Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Builder and Frannie have been loose in Narita

So. The plane caught up the time it had lost in Sydney and got to Tokyo only about 15 minutes late. I was beginning to feel quite hopeful about meeting Austin in Nagoya around 9:30 or certainly by 10:00. Then we were put into a holding pattern :-( A 15 minute holding pattern. Still, that might have been salvageable - except that it then took us 15 minutes to taxi to the terminal. We got off the plane at 8. I rang Austin and said I wasn’t expecting to be in Nagoya in time for the last available train. But if by any miracle we could get to the airport station by 8:30, we would proceed and let him know.

At 8:30 we were still passing through immigration. It was completely chaotic.

Customs, on the other hand, was a breeze. Our bags had all been taken off the carousel and were waiting in a neat line to be collected. I can’t remember my luggage ever getting through before me! The customs woman was completely uninterested in us. At 8:33 we were at the airport information desk enquiring about a hotel for the night.

None? None at all?!?!? NONE? Shall we make an attempt at the train and see how we go? Although, I don’t really want to end up stuck at Tokyo Station and the lady came up with a suggestion of a hotel in Narita town centre which sounded all right. We’ll give that a go. All we need now is a taxi.

Where are the taxis? Oh look. There’s a whole line of them over there. Off we trundled and headed to the front of the queue. Odd that there’s no footpath, but strange places, strange habit. The taxi man came to enquire where we were going and pointed to a tiny row of taxis across the road, which we hadn’t seen and which did have a pavement. We headed that way - and were shouted at by a taxi security man who pointed a baton at the pedestrian crossing behind us. We went and crossed that way. I was met by the original taxi man and the taxi driver at the front of the queue and we were merrily “discussing” where we wanted to go. Then The Builder turned up quite cross and put out, for the taxi security man had stood in front of him as he followed me - and shouted at him for approaching the taxis in all the wrong way. The Builder pointed out that we hadn’t really known and it wasn’t very well sign posted. I think he thought that the taxi security man wasn’t going to let him pass at all - though I would have noticed when he didn’t turn up. Fortunately, all was well, and the taxi driver took us away. Not that he really knew where he was going. He’d never heard of the hotel!

His sat nav got us there.

Though I was beginning to wonder where we were going. It seemed quite a long way away. And it looked a bit desolate.

When we did get there, it turned out to be a proper, traditional Japanese Inn. We had a small bathroom and a tatami bedroom with futons and a little sitting alcove. Quite basic but all that we needed.

As we went to bed, though. I was pondering braving the trains and security people the following day. And decided that I hate Japan. I don’t understand it. It’s all quite bizarre. And I’m only ever coming again to visit Austin and not moving out of his apartment. I’m not sure how I’m getting to his apartment but that’s a problem for another day.

Breakfast is due at 8:30. And it’s served in or room. We’d best be up by 7:30 so we are showered, dressed and ready.

I woke up just before 6 and got up to draw the curtains and see what was outside. What was outside was an AMAZING temple complex. I admired it in some surprise and went back to bed.

At 6:30, someone started chiming lots of bells. This woke The Builder who didn’t know there was a temple across the way.

At 7:30 we got up and began getting ready for the day.

At 8:30 we were poised, ready for breakfast.

At 8:45 - I was beginning to get worried. I went outside to investigate. Perhaps I had misunderstood when told it would be brought to our room. We encountered a cheery chap and a helpful young woman who kept saying that we had asked for breakfast at half of eight. Indeed we had. But it’s quarter less nine. Oops, said The Builder consulting his watch. It’s only quarter to eight. Eh? Ah - I’d adjusted my phone clock. The Builder had adjusted his watch. But not his phone. And we’d been taking time from his phone. So the bells had actually been at 5:30. And we were an hour earlier than we needed to be.

The chap came in and folded up the futon and packed away the bedding and brought the table and little chairs across.

We went out to investigate the temple complex.

As we were pottering about I reconsidered my hatred of Japan. Apart from the fact that I find the public transport system impenetrable and the taxi security man had shouted - everyone else has been supremely helpful and extremely charming. Really so. The taxi driver couldn’t have tried harder to get us to the hotel. The hotel staff were incredibly helpful. Perhaps I don’t hate Japan after all.

Back for breakfast. At 8:30 a doorbell rang. And in came a senior breakfast server and her apprentice. They knelt down on the tatami floor and brought out bowls with a little tiny fish and some marinated peanuts and a bowl of pickled somethings and a salad and a cold poached egg in a strange sauce - oh, and green tea. They spoke, smiled and went away. We started tasting. Then they came back. And served us rice and miso soup, said lots more - and went away. On we munched. Then they came BACK! And brought fried silky tofu and natto beans in something puffy and other things. Then they said many, many things and went away. They knew we didn’t understand; I assume they were following a formula of things they had to say.

The Builder tasted something of everything. I didn’t try the fish for it was sticky inside. I also didn’t try the natto puff cos it looked as though it might have nuts in it. I don’t think it did, but you need to be careful.
Lots of it was lovely - if not traditional breakfast for from or point of view.

I really didn’t expect, after it was clear that we were going to miss the train to Austin, to have such a fantastic experience. And certainly didn’t expect a traditional Japanese breakfast served so formally.

When we left, the woman said that she would drive us to the station but not until 10:00. Se we went for a walk through the town. And it’s lovely. Full of food shops (it’s exceedingly disconcerting wandering through a series of food shops and not knowing what anything is - and what are those things that look like a big fat poo coved in baby poo?) and other things to look at. It's a lovely winding, narrow-ish main drag. I like Narita. Compared to hounslow, which is mre or less the Heathrow equivalent - it was astonishing. Then we went back and she did drive us to the station. We could have walked it, mind, but it was very very kind of her. We paid the equivalent of around £85 for all this, including the formal breakfast service and the drive to the station.

I think I might be beginning to get the hang of the public transport service. We got tickets for the train, checked where we needed to be - and boarded the train. All well and good, exceot that at no point did anone mention Tokyo as one of the places the train was calling, and I ddn’t know where the final destination actually was. I checked with a young man sat next to me and he said the train would go through Tokyo. I just trusted it - with some concerns that we might be heading in entirely the wrong direction. But no. Eventually, we did arrive in Tokyo, ambled to the Shinkansen area and in a mild, calm and leisurely manner boarded the train to Nagoya. And arrived. All was good.

We came back with Austin on the train to his local station Hozumi and then he drove us back to his place. Since then we’ve raided the supermarket (twice in the case of The Builder and me - why do they ask me loads of complicated questions that they never ask Austin?) pootled about and now we are eating spaghetti Bolognaise and drinking wine and watching British television which Austin has downloaded and generally chilling. Though I do seem to have trashed the kitchen.

Kaori is poorly sick. She couldn’t come to dinner tonight :-( Hope she’s better for tomorrow. We’re all supposed to be going to Kyoto
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