I was a bit bummed when I opened my eyes at 10am on February 8th to one of the bluest skies I’d seen in weeks. I was so certain that I’d be waking up to a blizzard that I didn’t even bother to set my alarm clock before going to bed, and as a result I overslept on a seemingly perfect day for a nice high-altitude volcano climb.
But then I headed downstairs to take my morning shower. The instant I opened the sliding wooden patio door to my ryokan’s garden any remorse about having overslept was quickly whisked away, along with the pair of clean underwear I had in my hand. As it turned out the blizzard wasn’t even close to gone, it had just been out to lunch for the brief moment that I stopped to look out my window.
So I stepped outside and hopped across a few stone steps to the small free-standing bathhouse. Quite fun that was, trying to rinse off as icy winds pierced through the cracks in a thin wooden wall. Even less fun was opening the door and running back to the main house with my hair still dripping wet.
After getting all of my things in order I gave Dean a call and found out that he’d be coming by in a few hours with a friend to pick me up in their car (making this the third time I’ve ridden in a car in over a year). I bundled up all nice and warm, checked out, and started looking for ways to kill time until then.
The weather was far too cranky to allow for any real wilderness hikes, and the town I was in was so small that it might as well have been a ghost town – one small convenience store, one or two small restaurants, a public bath, a hotel, you get the idea. So I started off with a light breakfast of shrimp tempura over rice before heading up a small path to the one attraction in sight: Kirishima Jinja, a gorgeous shrine overlooking the town from a nearby ridge. It was challenging at first taking pictures in all the rainfall/snowfall, but thankfully the winds calmed down after not too long and even brought in about thirty minutes of nice blue-skied backgrounds.
I shot away for a bit before starting down the mountain on foot. There was only one road leading from Kirishima Station up to the shrine where Dean was planning to meet me, and I figured I could just flag down his car as it passed. A few small farmhouses and bus stops later I was in the back of a minivan on my way to my first ever Japanese business trip.
Dean’s actual job is to travel to the far corners of the Earth with his high-tech microwave radar equipment and generate images of whatever’s hidden beneath his feet. On the more interesting trips, this can consist of anything from giant tombs to uncollapsed one-man burial chambers to ancient Roman aqueducts. On the less interesting ones, dirt. We were on our way to survey some 5th century burial mounds in Miyazaki Prefecture.
I was pretty excited at the opportunity to participate in the whole process – Dean told me that I was to take part in everything from the actual data gathering to analysis to presenting the final report to the officials at City Hall. I feel like very few people have the opportunity for such diverse and interesting work – while most people either sit indoors and crunch numbers or sweat through outdoor manual labor, he gets a nice percentage of both…and it takes him all around the world in the process. A more high-tech Indiana Jones, I suppose…except without the headhunters and giant bolders and, um, danger.
I guess that would make me who, Short-Round?
So anyways, after meeting up we headed directly to the survey site and got started. Waiting there for us were two workers from City Hall and three little old farmers’ wives in straw hats…just in case we needed some extra help. They already had measuring tapes laid out for us to mark the path of the survey; all that was left would be to collect the actual data.
And you know what? The field work itself was much less scientific than I’d expected. Once the field markers had been measured and laid out, and the equipment calibrated, it consisted of little more than two people walking back and forth in a grid-pattern through a field. One person’s job was to hold the computer and register markers every meter – software would later be able to normalize the data for time, walking speed, abnormalities in surface topography, etc. The other person would be the mule, dragging a big orange antenna over the ground as straight and steadily as possible. Guess which one I started out as.
But after awhile Dean passed off the computer to me (mwahahaha!) and we kept taking turns this way until just before sundown. Because he had been stranded on a small island for a day longer than planned, we were nearly 24 hours behind schedule and had to make up for some serious lost time. He told me that he didn’t expect any particular difficulty with regards to finishing by the deadline…but of course we did have to make sure that we finished early enough to enable at least one night out drinking at the Izakaya. After all, what kind of a Japanese business trip would it be if the boss didn’t have some novice underling to buy beer after beer for and watch him get sloppier and sloppier as the hours wear on?
Not a very traditional one.