steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

梅雨diary: A Trip to the Country: 4-6th July

My feet and my legs below the knee have become an izakaya for mosquitoes. Every evening I hear their tiny whiny voices cry "Kampai!" and remark on the superior taste of imported blood. Meanwhile, the rest of my body - including my luscious, lily-white inner arms, which look very tasty even to me - they pointedly ignore, adding insult to injury. I'm afraid I have no compunction about killing them when I get the chance, although to find one's hands sprayed with blood and to realise that it is one's own is a strange experience, like suicide at one remove. Of course, John Donne was way ahead of me on that last thought:

But now I find his words proved true in me,
Except with a mosquito, not a flea.

I don't have too much to report about the first of my "big" lectures, which I gave on 4th July - an important date, as I pointed out, because of course it was the anniversary of Charles Dodgson's river trip with Alice Liddell and her sisters, which ultimately gave rise to Alice in Wonderland. It was a good way to mark the 155th anniversary of that august event, anyway, and it seemed to go down well. There was a full house, too - which is an index of the popularity of the subject (the image of Britain in Japanese anime) more than of me, naturally. I'm not exactly a household name here, though of course that could change.... Anyway, photographs were taken and I've been promised some, but so far I don't have them so I can't pester this blog's readers with them as yet. Round two happens on Saturday, when I'll be travelling to Ueno to give (more or less) the same lecture, but this time with the aid of an interpreter.

Tuesday night brought a typhoon, which seems to have done a fair amount of havoc-wreaking in Kyushu but left Tokyo unscathed, aside from several bucketloads of rain. There wasn't even any wind to speak of, and I'll admit to some disappointment, considering I was a typhoon virgin until then. The words "Was that it?" may have escaped my lips. That said, I was happy enough that it had passed by Wednesday morning, because that was the day I climbed aboard the "Romance Car" train, a bottle of green tea and a "Summer Mikan Pie" romantically in hand, to go to Odawara.

I was off to meet Yuuko, the mother of my friend Haruka, who is currently living in England and who has appeared in these pages from time to time over the last few months. She lives near Odawara, and the plan was for me to stay overnight - but not before a little touristing. (I would have met her father too, but he's on business in Thailand at the moment, sadly.) Suspiciously obsessive readers of this journal may remember that I went to Odawara once before, two years ago, on my way to Hakone. How much one's perspective is changed by a little time and familiarity! Whereas in 2015 I was mutely rebuked with a laminated sign for showing the wrong travel pass, this time I was met at the gate with a smile both broad and warm, and shown by Yuuko to her (rather plush) car instead, in which we took off towards Kamakura, one of a surprisingly large number of cities able to boast of being Japan's former capital.

While we're on our way there, let me just remark that Yuuko's car has an integral television (with many channels) in the dashboard. I was impressed, but isn't it rather distracting for the driver? That said, it gave me a chance to watch a fair amount of children's television, and to notice one big difference between Japanese and UK children's TV for the under-fives - namely that in Japan they use lots of actual children, often dressed bizarrely, rather than just adults (whether or not dressed as creatures made of felt). Their sets are full of three and four year olds wandering about, singing along haphazardly to a song, or trying to move in time to a stridently "genki" 2/4 tune. If the dashboard TV would have fallen foul of UK health-and-safety laws, what was being broadcast would have done the same with child labour laws, I imagine. But in fact, no one crashed the car, and the kids appeared to be having a good time.


Here I am with Yuuko in Komachi-doori the main tourist street in Kamakura. As you can see, I've taken to carrying a parasol (higasa), which are common in Japan, and something I rather like, not much caring either for tans or sun cream. (I also have my sturdy brolly for those days when the tsuyu lives up to its name.) When and why did parasols fall from favour in Europe, I wonder? Monet and Seurat's ladies seem to have them, and very nice they look too. But I fear I'll be too embarrassed to carry on the custom back in the UK (where, admittedly, there is very little occasion for a parasol, but still).

After Komachi-doori we when to a nearby Buddhist temple and garden, where having wandered through a very impressive bamboo grove we sat and drank matcha while gazing at some carefully landscaped nature, along with a good many other tourists, and attempted to achieve enlightenment. Once again, I didn't quite manage it (so near but so far!), but the matcha and okashi were good, and it really was a beautiful garden...


Back in Odawara - or rather the suburb of Odawara called Tomizu ("many waters" - and it's true there are streams a-plenty) - Yuuko showed me to her house. I was impressed by this three-storey edifice -


- and even more so when I realised that behind it there was another three-storey edifice of similar size (it was a bit like this moment), which was to be mine for the night. And a very luxurious night it was. I'm a sucker for Japanese toilets, as readers of this journal will know, so let's have the toilet stand as a metonym for the rest. Not only does their toilet have the usual heated seats, inbuilt bidet, etc. - features about which I've become almost blasé - but the lid rises in a friendly but respectful salute as you approach, like a faithful family servant who's known you since childhood. More, when you sit down, you are instantly surrounded by the sounds of a spring glade, with birdsong, bubbling rills, etc. I need hardly add the paper was of a softness and tasteful design quite unlike that to be found in the Foreign Teachers' Faculty Building, or that there was inbuilt mood lighting to complete the effect. It was the kind of toilet, in short, that made you want to have diarrhoea just so that you could spend more time there.

Before leaving the house, I should mention the two family pets, toy dogs of an impossible cuteness, so small that when they bark their front legs lift slightly off the ground, as if they were electronic, and with large anime-eyes - but definitely warm and furry to the touch. With difficulty I resisted the urge to slip one into my luggage.


That evening we went into Odawara, where we had a very good meal, after which we took the air in a place with a good view of Odawara Castle, probably the town's most famous building. It was indeed impressive, but my eye was inexorably drawn to a huge illuminated sign nearby reading: "カラオケ". I'd never in my life done karaoke, and it did seem an ideal chance - if Yuuko was willing to indulge me, which (being very nice) she was.

So, I can add my first karaoke session to the list of new experiences on this trip. Here I am, fuelled by iced coffee and enthusiasm, giving it everything for "Heart of Glass":


Aren't you glad I've never worked out how to put audio in my posts? On the other hand, I wish I could have brought you the sounds that the frogs made from this rice field as we walked back to the house afterwards (it was dark by then, of course). The voices of Japanese frogs are quite different from British ones - something between a magpie and a fox's bark is the best way I can put it. It's slightly unnerving when you first hear it - but probably less so than me trying to sound like Debbie Harry.

Tags: voyage to japan, 梅雨diary
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