Like last year, I had a house to myself, next door to the main family residence, just popping over two or three times a day to be fed sumptuous meals. It was a simple life of rural co-existence with nature, of a kind that Horace or Henry David Thoreau would have immediately recognised.
Haruka and her mother Yuko looked after me throughout, but for the first couple of days her father was also there, after which business took him to Thailand. Her two elder sisters (one newly married and living on the top floor of "my" house) were also there part of the time, as of course were the adorable poodles, here shown with Haruka:
When Haruka was growing up she could see Mt Fuji from her bedroom window, and naturally assumed that everyone else could too. And it's true that on a clear day you can see it looming like the ghost of its own reflection, high on the skyline. But the first couple of days in Tomizu were not clear, and when we took a family trip to the Fuji-san heritage site, the mountain was nowhere to be seen. I did however, get to dip my hands into its chilly run-off, though, which takes 20 years to filter through the volcanic rock before ending up in a pool of shivering carp.
On the other hand, I advise anyone visiting to beware this sign. "Feel free to touch the rainbow trout", it says. It doesn't mention that the rainbow trout are equally free to take a nibble of you. Heed this warning, typed on bloody stumps.
We went to a wonderful Fuji viewing spot, however, Fuji had immured itself behind a wall of cloud, and wasn't coming out any time soon. Instead, please imagine it (or use Photoshop, if your imagination isn't up to the task) looking magnificent in the background of this picture.
I ate a lot of food in Odawara. In fact, my usual habit of losing weight in Japan has gone into reverse time around, but then it's all so delicious. Treats from my first two nights included my first unagi restaurant, and a really great sushi place where (under the eager gaze of Haruka's family) I tried so many kinds of sea creature that my stomach began to resemble some kind of ghoulish aquarium - the kind of thing that Hieronymus Bosch might have painted as a vision of hell, had Hieronymus Bosch happened to be a fish.
I got a bit of a chance to walk it off when I went with Haruka and Yuko to Sotoshu Daiyuzansaijo, which features among other attractions a 300-step stairway up to one of the temples. We started our ascent at the same time as a young couple, one of whom was heavily pregnant. As much as I admired her determination, I was of course not going to let her beat me to the top. Yes, I know it's not very Buddhist, but...
Anyway, this is a temple much frequented by tengu, those long-nosed Japanese creatures of the woodland (a mixture of satyrs and goblins, perhaps, if we want to find European equivalents). They occasionally mislay their geta, and in consequence the temple has amassed quite a collection. Tengu apparently vary greatly in size, though, to judge by their variety.
Slightly more serene, perhaps, is this clearing, where waterfalls, temples and fortuitous light have conspired to make a Timotei ad circa 1985:
A festival began just before we entered the temple, triggered by a blast of fireworks, and as we drove down the hill afterwards we passed a group of sweating men carrying an enshrined god down the road. The kami wasn't quite important enough to warrant a road closure, though which meant that we passed by very close. Naturally I couldn't resist taking a few pictures, but I felt that our presence (and perhaps mine in particular) wasn't entirely appreciated - or perhaps the less-than-enthusiastic expressions merely reflect the onerousness of carrying a god?
I wouldn't blame them, either way.
I wouldn't want you to think that in all this my Cotswold project was completely neglected. No, I carried out some extra field work at Shuzenji Niji no Sato in Shizuoka, home of a British village, a Japanese village and a Canadian village.
The Japanese village was - well, convincingly Japanese, but one might think that was pushing at an open door, considering we were in Japan. The Canadian village had a predictable focus on maple syrup, including (of course) a Hello Kitty version:
As for the British village, with its double-decker buses, Beatles tributes, toy museum and half-timbered houses, it was a kind of pick-and-mix selection, but its USP was its 15-inch gauge railway, inspired by the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent. There were rides (we didn't take one) and a lot of railway memorabilia. I wonder what Japanese visitors make of this, for example:
Throughout my stay in Odawara, Fuji-san showed itself in brief glimpses only, but never in a way that showed up well for the purposes of photography.
Can You Spot the Mountain Hiding in this Picture?
Or This One?
In the end, I gave up. Luckily, we took a back-up picture back at Fuji-san World Heritage Centre: