#20 How to independently raise my right eyebrow

When I was about 18 I expended a small amount of effort in learning to raise my left eyebrow so as to more precisely convey a quizzical mood. Over the years I have perfected this expression such that a friend recently described it as “a signature move”. It has been a minor source of irritation to me ever since that, although I had the left one down pat, the right was eluding me. Well, no more! As of this Saturday I can now independently also raise my right eyebrow. Not well, it has to be said, but so it was with the left one in the beginning, and once you get the knack of it the rest is just practice; I am confident that in time I will achieve full eyebrow expressivity on both sides. Which begs a question: what emotion shall I use this new found power to convey? Disapproval is the obvious one, but I try not to use that very often[1].

Anyway, there is a story behind my learning to raise my right eyebrow. So, without further ado, I shall progress this plot device to the purpose of this post:

This weekend I disappeared into the rural Japan on Tokyo’s doorstep that is the Boso peninsular, Chiba:

View Bōsō-hantō in a larger map

Over the last few months I have learned that I adore being outside doing hard physical labour (more on that later), so when a friend suggested I join her on an organic farm in Chiba helping to plant rice I jumped at the chance. On a bus I hopped[2], across the aqualine and down to the Southern tip of the Boso peninsular, somewhere in the hills near Tateyama I think.

The farmer met me off the bus and before I knew it, planting rice I was. The weather was glorious, the surroundings stunning and the atmosphere both calming and healing:

Planting rice is pretty simple. You start by walking backwards across the field rolling a metal cylinder behind you. The cylinder marks the surface of the mud with a grid and small bundles of three of four shoots get planted at each intersection. This being organic rice, the farmer needs more space between the rows than usual for weed control so we only planted every other row.


At the end you get to look back at your work and appreciate the lovely clean lines of rice you have planted:

And your far from clean feet (the mud is quite deep):

The cool mud feels delicious between your toes and every time you take a step the warm water flows around your feet. This being an organic farm, there is also an abundance of wildlife and, as I planted, tadpoles skipped across the mud and water boatmen skittered over the water in front of me. The frogs serenaded us in a chorus that rose and fell and then sometimes climbed to an almost deafening crescendo before dying away almost to nothing[3]:

As we finished up, the moon rose over the field and the sun went down and we sat and drank in the atomosphere while we waiting for the farmer to collect us:

We went back to the house where we were staying, sat round the irori and talked and cooked and drank[4] into the evening. Finally I crashed into bed for what may be the best night’s sleep of my life.

In the morning, communal breakfast, more planting, lunch and then back on the bus for the trip home.

Which leaves us with one important question: where in all this does my right eyebrow fit in? Well, it seems I’m not the only person who thinks that the Boso peninsular is a good place to get away to for Golden Week and it seems a large part of Tokyo’s 9 million population picked 3.30 pm on Saturday to try and get back home across the aqualine. The result? 6 hours on a bus staring at my own reflection in the widow as I neglected to pack anything to do for what was supposed to be a 70min bus journey. What else is a girl to do under such circumstances?

1. I said “try”: I don’t necessarily succeed.
2. Amazing how I will cheerfully get up at 6am to travel 2 hours to a field to plant rice, but find it almost impossible to get up before 10am on a work day… a clue, perhaps? More on that later.
3. Which is what this video shows because, of course, expecting them to crescendo on cue is too much to ask.
4. Gonin Musume (“Five Daughters”) organic sake from the local brewery, Terada Honke. If I never drink another sake I will die happy. That stuff was GOOD.
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