A lot of Japanese people are very proud of their country’s distinctive four seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring. Yet a lot of them mention a fifth season, which explains why they are not very proud of their math skills… rainy season. Rainy season is a period that lasts for about two to four weeks, usually starting in early or mid-June, turning most of Japan (especially Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu) into a humid hellhole for about three months. Personally I don’t think Japan has four seasons as it stretches too much for a general statement like that. Okinawa definitely doesn’t have a winter, and in my personal experience, Osaka has only two seasons: “Kind of nice” and “unbearably hot and humid”.
The period of rather intense rain began early this year, in the first week of June, starting to turn Osaka into a sticky place where you don’t want to wear any long clothes or do anything that requires even the slightest effort. Luckily my friends Dan and Kyoko weren’t eager to stay in Osaka either, so I planned a nice little weekend trip to Shikoku… which I had to re-plan after the weather forecast changed – Chubu instead! (Chubu is one of eight major regions in Japan, basically the central part of the main island Honshu between Nagoya and Mount Fuji)
Three days later I found myself sweating like pig hiking up a mountain in Shizuoka prefecture. A couple of minutes prior we passed through a small village on the slope, located in the middle of nowhere, where only one old lady was living, at least part time – she and her husband were tea farmers, but he passed away a few years ago, so she takes care of what is left; everybody else had died or moved away many years before…
We escaped Osaka’s rain and humidity, but central Japan’s countryside was surprisingly warm for early July. The hiking trail us three were on connected the hamlet with its school, closed in the late 70s and officially abandoned in the early 90s. Why it wasn’t built directly next to the settlement is beyond me, but farm land was probably more valuable than the place for an elementary school; and so the kids had to hike up that mountain every day, an elevation gain of almost 100 meters! Even after 30 years the path was clearly visible, yet partly overgrown and covered by several layers of foliage, making it a rather slippery climb these days. I was taking another break enjoying the beautiful surrounding and silence, when I heard Dan from above: “The school is up here!”
A few minutes later I saw the school near the top of the mountain myself – a surprisingly big wooden building with a living quarter annex; probably for a teacher or two to live in. The main building consisted of two classrooms and an office (all wooden floors), plus a tatami room right next to the office. Outside was a small playground with a slide and leftovers of some swings and a soccer goal. And there was a shrine with a wooden building, empty according to the old lady…
What made the Shizuoka Countryside School quite special was its authenticity. While a lot of “abandoned” schools in Japan are still maintained by the local community (like the *Kyoto Countryside School*), it was pretty clear that this wasn’t the case here – yet there were barely any signs of vandalism, with small exceptions like the pink painted nipples of the female gypsum bust or the smashed wooden metronome. There were signs of visitors though – not only did I find a Sony lens cap in the grass, you could see that certain items were staged for photos and that some explorers crashed through the wooden floors when they were not cautious enough. Most of the rooms had plenty of interesting items left behind, like a chair and table combination, a table tennis plate, books, posters, chalk, and whatever you think should be at an abandoned countryside school – considering that it was basically a two room school I think it was rather well equipped and I really loved some of the tacky items, like the National manufactured red record player. The icing on cake, of course, was the location itself. Near the top of a mountain, with a shrine next to it, on a lovely late spring / early summer day… quite magical. Sadly I had to share one of the rooms with a suzumebachi a.k.a. Giant Asian Hornet. There are a lot of them at abandoned places these days and usually I avoid them, but in this case that would have meant not taking pictures of one third of the school. Half the time it was trying to leave through a window and failed, half the time it was flying around the room, causing me to hastily leave. After a few rounds of hide and seek I got most of the shots I wanted to take and called it a day.
Just getting out of Osaka for another two days was a blessing, exploring an abandoned countryside school in good condition and being able to share that with friends… priceless!
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