The dirty, dirty case of the missing wedding band

Posted by in Mike's blog

I misplaced my wedding band in a rice field three weeks ago while I was participating in a mud volleyball tournament.  Today, with the help of my wonderful wife, I found it.  The odds were against us, and we had to overcome several obstacles along the way.  Here’s how it happened:

A tournament of champions?

I joined a team of English teachers in the annual mud volleyball tournament that takes place in Asahi town (part of Echizen-cho) every autumn.  As far as we knew, we were the first team of mostly foreigners to compete at this event.  63 other teams entered the tournament, and many of them came from far away prefectures.

The volleyball matches took place in a rice field that was flooded and muddy.  Very muddy.  Our first match was against the local Asahi town junior high school girls.  I encouraged my teammates to get as muddy as possible before the game began so that we wouldn’t be afraid to dive for the ball when necessary.  I myself rolled around in the mud to the amazement of onlookers.  Why was the foreigner getting so, so dirty?  Strategy, that’s why.  We played 3 sets of 11 points each.  My dirty strategy was no match for the skill of the pre-teens, and we were eliminated in the first round.

From left to right: Kenneth (Canada), Grainne (Ireland), Simon (England), Yoshio (Fukui), and me. I think I’m blinking. Photo credit: Some guy who didn’t have mud all over his hands.

After the game we looked around and discovered that quite a crowd had gathered to watch us, and everyone in the crowd seemed to have a camera.  For a few minutes, we were local celebrities.  We posed for more pictures than we can count, including the one above.  When we escaped the paparazzi we were invited to appear in front of a TV camera and we were interviewed by a strange looking fellow in costume.  Everything was in Japanese, of course.  I threw out a few one-liners (すごい! はい! そうですね?), and then we went to the temporary outdoor shower & onsen area to clean up.

A yucky end to a fun day

It was after lunch that the trouble started.  There was a short contest to win a 42″ TV.  Numbered film canisters were hidden in the mud while everyone ate, and the winning number got to take home the prize.  I had been a little apprehensive about wearing my wedding band in all the mud, but I made it through the games with no problems, and I had competed in a few mud volleyball tournaments organized by Gentle Shepherd Community Church in Canada with no problems, so what could be different this time?  Three things:  Mud is sticky.  My ring has been loose.  My hand was cold.  My ring came off.  I knew what had happened almost as soon as the ring went flying off of my finger.  I was digging, I was picking up piles of goop, then I was tossing them when I didn’t see any plastic.  Every time I did this, I checked to see if I was still wearing my ring.  In retrospect, that was a TERRIBLE PLAN!  What was I to do if I checked and I was no longer wearing my ring?

I told my team right away, and we all started to look for the ring.  We were joined by at least 20 other well-wishers (including the junior high school girls who ALSO won the TV).  The mud was almost knee-deep, and there were so many people mixing it around…it wasn’t effective.  We gave up after a while.

Mary was sad when I told her that my ring was missing.  I wanted to keep a positive attitude about it so I tried to avoid using the word “lost”.  I called her from the parking lot near the rice field after I had washed off enough mud to get in my car.  Her reaction: “You’re not going to find it”.  I told her my plan, and I told her that we should keep a positive attitude about the ordeal.  I did have a plan.

The plan was to find a metal detector.  What I didn’t know yet was that nobody in my life in Japan right now has any idea about where metal detectors are sold in Fukui prefecture…if metal detectors are even sold in Fukui prefecture.  For lack of better information, it wasn’t long before we came to the conclusion that people in Fukui aren’t into treasure hunting, and nobody around here has a metal detector.  To the internet!  I ordered a Garrett Ace 150 from Amazon and I began to wait for it to arrive from the USA.

Mike & Mary: Treasure hunters extraordinaire

During those weeks I told my story lots of times, it made for great conversation material in my English classes.  After a couple of weeks people started to ask questions…  I heard lots of people say「がんばれ」,  which means “good luck”.  The story up until this point was pretty unbelievable, and even though time had passed we had many friends rooting for us.

When the package finally came we tested it in a sandbox at our neighbourhood park.  We had watched an instructional DVD that came in the box, and we armed ourselves with the Bunny’s plastic shovel.  We found nothing.  The metal detector beeped a few times, but we were unsuccessful.  The flimsy shovel was partially to blame.

Some time later we had a free afternoon so we tried to improve our treasure hunting skills a the park again, this time with no Bunny and a metal shovel.  Again, nothing.  Since we were lacking in patience we decided to practice at the mud field itself…we could always go back for a second attempt later, right?

This is what we returned to. It looks like someone or something may have smoothed over the mud to prepare it for planting rice next year? Good think I’m not admitting that I walked all over it on a public website that has identifying information about me all over the place.  Wait a second…

WRONG!  We weren’t sure what condition the field would be in when we went back, but we were expecting it to be somewhat of a disorganized mess of mud.  We somehow forgot that this is Japan, and that doesn’t happen.  Something with wheels went over the field to make it perfectly flat.  We knew as soon as we saw it that we wouldn’t be able to slip in undetected, and we might only have one chance to find the ring (lest we have to explain the evidence).

We developed a bit of a system.  Mary scanned, I dug.  The mud was still mud and it was still sticky, so when I dug I made piles for her to re-scan.  If we heard a beep in the hole, the piles were meaningless.  If we didn’t, we searched the piles one at a time.  I knew the general area where I was looking for the winning film canister, so we went there right away and found something metal.  Our winning strategy led to our first treasure find ever:  A piece of wire!  We were ecstatic – up until then we had been the worst treasure hunters ever.

Doesn’t this look romantic? Not shown: Our dirty feet.

We found another spot to dig, the metal detector left us no doubt that there was something there.  I dug, piles were made, and then rescanned.  My hands started to get tired, so I made the decision to abandon our tiny shovel and dig with my hands.  Mary scanned the hole again, but there was silence.  When she moved on to the most recent mud pile, we discovered that there was either something in there OR we found yet another dig spot.  I spread the pile around, and a couple of extra scans helped me to pinpoint the spot in the mud where WE FOUND MY RING.

It’s on my finger now, where it will stay for the rest of my life.

…except for next year’s volleyball tournament.  I’ll take it off for that.