With a population the size of Australia living in just one of Japan’s cities, it’s necessary for rules of engagement with your fellow inhabitants. One of the remarkable things here is the orderliness.
There is little or no jaywalking: people patiently wait for the green walk sign before crossing the roads. There is a lot of bowing – servers, train attendants, shop assistants.
About 10% of the population is wearing face masks, and I’m still not sure if that’s for their protection or mine.
Everywhere, people are helpful and friendly, we encounter more good Samaritans regularly. And on the whole, Japanese are QUIET. There’s no yelling, and little running. Even the children are quiet and well behaved.The loudest people are westerners.
There is no smoking on the streets except for specified areas. Smokers are discouraged from walking while smoking – a lit cigarette is about face-height for a child, we are instructed.
Before too long, I am bowing to everyone, keeping my voice down, keeping left when walking along a pavement and apologising for getting in the way. I would fit in here instantly, except I don’t have the eyes for it.
The Japanese are even more efficient than the Germans – trains run on time, they stop millimeters from the place they’re meant to, and even their lost property collection is a marvel. As I discovered when I tried not to lose my phone down the toilet on the train. Unfortunately, I protected it from that fate by putting it in a safe place, and then promptly forgot to retrieve it. As my mother would say – a brain like a chicken, though it sounds different in German.
Anyway, while waiting for the train to leave for our next destination, I went to get the phone so I could read a little . Ooops. Exit train, apologise to the train attendants – can we use our ticket for the next train? Yes we can. Out and back to the Shinkansen JR station, find a cafe to eat something while I figure out the lost and found. The chaps down there are equipped with an iPad installed with Google translate – I speak in English, and they get Japanes. I think they were amused by my specificity – the 11.04 Shinkansen, Green car toilet. And hey presto – there is my phone! I have to demonstrate that it’s my phone by unlocking it, and then it’s mine again. Couldn’t do that in Australia, it would take about a week, if ever, to retrieve something lost on a train there. I speak into the translator again; “I think the Japanese are wonderful and efficient. Thank you very much”, which causes the Lost and Found chaps to giggle.
All set for our next leg, and we managed to get something to eat in the meantime.
We arrive in Yudanaka, which is the stop that will take us to Shibu Onsen, the small hot springs village which is our step-off point for the snow monkeys. As soon as we arrive, we are met by a chap who asks us where we want to go – Masuya hotel. Ah, we will call and they will pick you up. Wow – no need to negotiate buses or anything. How lucky are we? Sure enough, in about 10 minutes, a little mini-van arrives, and out steps a pretty Japanese woman in traditional kimono. I ask if she’s cold – seems to me she must be, since I am rugged up in multiple layers and swathed with a scarf. Not at all, it seems.
We are driven to ourlodgings, which seems to be run by women – they try to take my bag, but I protest that it’s too heavy.
Inside is a traditional Japanese Ryokan or guest house, with tatami mats in reception and where we remove our shoes before setting foot in the Robby. Much bowing and smiling, and a little English. Beside the tatami area are lines of indoor shoes for us to slip into for walking about inside.
Our room is the size of a small bedsit with bathroom and toilet equipped with all the mod cons. Our sleeping futons are already laid out for us, and there is a small coffee table with floor cushions for us to lower ourselves onto. After a couple of days of this, my knees will pack up: I have enough trouble getting UP, let alone down. But it’s warm, comfy, and exhibits the usual Japanese sensibillity – simple and uncluttered. Each day they will come and pack away our futons, and replace them in the evening during dinner. We wander into the town to see about finding dinner – lots of Japanese signs, but no sign of a restaurant, just lots of doors. Unlike anywhere else, the restaurants are tucked away and invisible unless you open one of those doors. Because it’s Sunday, many places are closed, but we manage to find a small and modest place where we manage to procure a meal. Phew. Even a translation of the Japanese menu: they obviously have a lot of tourists here at times, though there seems to be few around at the moment.
Shibu Onsen is one of the many Onsens in this area: fed by the hot springs that trickle everywhere, there are 9 public bath-houses, and the tradition appears to be to don a kimono and some wooden thongs, clop your way from one bath house to the next, probably sipping sake in between. Indeed we see a few people clopping along here and there. The town is very small, end to end it takes about 10 minutes from the bottom to the top, and the streets are only wide enough for the little Jap cars that surprise you regularly with their silent approach.
At this time the roads are all clear, but the houses still have cushions of snow on their northerly roofs, and all around us is the drip of snow melting, with the occasional clunk of a chunk falling. It looks like we will see some snow monkeys tomorrow after all – because without snow, they’re just monkeys.