I'm now back in England for a few days. On Friday, like Odysseus with his oar, I will be setting out again, in a different direction, as westerly as my last trip was easterly, but I already feel quite disorientated.
That will keep, though. Let me bring my Japanese adventure to a brief conclusion.
By my third day in Kanazawa, I was a bit fed up at not feeling well enough to take advantage (or at least enjoyment) of all the interesting things on offer. As I mentioned in my last entry, Kanazawa has really thrown everything into being a tourist-friendly city, and one side effect is that, much more than in Tokyo itself, I often had shopkeepers waiters, etc. talk to me in English, despite my best efforts to talk to them in Japanese. Often I went with the flow, but on Monday something in me snapped. Seeking a small amount of food and a large amount of cool air, I went into a restaurant that had its menu in both English and Japanese, and having said "Hitori desu" (in context, "Table for one") was led to table by a waitress who insisted on repeating that back to me in English, as if (being a gaijin) I might not understand the Japanese I had myself spoken. I don't know why, but I felt a miffed by this, so when she came to take my order I made a point of reading it in Japanese, kanji and all - only to have it translated into English for my benefit again. A little later, I asked a different waiter for a water refill ("Sumimasen, omizu wo okawari oneigaishimasu!"), to which he replied, as if explaining a grown-up concept to a two-year-old, "Water."
I knew I was being a bit ridiculous, but it was beginning to feel like some kind of weird mind game. Eventually, not quite having been able to finish the food, I called yet a third waiter over, and said in Japanese that, although the food had been delicious, my appetite had recently been suppressed due to the heat and that I was therefore unable to eat it all. At last, this un-phrase-bookable little speech turned a key, and a suitable reply in Japanese was my reward, topped with the customary compliment on my linguistic skill (which, admittedly you get in many places if you manage to say "arigatou", but in this case felt like a crown of bays).
Vindicated, I set about paying my bill - but so dizzy was I with the twin draughts of heat and victory that I put down the wrong amount of money, and of course as soon as I got to the till all my good work was undone, as the woman kindly explained in English that "We need TEN more. TEN". In vain did I protest that my maths rather than my Japanese was at fault. In fact I was so flustered that didn't register the glass door at the entrance as I left, clattering into it and leaving an unsightly splodge of gaijin sweat at the level of my face - for which I apologised in good Japanese, I think, but by then that was no longer the point.
I hasten to add that this humiliating encounter was not typical. In fact, I had a recuperative episode an hour or so later in a small souvenir shop run by a very old, very small woman (she was 95, in fact, as she repeatedly informed me, deaf in one ear and blind in one eye). She told me all about her life - no nonsense about English here! And, to be fair, I've had a lot of interesting conversations in various places, usually with the owners of businesses where I was the only customer. I think of the bar in Nishiogikubo, learning (over a light tuna meal) why the owner threw it all up to become a whisky specialist; or the bar in Takayama where I drank iced coffee while the owner told me all about his motorbike obsession, which had taken him across Europe (Germany - land of beautiful cities and gentlemen - was his favourite, France - where people are "ijiwaru" - not so much, but for bike engines you can't beat Italy, apparently). On the whole, I think I've done okay, language-wise.
On Tuesday I caught a shinkansen from Kanazawa to Toyama, whence I rode a mountain train up, up into the mountains, past rivers, bridges, coniferous forests, dams, more bridges, etc. It was very beautiful, but I was happy to let the landscape slide by without photographing it. After all, most of Japan looks like this - trees and mountains, mountains and trees. The people live in the gaps in between.
My destination was the small town of Takayama, where I was booked in to a ryokan for a couple of nights. My appetite and energy still weren't back to normal (on returning to England I found that I had lost half a stone over the course of the month), and far from being treated to wafting mountain breezes, as had been my hope, the temperature in Takayama was still around 33 centigrade. Nevertheless, I really liked Takayama, not least because of its many rivers and streams, which criss-crossed the town in a way that made me feel quite at home (although probably no one else would have been reminded of Romsey). Anyway, here are a couple of boys looking at the carp in the river. I'm rather proud of this photograph!
As well as rivers, Takayama was replete with many old (i.e. wooden) Japanese style streets, most of which sold either sake, hida beef, or sarubobo. What's a sarubobo? Why, it's the mascot of the town, as far as I could make out, which exists in the form of baby monkey with (generally) a blank red face - although Hello Kitty versions also exist - and is meant to be a good luck charm.
The other big thing in the Takayama is the twice-yearly festival, which takes place in spring and autumn, and involves a number of ancient festival floats. Of course, I was there at the wrong time of year, but I did visit the shed where they are kept (I was almost the only visitor), where I listened to an English guide that was almost inaudible, though I forgave it for the honesty of the notice taped to its side:
The floats were interesting, though:
My last first in Takayama was entering a shared bath, something I'd not been in a position to do on my previous visits to Japan. There are many Youtube videos detailing the proper etiquette, and I was a bit nervous about committing some faux pas
, but it seemed to pass off okay - at least, people were too polite to upbraid me if I did get it wrong...Don't know what they're doing
But they laugh a lot
Behind the pink door
I won't bore you with my uneventful trip back to Tokyo, or the pleasant last meal I had with Miho, Mikako and Hiroshii, or even my overnight stay at the Hotel Sunroute, Higashi Shinjuku. By that time I was in travel mode, and all my efforts were concentrated on making a month's worth of Stuff fit into my two cases. Instead, I will leave you with the following cheery message, which I saw in a Takayama toilet. In Japanese, it reminds people to take their rubbish away with them, but its message to foreigners is far more welcoming:
Yes, Japan, I will keep bringing my trash! Hopefully I can bring some as soon as next year, but that depends on events still hidden in the mists of futurity...