Every time we come to Japan we have The Gathering of the Clan and most of Beautiful Wife’s immediate family all turn up in one pace at the same time. Social gatherings with people I don’t know well have a habit of going wrong: I don’t know what to say or what to do and I feel I should somehow ‘start conversations’ or keep them going. This never works, and I end up either with an ever lengthening silence between myself and other person in the dying conversation as I try to figure out what to say next.

I am not, you will gather, an extrovert.

The first event on this occasion is the Happy Family Photo. This is to be taken in the hotel lobby, a gloomy place designed by someone who thought gold plate and moulded glass chandeliers were the height of good taste. Two syrupy blonde children with floaty nightshirts and disturbingly blue eyes gaze out of an oversized oil painting as the hotel staff and several family members reorganise the lobby to make it possible to photograph almost 20 people at once.

Once the entire lobby is rearranged to taste, the various members of the family have to be herded into position. Much discussion. Everyone talking at once and pulling your correspondent (whose Japanese gets as far as “Hello”, “Yes”, “Welcome Home” et c). Into place. Then someone changes their mind. More discussion and more pulling of uncomprehending Brit. Camera in place, everyone grins inanely, and then the photographer notices someone’s foot isn’t in quite the right place prompting another round of discussion and pulling back and forth. Just as I’m about to suggest they replace me with a cardboard cut-out (Easier to move and less likely to kick off in the next 30 seconds) a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and everything is perfect. Photos taken and we’re released to go to dinner.

It’s going to be a long weekend.

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