Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Japan Diaries, part VIII: Coming home

Time to relax! After the busy streets of Kyoto and the overwhelming beauty of Nara it was time to soothe body and soul with a bit of proper vacationing. We had originally planned to travel on to Nikko and hit the mountain hiking trails but decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather in the Kansai region and head down South to Shirahama, on of Japan’s popular beach towns.
Since we lounged a little longer in the morning in a Kyoto coffee shop to do some people watching, it was already evening when we arrived in Shirahama. We had not been able to secure a room for the night yet and we were quietly hoping that the local tourist office would still be open and able to help us out. No such luck! All closed, no wonder at nearly eight in the evening. Whoops!
The accommodations listed in the Planet were all full, closed or expensive. But S did some minor burglary by sticking her arm through the gate of the tourist desk and managed to get hold of a list of hotels and ryokans. Hurray for S and her long arms! We called Mifune, a ryokan with in-house onsen (hot spring). My phone conversation with the proprietor went something like this.
- Haihai.
- Kon Ban Wa! Do you have a room for tonight?
- Ah. Aaaah. …
- Do you speak English?
- Ah. Oh. Iie. Nono.
- (oh dear) Twin room? Tonight? (1)
- Aaaah. Nono. Where?
- We are now at the station. Ekki. Do you have a twin room for us?
- Ekki? Aaah… Now?
- Hai. Arigato. Do you have a room?
- Aaaahm… Takusi?
- Arigato, we will take a taxi.
- Haihai. [mumble mumble – he hangs up]
To S:- I think we have a room.
Save some cash, take a bus. I know! Let’s ask the station staff. Six (...) station attendants, one chief and three map books later we had a bus line, the name of the bus stop in Japanese and phonetic English, a map, a drawing of how to get to Mifune from the bus stop and a whole lot of relieved faces that they’d been able to help us. Nearly missed the bus; trains may stop within an inch of their designated halt but bus stops in Japan are an approximation. As we walked up the street from the bus stop there were two people standing in the street. It took me a few moments to realise that they were waiting for us. Mifune? Hai, Mifune! Looked like we were home.

Mifune is run by a married couple, somewhere in their fifties, who do not speak or understand English. And who are unbelievably kind and hospitable. That two girls from Oranda suddenly came to their doorstep was a bit of a shock. More so because they were already hosting an American couple that night. This must have been very special because they told us about it six times or so.
The room was wonderful. There was tea. We were shown the onsen (which caused the whole house to smell slightly of rotten eggs) plus sitting-down showers (customary in Japan) and immediately made the mistake that evening of using the men’s bathroom. But nobody walked in on us so it wasn’t all that bad. Still bad enough for the host to tell us the next day though. We never saw the legendary American couple.

(1) Twin room in Japanese is ‘tuwin rumu’, very convenient.

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