The bus was 12 hours, but at least I could sleep for about 6 of those. The other half were spent between watching Mr. Plinket reviews, facebook, and studying Kanji. Compared with the 4-across seating of the only other night bus I had had the misfortune to ride in Japan, the 3-across of the Setouchi Pirate Express (not sure) was bliss.
Upon arrival in the port town of Imabari (seems like every town is a port town out here) I noticed 2 things. No MacDonald and everyone talks like pirates. So I guess that explains the name of the bus. Seriously, the local dialect sounds like drunk Yakuza. I'm told later that it is a mix of Hiroshima and Osaka.
Skipping the only breakfast that I really enjoy in Japan (200 yen for a sausage muffin and coffee at Mac), I went with some shitty karaage from Lawsons convenience store. A brisk ferry ride later and I am at my friend's fishcake factory.
The place is in full swing. The New Year holiday in Japan is spent eating. Eating, eating, eating. Traditional foods take center stage, and kamaboko (蒲鉾) is one of those. So you can imagine that a kamaboko factory would hit their yearly high at this time.
My cross-country, overnight trek counts for shit, and I'm handed some rubber boots, a rubber apron, and a hairnet. Seconds later, I'm elbow deep in a pink batter of minced fishmeat, flour, and a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. Could just be salt though.
The mixing bowl looks like it could take my arm off. I inquire about some sort of... oh... training? A rundown on safety? A pamphlet perhaps? I mean, there is steam shooting out of pipes, an automated butcher knife, and a spinning wheel that is covered in nails. To name a few.
"Just don't get hurt. Don't touch the sharp things."
Safety training... done.
A question I've asked of myself a lot this trip was why? Why spend a priceless 10-day vacation doing manual labor? Why, when there are ramen shops to visit, booze to drink at the annual bonenkais, and the latest season of Breaking Bad waiting for me in Tokyo.
Maybe it was because I didn't want to deal with the mayhem of another Tokyo New Year. A little time in the countryside would be good. Right? Why?
There were a few assumptions I made about what would go down:
- Work would start early, which means finishing early. Or at least early-ish. Lots of free time to explore the islands.
- Stuff to do on said islands.
- I would have internet access (I brought my portable WiFi device)
Let's debunk! First off my EMobile Pocket WiFi was, as Murphy would predict, out of range.
There was nothing on this island of 8000 people. The drive to the nearest 7-11 was over 10 minutes.
And the work. As predicted, it started early. But an 8 hour day of work is unheard of here. Some days were 10, some were closer to 13. Not exactly challenging work, but 13 hours of carrying trays of fishcake from A-refrigerator to B-refrigerator, power-washing industrial mixing bowls, and affixing labels on packages takes a toll. On my brain.
Needless to say, each day ended with beer and sleep.
I was invited by a friend I met in Tokyo. He spends a few weeks here and there selling this stuff at fancy department store food courts across Japan. He is also the owner of the fishcake factory. He asked, I went. That's the how of it all. In the end, it's a pretty simple story. If you want details about the making of fishcakes, here you go. A big machine shoots out fish paste, then you cook it in another big machine. I guess that's how most things are made these days. With machines and robots.
I did have a couple free days in the New Year. More food and drink. Here are some photos of Matsuyama Castle. Then I went back to Tokyo. Happy New Year!