21 August Wet wet wet. No umbrella turns into one umbrella, then three. Monkey business!
We woke, looking forward to walking up part of Mount Fuji, in the manner of pilgrims for thousands of years. Stephen had done the whole climb the previous year, with a friend from England. They had timed their climb to witness dawn from the highest point, and Stephen said it was well worth the exhausting effort, though he would not propose to repeat the exercise. (At the end of their descent, they had fallen asleep in the roadside gutter waiting for the bus to take them back home.)
However, “Pabuk” took the matter out of our hands. This was Typhoon #11, whose erratic progress had finally led to the most torrential rainfall I have ever experienced. (I speak as one who lived near Kuala Lumpur for over three years as a child, and had experienced the monsoon.) It was the turn of Korea to name the typhoon, and they chose what I believe is a Korean boy’s name: Pabuk, which doubtless translates as “honourable fruit of the seasons” or something.euphonic. Opening the bedroom window and looking towards the mountain availed us nothing. You couldn’t see more than about ten metres, such was the downpour.
I went to the communal bathroom in the ryokan, but found to my dismay that someone had left the bathroom windows open all night, and the cover off the bath. The water was barely tepid. The tap for washing yourself before the bath was about 10cm off the floor (I know the Japanese are less than tall, but this was ridiculous!) and the room felt as though it were used as a drinks cooler. I had to step into the bath in order to shut the window to stop the considerable gale that accompanied Pabuk. Shutting the window made the room marginally less cold, so I managed a contorted shave and body wash before plunging into the icy depths of the bath (I exaggerate, but I was feeling fairly murderous about the whole thing at the time). Val had no such problem in the women’s bathroom, naturally.
We went down to breakfast and had the usual “Morning Service” in the dining room. One corner of the room was occupied by a daïs furnished with a low table and a television. This was the family’s eating quarters.
The previous night, we had had a little difficulty with the owner. By his reception area, there was a MasterCard “credit card accepted” sign. When we tried to pay for our stay using the card, there was a lot of embarrassed foot-shuffling, and a claim that this was only for car hire, not for accommodation. The reality was that he could not take MasterCard. He kept offering “Beesa! Beesa!” (“Visa! Visa!”) but we didn’t have a Visa card. We paid in cash, so there was no real problem. This, as Stephen explained, was a manifestation of the impossibility for the Japanese of saying “No” to straightforward requests. It’s all to do with their unwritten code of honour and politeness.
The owner of the ryokan was extremely pleasant towards us. Whether this was his natural demeanour, whether he felt he had to make amends for misleading us as to his acceptance of MasterCard (the sign had been removed overnight, we noted), or whether he took pity on us because of the rain, I cannot say. As we looked gloomily out of the dining room at the teeming rain, he came up and gave us some photographs of Mount Fuji as seen from Lake Kawaguchiko on a brilliant summer day. When we came down with our luggage and checked out, he noted that we had no umbrellas, and furnished Val with one that had been left behind by a previous traveller. This was a kind gesture. We decided that there was no point in trying to climb Mount Fuji, in view (or not in view, perhaps) of the torrent descending from Pabuk.
We therefore sprinted across the bus depot to its office, where Stephen negotiated a change of bus for us to return to Tokyo on an earlier bus. The first available seats were on a bus departing over two hours later, so we stood around debating what we should do. It was during this time that I noticed an interesting phenomenon. If you stood out in the rain with an umbrella held low overhead, the rain hitting the ground bounced up again with such force that it coated the underside of the umbrella and also went up the nostrils. The water within the umbrella then dripped at a considerable rate. You were thus, irrespective of the umbrella, soaked from below. Perhaps we needed a bigger umbrella.
While we were standing there, a Japanese lady came up to Val and asked if her pupils (she was a primary school teacher) could converse with her in English. The three children with her were 7, 8 and 10 years old, respectively. The 10-year-old, Eru, spoke confidently and beautifully and a wide-ranging conversation took place. The children presented Val with their handwritten name and address cards. There has been subsequent correspondence, and Val now has three charming Japanese pen friends.
Saying farewell to our new friends, who were taken back to the school by their teacher, we ducked through the rain into a restaurant-cum-coffee-house close by. There we had several drinks and played “Sweaty Betty” (a card game) until the bus arrived. We sat in foldaway seats in the aisle of the bus, dripping wet (like the rest of the passengers) but content to be out of the rain.
Arriving at Shinjuku around 2.30, I needed to cash some travellers’ cheques. We went into one of the many banks in the area, and Val placed her new umbrella in the umbrella rack by the door. When we returned after changing the cheques, we found that someone had pinched Val’s umbrella. One of the bank employees saw us puzzling where it had gone and came out to investigate. When she understood what had happened, she clapped her hand over her mouth in horror. People just don’t do that in Japan! She instructed us to stay where we were, and bustled away. With low bows, she returned, presenting us with three umbrellas to make up for the terrible dishonour perpetrated on the bank’s premises.
We walked over to Shinjuku station, where we had a tonkatsu lunch in one of the many underground restaurants. We returned to Stephen’s apartment and wondered what to do next. Pabuk had moved on, and the rain had stopped. Stephen looked up the films showing at the local multiplex on the internet. One intrigued us. It was billed as “Planet of the Ape”. We presumed this was a cut-down version of the recent Hollywood epic for the Japanese market. We went there anyway.
Planet of the Ape was without doubt one of the worst made, cheapjack, uninventive films I have ever seen. The plot was unbelievable (I know you have to put aside normality as the premise (talking apes etc.) is unrealistic) but about the only praise I can offer is that the make-up was quite good. It was also extremely LOUD, which didn’t help.
We returned to the apartment, and later walked a couple of miles to a Denny’s restaurant (no relation), over near Gyotoku subway station, where we ate well. It was a very good value meal. (Pause, waiting for Denny’s to offer reward for this gratuitous endorsement of their services. Still waiting.) We also walked round to Yasuko’s old apartment, where Val and her sister Ann had stayed in 1997.
Back home around 1.00 am.