Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.

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Monkeys + Music = Happiness

Last weekend was absolutely gorgeous, and as I had no plans on Sunday, I went for a walk to the park I’d discovered at the top of a hill a few weeks back. As I was walking up the highway, I noticed a man looking up at the mountain side and whistling like he was trying to beckon something.  I stopped to work out what he was looking at, and he shouted, “saru da!” (monkeys!) and waved me over.  I crossed the road and he pointed to a family of macaques peering down at us from the mountainside.  I’d seen some once on my way home from my little countryside school, when two of them were just chilling in the middle of the road. My friend told me he also saw a mother macaque and her baby in the road near his house once (he lives in a rural area up north on the peninsula).  The mum ran into the bushes when she saw the car coming, but the baby didn’t move, so she ran back and slapped it round the head to get it off the road.  Yep, I think I can relate to that baby…

So back on the highway, naturally this was the only time I’d gone for a walk without my proper camera, and none of my phone pictures came out well enough to show you, so I’ll try again next time.  After chatting to the man for a few minutes, I carried on up the road with a smile on my face, and came to the hill that led to the park.  The variety of snowy footprints along the secluded pathway showed no sign of man, so I knew I’d have it all to myself again.  Last time I rolled a snowball that came up to my waist, but when I got there all that remained was a sad-looking stump.  I could see tiny paw prints leading up to it about a foot away, which appeared to retreat once the inquisitor had decided that my snowball wasn’t really a threat.

This time the glorious sunshine had made me slightly mad with happiness, so I got my phone out and put Beyonce on YouTube, then danced around in the snow for half an hour.  I hadn’t had fun like that in ages… it was quite liberating!  I don’t know what I would’ve done if someone appeared at the park entrance, but all the times I’ve been for a walk up that way I’ve not once seen another person (except the man from earlier, but I think he lived in the house right next to the road).

Pathway to the park

Pathway to the park

My personal park

Aaaall miiiiine!   From the map on the right, it looks like some of these trees are cherry blossoms, so I can’t wait to come here in Spring!

On the way home, I listened to the radio on my phone as I didn’t have my iPod.  I’d realised that I’d had little to no contact with the media (apart from news) since I’d left the UK, and even then I had a tendency to live inside my stone age music bubble, avoiding the charts because I couldn’t deal with the modern age.  Anyway I was listening to the radio in the hope I’d discover some new music and it did not let me down.  The first three records that were played were new to my ears, which have been blistered by Japan’s new national anthem aka Frozen’s Let It Go.  I forgot how good new music can be!  Japanese music is AWFUL.  I can’t think of a Japanese artist or song I’ve heard and genuinely thought it was good.  Okay so I obviously haven’t heard every Japanese artist and there probably are some good ones out there (maybe) which I haven’t heard, but I’ve listened to some of the more popular artists and they’re all naff… so it’s enough to put me off the rest of the churned out crap.

Aside from that little rant, I’ve really been enjoying my quest for new music.  A couple of friends have made me mixtapes, I’ve bought new albums with birthday money and I’ve listened to more classical music in the last two months than I think I did during my whole music degree… During my dissertation research, I was trying to find out what it is about music that makes us enjoy it and make us feel emotional when we listen to certain music.  One theory is that the element of hearing the unexpected is what triggers the release of dopamine by the brain, giving us that good feeling.  When we listen to music, the brain predicts what’s going to happen by keeping a record of the twists and turns that have already occurred.  This is a bit like having a conversation, as you retain the memory of what was said a few sentences back in order to make sense of whatever is said next.  When something unfolds in the music and deviates from the brain’s prediction, it arouses the listener and consequently has an emotional effect.  This can explain why listening to new music makes us feel good, but what about our favourite songs?  I still get that emotional feeling after listening to a song I love for the 100th time.  The emotional trigger could be a key change, a sudden shift in the pitch (particularly with singers), an unexpected transition from quiet to loud.  There are A LOT of theories to do with this which I won’t go into now, but basically what I’m saying is, surprises are good, and new music is good for the brain!  So your task for the week is to go out and buy the new album by that artist you’ve heard recently and think is quite good… then recommend it to me 🙂