Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Dreamton Days (19-22 May)
On the morning of 19th May I met my friend Eriko at Osaka station and together we travelled to Kyoto, and thence to nearby Kameoka. Eriko is an anthropologist, whose speciality is magic. Having spent a long time studying the strange tribes of Glastonbury, England, she published a book on their religious beliefs (グラストンベリーの女神たち). Since we met through mevennen last year, we've discovered some overlap in our research interests, so when I invited her to come with me to Dreamton as my companion (and occasional interpreter) she kindly agreed. So it was that we climbed up into the hills around Kameoka (albeit in a taxi), and eventually arrived at a strangely British looking hamlet...



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This is Dreamton, a Cotswold village (with nods to the Lake District and Beatrix Potter here and there) built by Mayumi (Marie) Haruyama, scion of an old family of Kyoto weavers, who has combined her craft heritage, her design skills and her Anglophilia, to create - not a theme park, as she was keen to stress, but something as close to a real English village as is possible. Honey-coloured Cotswold stone being unavailable she has had to make do with cement, but I think she's done a pretty impressive job.

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Marie Haruyama

We had booked for two nights, and my heavy case was soon being heaved down a gravel path by a mob-capped maid-of-all-work. In Dreamton, the half-timbered yeomanly ease of British Hills was to be exchanged for the bucolic charm of a whitewashed country cottage.

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Inside, even the staircase was rough-hewn:

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A bit Petit Trianon, perhaps? Maybe, but this isn’t a case of luxury lying beneath a veneer of rustic living: there was no television, no WiFi, and the toilet (unlike most in Japan) was not in direct contact with NASA headquarters. Here it did score over British Hills, which despite aiming for “immersion” couldn’t quite bear to instal a British toilet; but British Hills claws back some ground by making up the beds with blankets and eiderdowns rather than a duvet, as here. Not that duvets are uncommon in Britain, of course, but Dreamton is after a period feel. Hence the waitress uniforms:


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The decorations and fittings (in the cottage and throughout Dreamton) are mostly imported from Britain, and the effect can be a strange kind of cognitive dissonance - am I in Britain or Japan? The proportions of the rooms also feel right for certain kind of period cottage, although the occasional clue to one’s location is to be found in the spelling.

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There was also a fair attempt at a full English breakfast, including baked beans - a rare item in Japan. The bacon was Japanese bacon, which is “just not the same”, but short of curing one’s own I don’t see how they could get round that. The fish in the fish and chips was pretty authentic too, as were the mushy peas - but the chips were too close to that spindly American style never seen in Britain before the advent of McDonalds. That, I think, could be rectified quite easily, especially given that most Japanese homes have a deep fat fryer. Malt vinegar, however, was supplied, as was proper. All this was eaten to the sound of Shakespeare's "Oh Mistress Mine," Campion's "What Then is Love but Mourning," and other ditties redolent of the transience of youth.

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The next morning Marie gave me an interview, and Eriko and I took the bus to spend a quiet day in nearby Kameoka, once a castle town, and (for Japanese history buffs) the base from which Akechi Mitsuhide launched his traitorous attack on Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji, but now I think not a huge tourist draw by comparison with some of the other sites near Kyoto. We chatted nevertheless to the Kameoka Guide (easily recognisable by his hat, with "Kameoka Guide" written on it in English), who told us much of what there was to tell, and before that had a pleasant lunch in a restaurant where we were the only customers.

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The following day we returned to Osaka, where Eriko took me to a magic shop on the fifth floor of a building in Amerikamura. It was another piece of England in many ways, being stuffed with works by Aleister Crowley and others of his kidney, athames, and a range of pendula that reminded me of my father in his dowsing days, but of course there was also a Japanese twist to much of the display. The owner (whose business card was pure jet) is also a maker of masks. (But aren't we all?)

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It turns out that the Japanese pronunciation of Tarot is "tarotto", which makes me wonder whether there might be any mileage in a Totoro-themed deck...

I spent the night at Eriko's interesting old house (it had been her grandmother's) before heading to Kyushu the next morning. The house was old enough to have sand walls (sunakabe, 砂壁)、which apparently helped regulate the temperature in the days before air-conditioning, and to have been fitted with a Japanese-style toilet. These days, as you can see, a Western style toilet has been fitted over the top - but the disguise is only superficial. I know I seem to be harping on toilets today, but I do feel there's a useful metaphor in there somewhere, if only one could pike it out...

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