Joining the Local Community
One of the challenges of moving to any new location is getting that initial invite into local community events. In Japan, this has been especially challenging, for me. In previous locations, coworkers helped ease me in to the community, but, thanks to the local public transportation network, my officemates commute in each day from four different prefectures, and none live particularly close to our part of Otsu. Even when I have been able to forge a few friendships beyond the bounds of cooperative paperwork processing, it hasn’t led to any connections outside of the workplace.
The area of Otsu where we live is a very traditional area- in the sense that I suspect many of the residents had first-hand experience of the Meiji Restoration! Seriously though, the area around our station is dominated by small shops that have clearly been owned by the same person for decades. Perusing the list of community activities offered at our community center, we observed that both the topics and the timing of the activities clearly catered to the retired community: Flower arrangement at 3pm on a weekday, fan dancing at 5pm.
That’s why we were very excited to find an announcement for the “Organic Market in Shiga,” last week.
A Community-Building Gathering
Despite that fact that Sawa was less than one week from her due date, we decided to visit the market and walk around for a bit. It’s held at Miidera (三井寺) in Otsu, by the Keihan train station of the same name. (If you’re coming from out of the area, take the JR Kosei line to Otsu-kyo and walk or transfer to the Keihan line. Parking is also available for 500 yen.) The market itself is small, but it had a warm atmosphere, despite the coolish weather and the threat of rain at any moment. There were probably about two dozen booths, offering handcrafted goods or food, as well as conversation.
The market was not, as the name suggested to me, a farmer’s market. Rather, it struck my American senses as being a somewhat hippy flea market. Thankfully, it wasn’t all dreadlocks, mini-buses, and reggae (Japanese reggae is about as soullessly monotonous as Hawaiian reggae.) Rather, it was more a collection of people who preferred simple, friendly lifestyles, as opposed to the suit-and-tie crowd I usually see Monday to Friday in Japan. Hand-carved/ sewn natural products, wooden musical instruments, and hemp garments as well as a few “No Nukes” beaded bracelets stood out in the crafts section shops. The food selections were what you would expect for that environment: curries from India and Pakistan, hummus pita sandwiches, etc., and quite delicious. The Indian curry was sold out by the time we arrived, but we went for the Pakistani Curry, a hummus sandwich, and a bagel that was easily the second-best bagel I’ve had in Japan. It was almost as good as the ones I make, myself.
What really stood out to us was the relaxed atmosphere of the market. People were smiling, pleasant, and surprisingly talkative. For what we were looking for, it was perfect. The market was about the most open face I have seen from Japanese society in three years of living here, and we will definitely be back next month, on Sunday, April 15th (if Sawa and our newborn are ready to be up and about, that is.)
Worth a Visit
Even without stopping by the Market, Miidera itself is gorgeous and certainly worth a visit. The sakura will be in bloom soon, enhancing its charm even further, but outside sakura season, the buildings charm, the peacock enclosure and, for fans of Japanese history, Benkei’s soup bowl (big enough to bathe in), all make it an appealing stop.
Visiting on a market day is even better, as you get to enjoy the temple’s rich cultural history and solemn architecture, as well as the warm and welcome Organic Market. This time, I was the only Caucasian in the crowd, perhaps due to a lack of English-language publicity, but for any other expats who are searching for that publicly rare, welcoming face of Japan, I highly recommend stopping by!
Internationalizing the Community?
TranSenz is strongly considering renting a booth at the Organic Market in future months. Translations are probably not a market-style product but, as our other posts may have hinted, we have a strong interest in cooking, as well, and would like to offer some baked goods. Mostly, however, our interest is in participating in the community. The baked goods would just be a disguise to let us join in! If there are any other expats or international families in the Shiga/ Kyoto area who are interested in opening a booth to sell some arts and crafts, or just to socialize and join in the community spirit, please leave a message for us below!