To Hel and Back :: Edit your Template To Hel and Back: September 2004

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Japanese scribbles

Monday night: We ate at a small restaurant, off the floor with the Rally Japan officials then followed the sound of Bob's laugh in the small alley ways with tented food stalls. Bob was doing impersonations of Tommi Makinen and others.The stall next door smoked us out with strong chillis that burnt your throat even to breathe.

Tuesday morning: we all left for Tokyo. I was met by the complete stranger German man from the plane, Christian. Tokyo was incredibly humid, like being in monsoonal Asia and nothing like Hokkaido. I followed dreamlike through the maze of different train stations then forked out 100 Euro for a one way trip on the second fastest of Japan's trains - the shinkansen. At this stage, Christian commented that the ryokan (traditional inn) we were staying at was the most expensive place he had stayed in his life. I thought it was a bare walls, shared toilet $25 a night place. Turns out it's 240 Euro per night, per person... We are booked for two nights but I make a story about needing to get to Korea before the typhoon and we only have to stay for one.

The Ryokan Hatanaka is in Gion, the Geisha district. Little girls in kimono and face paint are shuffling through the streets, it's amazing. And the place itself is immaculate, we have our own maid who brings us tea, makes our beds, brings trays of tiny works of edible art for dinner. There is a hot onsen bath underground, and despite my inhibitions in Finland I realise I have to get naked and blind with some strange Japanese women if I want to get washed! It's relaxing if not a little disorienting and it takes some effort to remain ladylike while sitting on a 6 inch high stool to wash your hair.

The typhoon hits Kyoto. From the balcony of our room we are level with the tree tops. While Christian is out having his onsen, I light candles and play Carloff's Fortuna. It feels like the world is going to end, the trees bend impossibly and the rain hammers down. It's a perfect night for a walk if you're a crazy Australian.

We are next door to Yasaka shrine, my first ever temple. The lanterns are going crazy in the storm and branches are flying everywhere but strangely it feels so calm. When the rain gets too heavy we disappear to drink raki down a side street bar.

On return, the maid has laid out mats for us to sleep on, like little futons.