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Published: August 28th 2017
Today was rife with possibility. Or nothing could have happened. Long story short: it turned out well.
For those of you wanting a bit more detail, be careful what you wish for. Let's see...
We started packing a bit to see what would happen. We seem to have done a surprising amount of shopping, and not all the of the items are small. The Ikea day may turn out to be particularly regrettable. A few more clothes now than when we arrived (and the shoes haven't even approached the suitcases yet.) Luckily I bought the overnight bag for the Kamakura trip, but that won't hold much. Ooh, ooh, I can squash the clothes in there, and the shopping might fit better in the suitcases. Still, today was just checking. We did a quick vacuum to make sure we could work the machine, and we did a preliminary wash of things we've used.
After 9 am I took my courage in hand and called Shiba Park Hotel to ask to speak to the President of the company. Actually, I explained the situation to the telephonist and she put me through directly to him, and he remembered
me and invited us to the hotel for a chat this afternoon. We made the appointment for 2 o'clock, and decided to go in in time to have lunch nearby, because the area has a lot of good little back street eateries for all the salarymen in all the offices in all the tall buildings around about.
We still hadn't heard back from our fencing friend, Mr Nagai, but we still had time available to meet up in case he replied. Of course yesterday was Sunday, but we hoped he might look at his work email even so. If not, hopefully today when he got into work he might find the email. Except: it's still university holidays. (That's the whole reason we're here now!) But, he's in admin, not a professor or teacher, so maybe he would be at work? We looked up where his university was, and thought that maybe we would visit it after the Shiba Park meeting, or perhaps even phone, now that I had that last nervous call under my belt. (It's really nerve-wracking making phone calls in a foreign language, you see: there are no body language cues for you to see, or for
Shiba Rikyu Gardens
First tree changing colour for autumn
you to let the other person know when you're having difficulty finding the right word, and so on. I don't like doing it in VN, and my historical associations here are such that it makes me nervous, but my Japanese improved a lot after 1983, and in reality, I haven't actually had too many problems this time, eg, with Ebi or with Tomomi. I think I'm scared of making phone calls more out of habit than anything else.)
We had time to walk to the supermarket to replenish supplies of Giang's that we have been using: dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, that sort of thing. We bought him a bottle of whisky to leave behind with some wine. I don't know if he drinks whisky, but his Japanese friends will, even if he doesn't.
We left ourselves plenty of time to get to Hamamatsucho, the station near to Shiba Park Hotel, but we walked to the wrong end of the platform when we got off the train, and it was totally unfamiliar. When we came here in the first week, it was stunning how little the station had changed: concrete steps and no escalator, one tatty little kiosk rather
Shiba Rikyu Garden
300-year-old pine tree. The main trunk grows from the top of the hillock you can just see in the gap. The branches then spread out and down.
than a convenience chain store; just a few wickets and the exit right there in front of you, instead of a busy concourse and multiple exits. But at the other end of the station, it was all that and more, and that exit took us out to a part of the town that was quite unfamiliar. But a map oriented us and we were able to get back onto our normal main street with little bother.
We still had stacks of time for lunch though, so we walked the back streets looking for a picture or a model or a menu that included fried rice. That was all I wanted for lunch, because I felt I haven't had it enough on this trip: twice, I think, and one of those was quite disappointing. We only had to walk two blocks before I saw it on a menu, so we went into this teeny tiny street corner restaurant. It had about six tables, and people were sharing tables for 2 with strangers. But it was clearly popular with the locals and that's always a good sign. I had my delicious fried rice (very plain: only spring onion and egg, and
whatever they put into it to make it so damn tasty) and Stephen had ramen, with a really strong meat-flavoured broth, that he said was good.
We set out for the hotel, only a short block or so away, and then Stephen remembered his hat, so I walked on a bit while he went to get it, and I saw a sight that took me back. I believe I found the restaurant where I had my 20th birthday party! I remember going out with 12 or 15 staff members and managers from the hotel, and when they asked what kind of food I wanted, I had said Okonomiyaki (the pancake dish.) My friends scoffed a little, but that's where we went, to a dark little place in one of the little side streets near the hotel. And while Stephen was fetching his hat, I came across a dark little place in what used to be one of the little side streets (now it's slightly larger and brighter) near the hotel, with an Okonomiyaki sign outside. Of course things might have changed and this was a different place with a similar look, but this is what I want and choose to believe.
We got to the hotel just before 2, and Mr Nagase was waiting. I really didn't recognise him, but we greeted each other friendlily, and gradually he became a little more familiar. I think he was one of those background guys that never really stands out, but now he is the company president. And he was really nice, and seemed genuinely interested in our chat. In fact we talked for 45 minutes before he left for other business, so that was good.
Meanwhile, during lunch I had received an email from Mr Nagai, the fencing friend. Finally we had contact! And he was free tonight! We arranged to meet in the Hamamatsucho area at 5pm. Stephen and I had already decided that if nothing else happened we would fill in some time at Rikyu Park, a garden that used to belong to a shogun family and then to the Imperial family before being given to the city. So we had a perfect timetable. We were able to walk to the park easily, although finding a way in was a little trickier because there was a major expressway between here and there, and then there were only two entrances to this big park, but luckily they were both on the same edge as us. We walked around the park, over bridges on lakes and past ponds and pine trees. It was a very nice park, but somehow not as spectacular as the ones in Yokohama or Shinjuku. The tea houses were newer-looking, for one thing, and perhaps the trees were small. They were very proud of their 300-year-old pine tree, but that had grown downwards, and the branches are permanently propped up with bamboo (many Japanese parks do this in winter so that branches don't break under the weight of snow), so even the oldest trees aren't particularly tall. But it was pretty, and it filled in an hour or so.
We took a taxi to a point near our meeting place with Mr Nagai, and found a coffee shop. Then we waited for him from about 5 to 5. He sent a couple of messages to keep us updated, and finally turned up with his wife. She was bright and chatty, and we all walked and chatted and talked about where to eat. They started talking about going back to Tokyo Station, or even across to Shinjuku, but we found a place nearby that fitted the bill, and we had a good meal with lots of dishes, before deciding to continue with dessert somewhere else. Now we went back to Tokyo Station - it was on the way home for all of us - to find a coffee-and-cake place where we could just finish off the evening pleasantly. It took some finding, though. There are quite a few shops inside the station, mostly for buying snacks and biscuits and souvenir food to eat on the long-distance trains, so not that many shops have tables for eating at; but if you go back out through the wickets, there is a huge area, a veritable maze, of underground streets lined with restaurants. It was too difficult even to follow the map, so we just went looking for a place they thought they knew, and then we found a place along the way that was good enough. Sometimes that's all you can do. So we had our coffee-and-cake, and chatted some more, and then they escorted us to our platform (although we were the ones guiding the way; Mr Nagai has never travelled on our line so didn't know the platform, which is a long way from anywhere - it takes 4 escalators and 3 travelators, plus walking, to get from our line to ground level). We waved goodbye, and 40 minutes later we were home.
The possibilities had come true. It was another Good Day.
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THANK YOU - AND WELCOME HOME
Dear Fiona and Stephen, Thank you for sharing your trip through the blog. It has been wonderful to read about your adventures. Fiona your blogs are great to read (interesting and highly informative). Wishing you all the very best, Bruce