i like to tell people sometimes that living an amazing, fulfilling life in izu is the simplest thing you could imagine. it requires only a few basic tenants.
every once in a while, you meet someone rare. and when i say rare, i don’t mean a person who stands out in a crowd because they make an effort to stand out. and i don’t mean the kind of person who stands out in a crowd naturally. i mean the kind of person who doesn’t stand out in a crowd at all. which is to say, the kind of person who doesn’t stand out in the crowd because they never even set foot near the crowd. they don’t even know where the crowd is. and most likely, they don’t care, because they have their own amazing thing going on.
okazawa-san is that man. i’ve known him for almost a year now, and i know almost nothing about him. i don’t know where he lives. i don’t know if he is married. i think he might have mentioned that he had a daughter one time, but i’m not sure. if i asked him about any of that stuff, he would tell me. but i don’t push, because if he wants to tell me all that stuff, he can. if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter to me.
what does matter is that he has potentially the sweetest set-up i could ever imagine. he spends his days farming on a small plot of land next to a river and a bamboo forest. between growing some of the greatest vegetables, herbs, and fruits i have ever had the pleasure of eating, he tends to the bamboo forest. bamboo grows fast, and when it gets too thick, it can actually strangle itself and inhibit the growth of its own root structures. he therefore takes it upon himself to keep the forest at a healthy thickness. he keeps the strongest bamboo alive so it can put out shoots, and he culls the weak or inhibited bamboo.
but nothing goes to waste. the weaker bamboo is carried up the steep incline to his homemade earthen kilns, chopped into segments, and split. the split pieces are cleaned, and are then roasted in the super hot kilns over a long period of time to create charcoal. and the charcoal has so many uses it will make your head spin. i’ll save those for another post.
twice a month on saturday morning, okazawa-san gives me and a small group of like-minded people a bunch of alcohol, whatever local natural produce harvested that day, two grills to cook fresh fish and meats, all the bamboo charcoal we could ever want, and a spacious homemade gazebo to hang out in. and in exchange, we give him a helping hand with whatever he needs done. the most lopsided deal of all time? maybe. a boat load of fun for free? you bet your butt it is.
he is a man who does not mince words. if you don’t say anything and just sit on your butt drinking beer, he won’t bother you. if you ask him what needs to be done, he’ll tell you and expect you to do it. if you tell him you don’t know how to do the thing you just promised you’d do, he’ll teach you. he is diligent and competent. he is easy-going and mild-mannered.
okazawa-san is my botany teacher, my biology teacher, my local farmer, my drinking buddy, my host, and my friend. and i can’t ask for any more than that.
here’s to you, good sir. keep up the good work, and i’ll see you soon for some good eats and back-breaking hard labor.