In looking back at the blog entries I made, I’m reminded of the people I met while I was out looking for something to write about, places that I visited, and events that caught my attention. Writing for the blog gave me the chance to view Nagano through the eyes of a tourist or first time visitor. One of the qualities that stands out about Nagano, especially rural Nagano, is how safe it is and how trusting people are of each other. It is only one isolated example, but to illustrate the point, I’ll tell you about mujin hanbai jo.
Mujin hanbai jo means unmanned selling place. Japan is notorious for vending machines, but no, this is not a vending machine. There is nothing electrical or mechanical about it. It’s usually a small wooden shed or a pre-fab storage shed by the side of the road where you can buy fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, pickles, or whatever the farmer or the farmer’s wife wants to sell there. The ones pictured here all all within 5km of my house.
Right now you can buy apples and pears, Chinese cabbage, daikon, and a lot of other winter vegetables. Spring will come with its own array of greens and all kinds of flowers, and in summer you will find watermelons and corn.
The interesting part is that there is no one there. You just drive up or walk up, choose whatever goods you want, drop your money in the piggy bank, and walk away. It is all based on honor and trust. Isn’t that rare in this day and age? A few years ago when I first saw this, I was moved that people would be so trusting and wondered how long it would be before the hard-working farmers were forced to stop selling this way because of people taking advantage of the system and walking away with the goods without paying for them. It’s been a few years now and I am happy to say that the mujin hanbai jos are still around.
To rebut anybody who would say that this is such an impersonal exchange, look at this. It’s a notebook hanging on a string and placed there for communication. People leave comments about what they bought, they leave their names and other personal information, and they invariably say thank you–for the goods, yes, but also for this form of trust and this way of life.
Traveling in a foreign country, especially if you do not speak the language, can be scary. Nagano ken,or Japan for that matter, is not known for its English speaking population. If you do not speak Japanese, there may be times when you feel lost–but not necessarily scared for you physical being. As I tried to point out, there is a general feeling of trust and safety that pervades. I hope you will come and experience it for yourself.