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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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The two biggest and most important shrines in Japan are both in Beautiful Wife’s home town, and this year one of them is due for a complete rebuild. This isn’t as monumental as it sounds as they rebuild them in cycle about every twenty years or so. No-one knows why, but as with many things in Japan that’s “just the way it is.” This is also the reason why one of the main stations has a waiting room for the exclusive use of the Emperor. That’s how things are.

Because of the rebuild the town is expecting a mass of tourists and pilgrims so they’ve tidied the place up a bit. The rusting taxi rank, disused Pachinko parlour and waste ground formerly greeting travellers leaving the station have been swept away, along with the placards for right-wing politicians, and tourists will now be greeted with a smart interchange using natural wood and stone, which will give a much better first impression than the shabby down-at-heel town I remember.

Unfortunately this impression only lasts until tourists go off the prescribed route where the back streets are generally as shabby as ever, as we found on the way to Beautiful Wife’s family. Mind you, it may be me: I was walking in 30 degree heat with humidity in the region of sweltering and a large and heavy backpack, so I was probably looking pretty shabby myself by the time we arrived.

super

Catching the ‘super’ ferry to Shozu Island.

Your correspondent on the right, jet-lagged, ill shaven, and in need of a shower. Pretty well normal, in other words.

Angelroadpan_01

Normally in Japan we go straight from the airport to Beautiful Wife’s family but this time we decided to go for a quick tour first, which is why ended up wandering through Takamatsu looking for a ferry on our first afternoon. After trekking around and through several buildings and almost visiting an art gallery by mistake, we come around a corner about 500 metres from the railway station and there is the ferry terminal.

The ferry is just leaving.

We wait for the next one in the company of some schoolchildren and an old lady bringing in the shopping. Feel slightly envious of people who get to do this every day, especially when the ferry turns up and we wind our way through several smaller islands to get to Shodoshima. When we get to the port there is a bus stop but no bus, and one taxi. Beautiful Wife asks the driver the fare to our hotel, but he tells us just to call the hotel instead, because they will pick us up with a mini bus for free. Seven minutes later we are on our way to the ‘Angel Road’ hotel.

There are several reasons I couldn’t live in Japan for long. The Xenophobia, extreme pressure to conform, and the unpleasantly ugly cities would drive me mad after a while, but occasionally land in a corner where I reckon the advantages could perhaps almost make up for it. Looking out of our bedroom window I think this is one of those corners.

The hotel is named for a natural causeway that connects the beach to a small Island about 500 metres away, which you can cross at low tide. At night the beach is floodlit, “so you can cross even when it is dark” or, as I suspect, because otherwise people will try and cross in pitch darkness and the management don’t want bodies washing up on shore at breakfast time.

After the evening meal we wander across with a lot of other people to the small island with a tree festooned with small hearts. We refrain from making a heart, but do make a romantic, if oddly shaped shadow picture on the cliff.

We end the day with fireworks. We fail to light the complementary pack from the hotel, but fortunately a large group further along has more fireworks, and more success.

Luxury

Inside the Shinkansen (“Bullet train”). Notice vast amount of legroom between seats.

Passing a station in a tiny village in the hills this summer. With the carpentry training going full swing now, I don’t think I’ll make a century like I planned to this year. I’m creaking when I move at the moment.

The first week is supposed to be the worst: after that my system should get used to it.

On the other hand, I’m learning about carpentry, which is good, even if it hurts.

Yesterday evening I had an invitation to visit a friend in York, and decided to ride. I’d borrowed a bike*, and York is one of the UK’s three ‘cycling cities’** that were being trumpeted to rival Amsterdam and Copenhagen as world-class cycling centres, so I figured I’d be okay. And I was, mostly because I started on a fairly minor road and some kind soul reminded me that in the UK people drive on the left before I met any traffic.

I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the bike lanes: certainly I’d have preferred them to have priority over side roads like in Germany, and it would have been even better if the one I was using hadn’t given up after a couple of hundred metres and pitched me into the road, but it wasn’t too bad.

In the other hand, I liked these nifty speed lumps in the roads. I’m sure you’re all used to them by now, but humour me while I ramble on about them like some country cousin discovering electricity: they are just narrow enough for a car to drive over them fairly quickly without spilling the drivers coffee, so cars seem utterly focussed on keeping their wheels either side of the things. I soon noticed that vehicles overtaking would go over (round?) the more distant bump, giving me a reasonable amount of room. Just as well as I was on the road all the way to my friend’s house and back: if I’d followed the designated cycle route I’d most likely still be out there.

Come to think of it, none of the drivers who passed were using their phone either, because they had to concentrate on the road to avoid leaving part of the car on the road. If only we could get them to treat pedestrians with the same respect as their own vehicles…

*Thanks dad…

**The others being Bristol and… where are the others exactly?

Middle Son is out to get the full British Holiday Experience, so this week we took him paddling in the cold North Sea, and followed that up with ice cream in a biting wind.

I’m currently visiting family in York, UK and generally being a tourist, as in wandering about in a bewildered manner getting confused by the simplest things. So far these included the inability of the bus driver to sell me a return ticket, how to ‘tender exact change’ in unfamiliar currency, looking the wrong way when crossing the road (which coupled with the apparent disregard for the pedestrian crossings shown by UK drivers could end badly) and working a self-service till.

Fortunately York is on the tourist trail and full of similarly bewildered foreigners, so I fit right in. I’m even stopping at random to take photos, although on getting home I realised that having walked along the walls, along the river, through the centre and past the minster, surrounded by 800 years of history, my camera card was filled with pictures like these…

Oh, well. I’ll try again, once I’ve mastered crossing the road.

Went out with The Boys to ‘Haus Des Waldes‘; a permanent, interactive exhibition about forests, ecosystems, biodiversity, and their role in our lives. They like making sculptures of of natural materials and this one cropped up since our last visit.

I’d like to think I could make something like this in the Very Smallholding, but I probably wouldn’t have the determination to collect all those sticks.

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