Whatever reason people use the Hamamatsu Grand Hotel, they don’t come for the view: a dreary mess of houses, punctuated by high-rise buildings stretches into the distance. The occasional taxi prowls between buildings. Utility poles and plastic convenience store signs spike into the sky. Some of the biggest buildings are car parks.
Interesting ritual by the front door. Whenever a guest appears at the front door a porter in a pillbox hat calls to ask if they need a taxi. If this is the case, the porter then strides out into the road with a flourish, and calls and waves to the taxi waiting about two metres away. The driver starts the engine, rolls forward two metres, stops, leaps out and runs round the back to open the boot (trunk). Meanwhile the porter runs to the rear passenger door, (which was opened by the driver pressing a button) and holds it. As the guest gets in, the driver whisks his/her case into the boot and runs back to the drivers seat. The porter closes the back door. The driver bows, quite a feat while sitting, the porter bows and touches his cap. Then, and only then, does the taxi leave.
After a brief stop where I’m finally able to get a memory card for the camera, We head out of Hamamatsu through a miniature version of American suburbia, with strip malls, suburban lots and cars, lots of cars. Presumably we’re getting somewhere, but for all I know, we could be describing long circles in the vast sprawl.
Midday. We’re in a beautiful, verdant mountain valley. Far down at the bottom a with a river tumbles over boulders, and thick jungle clings to the steep mountain sides. Someone looked at this hidden unspoilt corner, and decided it would be the perfect place for a highway to Fuji. Now that highway is severely congested and we’re surrounded by thousands of overheating cars crawling along at a maximum of 20 km/h. In the middle of this the boys need to pee so we bail out onto an abandoned side road which is gradually being reclaimed by the jungle. We rejoin the line and it takes us 30 minutes to travel 10km. I’m learning not to share my thoughts with the boys: “Hey Mummy, Daddy says this is silly and we should take the train next time”.
Lunch break at a convenience store. A big pink bus has just disgorged all its passengers and we wait in a long line for ten minutes while some seriously slow people use the toilet. The last five are in front of the porn rack: not just the top shelf, but a whole rack. I’m wondering what is so wonderful about the loo that everyone spends so long there. The answer is nothing: it’s filthy. I don’t think I’ve used a toilet faster.
Finally we find the Autobahn, which proves to be largely empty. A couple of days ago a Typhoon and earthquake hit this area and destroyed a section of the Autobahn, which may account for this, and the congestion elsewhere. The highway runs along the coast, literally between sea and land, cutting villages off from the sea. By late afternoon we’re climbing a narrow twisting road of the sort that you see in cartoons where the bad guy is trying to push the heroine off a cliff. We’re up into the clouds, with white nothingness inches away from the edge of the road. and I’m just thinking that we’ve finally found a remote corner of the Japanese countryside when we pass a large sign saying ‘Future route of Nagoya-Tokyo highway’.
Soon after five, I’m sitting in a wood-panelled reception area of a large hotel, styled like a British gentleman’s club, right down to the large fireplace and coats of arms on the wall, being served locally-pressed grape juice by a uniformed attendant while our bags are taken to our room. A large window offers a view of Mt. Fuji in the distance. In a few years places like this, with their vast energy needs, food brought from the other side of the world, and car dependency could well to be anachronisms, but for the next two days, we will be gently cosseted in a world of thick carpets and air-conditioned comfort, while Beautiful Wife’s extended family have a reunion.
To bed. The bulk of Fuji dominates the view, the way to the summit picked out by the lights of the gift shops and noodle houses.