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Middle East 2004

Each Day a Leap into the Unknown

Escorted by Guardian Angels

Diary Entries

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Location: Japan

Chapter 7 Japan

Thursday December20, 2007
We arrived at Narita Airport (Tokyo) on time at 0830, having flown from Frankfurt in Germany for our last brief stopover before arriving home. As it was less than 12 months since we had been there we felt quite “at home” as we knew where all the services were. After drawing some Japanese money from the ATM we rang the Servas Hosts with whom we had previously arranged to stay for two nights. Although it was for only two nights we had three full days due to our early arrival this morning, and our late departure on the Saturday so, as our stay was to be so short, we decided to leave half our bags at the Airport storage facilities.

Our hosts had sent clear directions to help us find our way to Takane Kodane, where they lived. First we had to go by shuttle bus to Terminal 2 to catch a train to a rail junction where we had to change onto an alternative line. All the ticket machines had only Japanese instructions but as usual our Guardian Angels appeared and sorted things out for us. The trains were very fast and, both inside the train and on each platform, passengers are shown both the name of the current station as well as the ones before and after. On arriving at Takane Kodane, we phoned our hosts , as arranged, and they came to meet us within five minutes as their home was only a short walking distance away. One advantage of travelling in racially different countries is that our local hosts never have any difficulty in recognising us, even in a crowd. Takane Kodane had been a small rural village but although some 60 km from central Tokyo, it has now been swallowed up by greater Tokyo.

Our temporary home was a very comfortable stand-alone two-storey building which had recently been renovated. It was surrounded by a small but very attractive garden where we sat outside for morning coffee and biscuits. Inside we were rather fascinated by the bathroom and toilet facilities. There was a separate male toilet with a urinal while the main toilet had all sorts of electrical switches most of which we failed to master. We did however find the switch to warm the seat. The traditional but modern bathroom was the crowning glory of the house. This was where, each evening, we enjoyed the luxury of a Japanese bath which our hosts had filled with water, set the desired temperature, placed 3 covers side by side over the top of the huge bath, then turned on the heating system. When the bath reached the set temperature it was time to “take the plunge”. First. while standing outside the bath, you washed yourself thoroughly under the shower. The wooden floor had openings to allow the water to escape. Then, thoroughly clean, you removed one cover and stepped into the bath. For B it was more like “dropped in” as the water was so deep. Then you just lie back and float enjoying the warmth of the water and steam which remained constant due to the temperature control. For B it was “Seventh Heaven” but A was less enamoured of the process. Each member of the household bathes in the same water but we, as guests, were the first.

Our hosts were very kind and considerate. We had an upstairs room with mattresses on the floor—“Japanese style” as our hosts said. They were very apologetic about this as they slept in a bed because Hachiro, the husband had a very bad back problem. Needless to say we were not unhappy with the arrangements. The weather was cold but we had lots of blankets as well as an electric blanket that they had bought specially for us. Downstairs the floors were all electrically heated.

The home was one of the original houses in the area but, over time, more and more houses had been built around them so a little village had been swallowed up. Our bedroom had a balcony from which it had once been possible to see Mount Fuji. Now, because of pollution, such sightings are rare. However, they were well placed, as there was a busy little shopping centre five-minute walk from their home, adjacent to the railway station. After a lazy morning and delicious lunch prepared by Miné, our hostess, we returned there to visit the bank, the supermarket and the chemist.

We enjoyed our walk then returned home for a brief sleep after which we talked about many matters with our hosts.

Friday December 21
We had a sleep in until 1000 catching up on our missed sleep on our flight from Europe the previous night. Then, after a breakfast that included Mochi, sticky rice cake, we wandered to our local shopping centre to buy some fruit and vegetables from the farmers’ market in the little square outside the supermarket. Miné was very sad when she learned that this was the last time the farmers would bring their wares to sell. They could not compete with the supermarket prices. After we returned home Miné drove us to Funabashi where there was a very extensive shopping complex which housed, amongst many other smaller shops, two large Department Stores, Tobu and Seibu. There were also two train stations serving different companies. As we were returning home by public transport Hachiro left the car to show us where the shops and stations were, stressed which was our station then returned home by car.

Despite Japan not being a Christian country, Christmas time is celebrated. It is not seen as a religious holiday but as a busy shopping time as in the West. Wherever we went we were met with the sounds of “Jingle bells” and images of Santa! Along one street, outside a shop selling spectacles, we saw an invitation to clean our glasses. B bravely dipped hers in the tub of liquid provided then wiped them clean with a tissue also provided and found they were sparkling clean. She has since suggested this to OPSM as a service to customers and possible customers.

After wandering around and buying a few gifts we were very proud to find our station and make our way safely home. As on our previous visit to Japan, we couldn’t help but note how many of the passengers on the train had fallen asleep. On arriving home we realised that we had had no lunch, but after several weeks travelling, we were getting used to this! Back home we met Miné and Hachiro’s granddaughter, Moe. Before leaving Australia we had been unable to communicate with Mine and Hachiro by email, as they were not computer literate. Fortunately Moe has now introduced them to the Internet age and can now maintain our contact with them.

In the evening we chatted with our hosts, showed them our Australian photos and presented them with our gift calendar. Hachiro recalled some of the terrors associated with the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9th 1945. As a cadet he was with his group outside Tokyo when the attack came. He rushed back there to find his family and had to walk much of the way because the trains were out of action. One fifth of Tokyo was razed to the ground. He described the utter devastation he passed through. When he reached his home area he discovered that many people had rushed to a nearby park to escape their burning homes. Some had jumped into the pond and were killed by the boiling water. Charred bodies were everywhere but his mother and sister had sheltered behind and held onto a tree, as the winds created by the firestorm were impossible to withstand. They, apparently, were among the few in the area who survived. In all 130,000 were confirmed dead but it is suspected that the real total was closer to 200,000.

Some months earlier we had, by chance, watched a wonderful Japanese cartoon (full length film) depicting the bombing and its effects on one young boy and his little sister. That helped us to relate to his story. It also reinforced for us the stupidity of war.

Saturday December 22
After a leisurely morning chatting with our hosts we said our farewells and set off to meet a Servas “Day Host”, Satomi Someya , who had offered to show us around the famous Buddhist Narita San Temple, which was on our way by train back towards Narita Airport. By now we were becoming quite confident with the Japanese train system and found our way to the station where Sayomi had had no trouble recognising us as we emerged.

Because she had excellent English we were able to talk freely as we walked down an attractive street lined with tourist type shops. Shopkeepers near Monasteries usually have very lucrative businesses! Another feature of the street was a line of statues representing the Chinese and, presumably, Japanese years so, naturally, we had to have our photos taken beside the appropriate animals—B the dog and A the monkey.

The Temple, or rather, temples were on a hill in a beautiful setting—Japanese and western style gardens planted down the hillside and surrounding a lake. After spending some time at a service in one of the temples we really enjoyed wandering up and down the paths and admiring the vegetation. After this we walked back up the main road to the station, stopping on the way for a coffee and cake.

There we farewelled Satomi, found our way back to the airport where we collected our stored bags, and then relaxed as we waited for our flight back to Melbourne, departing at 2010. The return flight with Qantas was, as usual, a pleasure, confirming our assessment of it as our number one favourite airline.

We arrive back at Tullamarine only a little late and, as usual, were met by Tracy, this time, accompanied by Tara. And so ended a very enjoyable and educational 8 weeks away from home.

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