We leave Ise-shi, Beautiful Wife’s home town, at 1930, packed into a minivan with curtains and all mod cons except legroom. As we leave I realise I’ve lost my spare memory card and I hope it isn’t going to set the tone for the journey. Travelling at night in Japan proves pleasant enough, and a lot cooler than by day, and when we get out at a service station the heat is less like an oven than expected. It seems we aren’t the only people who came to this conclusion either. Despite the late hour the service station is full of people. Most seem to be families going home to the city after spending time with grandparents in the countryside during the summer festivals and excited children run about all over the place.
The speed limit on Japanese highways is a sedate 80km/h, but the only time anyone drives on or below this, is when we hit a traffic jam on a long section of elevated highway over the port of Yokkaichi. This gives us time to better appreciate the blinking lights of the container cranes and refinery chimneys, which are surprisingly romantic.
At about midnight, we stop at a convenience store with a plastic sign saying ‘Lawson Trading’. Mindful that I’ve only 40 more pictures on the memory card, I hunt for digital media: every possible type is on the shelves from USB sticks to CD/DVDs, but not a single memory card in sight.
For what’s left of the night, we’re staying in the city of Hamamatsu, where Beautiful Wife was born. Father-in-law worked here for several years, which causes more problems than it solves because he’s trying to show us the sights and give directions through the maze of narrow streets at the same time.
“On the left somewhere…”
“What? I thought you said right?”
“I did”
Car turns left.
“No, right, left is my friend’s old house”
“left or right?”
Eventually, after following an ambulance which trundles across the uneven streets, we come through a gap in the houses and there, incongruously is the Hamamatsu Grand Hotel which is big and posh and even has a red carpet by the door, which we park on by accident. The staff don’t seem to mind, and we don’t care as long as they point us to a bed. Eventually we’re allocated a room on the corner on the 11th floor where we divide ourselves and three boys between three single beds, give strict instructions not to take any drinks out of the fridge, and fall asleep.