open all year. It also adds just enough economic support to keep itself going, make a little dividend, and give us something to do in the summer.

But this isn’t the park my wife and I were interested in. We wanted to go to the abandoned ghost park on the mountain top. It’s mysteriously intriguing. And so my wife and I set out to find our way to the top.

We first tried a back road which had taken us there before, but neither of us could remember the proper turn off. Luckily we saw one of our Elementary school students playing by the side of the road and her mother close by. We stopped and asked directions, and as it turned out we were about a block away from the official turn. However, if you know anything about Japan, you know how windy and twisted some of their wayward back roads are. We didn’t make it a block before we turned onto the wrong road and drove up a driveway and into some person’s home.

As the road kept narrowing we began to get nervous. Then we stopped next to a barn. I looked out the car window and spied about twelve cats. There were cats littered everywhere, some on bails of hay, some basking in the sun, others dreaming in the shade. Then I turned my head to the other side of the car window to instantly find a young cow poking his oversized head from under a tarp looking right back into my face. He was trying to poke his nose into the car to see what we were all about. Sayaka and I started laughing in surprise at the big drippy cow nose greeting us. “Was there a cow here before?” I asked.

As Sayaka began to back up to go back to the main road or find a wide enough spot to get the car turned around a little old lady in a burgundy jacket came running up to us. What was odd was I instantly recognized her, because she was Utsumi sensei –the head English advisor for Sera town’s Board of Education. Sayaka and I respectfully said hello as we laughed some more. Our laughter was equally defined by our feeling of embarrassment as much as for the sheer unexpected surprise of the coincidence. Utsumi sensei said she had recognized us the instant she heard an English voice counting cats. “That would have been me,” I added with a sheepish grin. In my defense, I was counting out loud because there were just so many damn cats. Anyway, back to the story.

Sayaka and I received directions from Utsumi sensei and headed back up a side road which wound around her property. We slowly climbed the hill up past a lounging basset hound dog and some more cows. Utsumi sensei waved goodbye and wished us good luck as her brown and orange spotted hound jumped up to meet her. Meanwhile, the cows all watched us intently with timid curiosity –such as cows are wont to do. We may not have found the park, but we did find Utsumi sensei’s cow I laughed. Sayaka and I giggled the whole car ride up to the top of the mountain.

Once we arrived at the summit, and after a somewhat drawn out detour, we reflected on our odds. What are the odds, I wondered, that we would get lost in the mountains, accidentally make the wrong turn onto somebody’s personal property, and find that we not only know the woman but that she’s our boss? On top of all this, what are the chances of such good luck? Such is life, I suppose. Life is often full of wonderful random experiences, incidences, and perhaps a few random cows thrown into the equation too.

The park was as we had left it a year ago. Nothing seemed to have changed, and everything remained withered, dull, and unkempt. The grass was dry and yellowish-brown and the air was a bit chillier due to the elevation. Suddenly we found that the clouds had cast a shadowy gray tone over everything. With the moody overcast everything became still, and seemed to lessen the droll mood we were previously in. As our adventurous spirits waned, our destination lackluster and anti-climactic, our excursion which included getting a bit lost had suddenly wound down to an end. Our jaunt completed we reached the realization that there was nothing more to do. We decided not to linger any longer than we had to. .

Once we got back down the mountain we passed Utsumi sensei’s family who all waved at us. We wound down the car windows and shouted a few grateful ‘thank yous’ as we drove by. The spring breeze wafting through the car carrying the light scent of the pine trees reminded me of back home.

The sun came back out and as the valley lit up with color and life again we journeyed homeward.

I guess if you’re one who tries to find the moral in a story then the moral of this story is: When in doubt about your directional senses, and your journey is off the navi charts, stop and ask a cow for directions. With any luck he’ll set you moo-ving in the right direction. Get it? Moo-ving? Haha! Okay, sometimes I crack myself up. It’s an inherited trait I got from my Father, the master of all bad puns. So you’ll have to pardon me for the lame joke, I just couldn’t resist –it’s in my DNA. Yet I think you’ll agree that as far as morals are concerned it’s certainly as good as one could hope for. When you’ve lost your way, stop and ask a cow for directions. It worked for us!

By Tristan Vick


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