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“You know I’d like to see a real Japanese town bar.”

Two days later I find myself riding in those neat smaller vehicles the Japanese folks all seem to drive through Kituski’s narrow, remote, back lanes.   No, wait a minute, this is the main street. But you have to picture a much smaller garbage truck for sure.  A simple sign hangs outside just to the right of a small, plain looking door.

Slightly tripping over the door entrance I quietly flash on how more difficult it will be to make it back out over this same ledge later on. Before me are about seven chairs all pulled up to a four foot high, ten foot long bar. This room is small, no more than twenty by fifteen feet in all.  Beyond this room, on the far side from me, is another doorway leading to what looks to be about the same size room.  It is empty.  Our room is dimly lit, but not dark.

A loud hello, more of a shout of joy, emits from the two female bartenders and other people seated at the bar as soon as we enter from outside. I sit down with my daughter and her friend MO. Now all seven seats are occupied which seems to make our bartenders, a mother daughter team,  quite happy. The room has a warm feeling to it and all of the smiles seem genuine. Drinks, beer for me, Sake for some and Shochu for others, are poured without being ordered. Conversations begin immediately between all the occupants of the room.

It quickly becomes evident my beer glass will remain full no matter what I do about it. Then I’m asked about Sake or Shochu, which do I like better, and I see this is a very interesting subject to the bartenders. Me? I choose Shochu.

Shochu is a mild tasting clear drink, looking much like Sake does, that features a 25% alcohol content, so go slow is the operative word now.  I do. It is, in fact, just today I learned after many sit down dinners during this vacation that the only way to keep your drinking glass from being refilled is to not drink it. No one has a problem if you sit all night with a full glass of whatever in front of you. But if that glass is 1/4 down it’s pretty quickly going to be  filled up to the top again. I’m thinking an alcoholic would have a hard time stumbling out of these bars.

It’s a flat-out great time of it. This small bar has a wonderful karaoke machine, endless beer re-fills, nuts,  crackers, soups, maybe fish and rice, other things I don’t recognize,  strangers who instantly have become friends but most of all this bar has two bartenders who intend on drinking you under their non-existent tables. Yes, this is perhaps the biggest and most delightful change I see at this bar from American bars: the people serving are drinking right along with me, making a party of it too. Clapping, dancing, singing, smiling, serving, slurping, everyone is in this together. And why not? Almost everything the Japanese people seem to feel, do, act out or believe they do together. No one gets hurt; they watch for each others backs in almost every way possible as far as I can tell.

A great example of how this society takes care of its members is this is a place where people almost never drive after they have been drinking. They just don’t do it. Heck, people here won’t even ride in the same car with a driver who decides to drive after drinking. And if they did and the driver was pulled over for any reason, found to have been driving after drinking, well then all the people in that car are in serious trouble. So it’s almost always true to say drunks don’t drive in Japan, a country, BTW,  called Nihon by it’s citizens  when they are  speaking informally about it.

One reason why people don’t drive drunk in Japan is to be caught doing so usually means the loss of your job, pension and  your honor. If a teacher, called a Sensei and greatly respected as such, is caught driving after drinking the ENTIRE school they teach at is punished! Breaking the codes of society in Japan is never just a slap on the wrist-it’s more like a knife in the heart of the whole community. To fully understand what I’m saying here try to imagine New York City , or any American city for that matter, where nobody Jaywalks!? Well no one jaywalks in  Nihon (again, Japan). Yeah, if for some reason the traffic  lights in Tokyo stopped working Japanese people might all die of starvation on the curbside waiting for them to change.

OK. So the driving schools in Japan may be a little short on business. But this is not to say the bars are. I think it safe to say the Japanese people find a way to obey all their laws and still drink enough to drink most people under the table if, that is, anyone could fit under those tables they use-these tables are about one foot off the floor in many cases. Everywhere I went people offered me beer , Sake or Shochu. So I did, indeed in some cases during the course of some visits, try to fit under the tables but I just couldn’t do it. Anyway….

Here’s to the greatest bar experience I have ever had. What a glow; what a time. Just a place to meet others where everyone gets on board for the fun of it. Laughter and friendship are part of it, drinks flow until you stop drinking but safety is always first. When this night was over I noticed we were just told what the cost was-there were never any charts or listings anywhere I could see about the cost of anything, never any ordering of anything either. It was all very reasonable too.

Thanks Nihon. Here’s to you.

Franque

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This morning I awoke at exactly 7:11, before my sleep might get interrupted by the 7:30 alarm setting. I instantly think in a superstitious bent I sometimes exude this might be my lucky day. Also I recall this is the date of a wonderful friend’s birthday which I always think to be a lucky sign for her. Popping up in all my exuberance is easy to do.And then it hits me, just as it has throughout everyday since I learned a friend and neighbor, Pat West,  died last Saturday.

“I’m going to miss that guy.”

I’m quickly at my bedroom door and realize our bedroom fan has been off all night, adding to the heat I didn’t enjoy feeling in my sleep early this morning. I flip on the fan which turns on the ceiling light at the same time.

I’m down into the kitchen with my dog and cat stepping by my side as they always do each morning. First things first so I’m letting  my dog outside with a dog bone in his face. I realize I have left my glasses upstairs in the bedroom. Hurrying back upstairs I enter my bedroom to find the fan and light off. I just entered a no go zone- it’s a place I’ve been before but not one I’ve ever visited because I asked to. It’s a somewhat creepy zone to be in.

You see, simply, just two minutes before I had left the light and fan in my room on this morning. Oh, yeah, you can say, as I did ask myself this morning , that I had turned the fan and light on and then off as I left my bedroom this morning. But, you know what? I didn’t. Sorry-I just can’t call it any other way though Life would be much simpler if I could.  And you know I’d also just shrug this happenstance off if it hadn’t been for my Grandmother who seemed to be able to talk to the dead, to see events happening that were beyond her physical ability to do so.

Grandma Franque Saves the Day(with help)!

I could just pass over the darkness I found in a room I left  with the light on this morning if it weren’t  for me once seeing my dog’s spirit seem to rise from his dying body. RED DOG FOREVER

I could look over having to turn the light on in my room for a second time if it hadn’t been for my experience of having flown through the air a distance of about 1800 miles with a figure larger than life, only to end up hearing and seeing later  the things I experienced then  were really true. Spirits in the Night

I could think it just me, just a figment of my imagination that my bedroom light mysterious turned itself off, if it weren’t for the day shortly after my Uncle John passed when papers wildly flew about the room I was in and my wife reported hearing my Uncle John ask her one million questions in a row.  I could forget all about this morning’s incident if not for many other occasions I have had in my life marking the presence of an existence beyond  death that clearly none of us truly can explain away beyond a reasonable doubt. And also, I could absolutely feel there is no need to write about today’s morning occurrence if there hadn’t been this:

About 30 years ago  I lived with my wife in a small town  in Northern Florida. I’m sure my wife and I were thought of  as being city slickers by all the locals as we had just recently come from the New York City area. But we loved this area, the woods, the quiet, the wild critters and the lack of bustling streets as well. This is why we chose to actually be married under a huge Oak Tree, a two hundred year old Oak we knew to be in the Florida Book of Historic Records. I guess the hippie in us never dies huh?

Now, obviously, because of this tree’s age and size it was not just any ordinary tree. But this oak tree also had another most unique feature about it. This tree features even today a huge growth on it known as resurrection fern, a fern that appears dead and brown on the upper side of a tree’s branches until it rains. Then, once it does rain, this fern shoots bright green fern  stems several feet tall  out into the air that remain  so for several days afterward.

The trouble started when we heard our neighbors one day starting up chain saws near this Oak Tree. I went down the block and inquired what my neighbors were doing and they said they were about to cut down this 200 year old Oak Tree in order to move a trailer in behind it.  I had to call the police to stops this from happening and I think it is fair to say my wife and I were never again as popular with the local folks as we might have been before this event took place. But you know what? I still get to drive by this tree several times a year.

Now my neighbor, a man my age,  was a Vietnam vet and lived right next door to us. Let’s just say he was well entrenched with the local community. And though I have to say most of the local people seemed not too concerned with religion, this man, on the other hand, was suffering from several post Vietnam chemical exposures and had gotten to be reading the bible every day as his health continued to decline.

I remember this as if it were yesterday.

I had been working in my garden for several hours when this man came strolling by,  walking on our well shaded dirt road. He left the road and came right up to my garden fence. We greeted one another as our past differences had gotten to seem not to be the divide all between us they once were. We spoke just briefly.

“I just want to tell you,” my neighbor offered, ” they don’t give me much longer to live.”

“Can’t they do anything for you?” I asked while expressing my feelings for him as well.

“NO. The VA has tried everything-they say they don’t know what the problem really is, but it’s fatal.” It can be hard to look into a man’s eyes as he says this.

And then he continued: ” I just want you to know that if I pass and you see a large eagle, that eagle is me, and everything people say is true- it’s all true.”

I stood stunned a bit, not really knowing what to say. I just leaned on my shovel. “Well, ok. But I’m hoping you don’t pass.”

That was it. Several weeks later this man did die, bleeding out as it was described to me  as he read his bible while sitting in a chair in his living room. Both my wife and I thought it only right that we attend his funeral. I even remember thinking how funerals are just not my cup of tea and maybe I didn’t need to go after all, but we did.

Getting in our car we began a  drive to the location of this man’s burial, a 30 mile drive upon country roads, the start of which is shouldered by deep woods. Something caught my eye while we made a left turn onto the worst section of country road you can imagine . Lifting off from the woods to our left was the largest eagle I’ve ever seen. This bird flew over our road and proceeded to fly directly in front of our car  leading us as we drove for about a mile. This eagle’s wing span, no joke, was almost two car lanes in width. I watched this bird’s wings gently move as he glided ahead of us in silence. Let me tell you: this eagle has landed, and he landed directly in my heart forever.

OH I know all this stuff about life after death, all this stuff about unexplainable events we might have during our life here on earth, can be at best  annoying. Life can be tough enough as it is without having to deal with another aspect of it right? But you can like it or not, believe or not, be a existentialists, an atheists, an agnostic or a most fervent believer in any faith’s creed with regard to life after death, it’s all the same to me.  And I do have more to tell about this, but those events in my life are for another day, for another post. For now you can think of me as only half  here if you like. You can think of me as being half bent, as being a loose cannon, perhaps light in the head, slightly or completely off, miraculous mistaken, delusional, a walking fairy tale, just a story-teller, a soul in need of help or simply as a liar if this suits you best. As for me, I can only tell you what I have seen and experienced.

So for me there is just this: I could be wrong about this morning-maybe I hit the switch accidentally without knowing it. Maybe I don’t have a two minute memory after all? But then again,  maybe I should, as I think, thank my next door neighbor, Pat, for turning my bedroom light off this morning. I had, after all, left it on.

Happy Easter.

Franque


Very often the first question I get from people here in The States when they hear I have been to Japan is about the public bathing. In Japan these hot watered public baths are called Onsens. Many of these Onsens, if not all, derive their heated water  from natural underground volcanic activity; the spring feed waters are heated as they pass near to the underground volcanic  vents.  These vents are often  seen  as jets of steaming water that usher right out of the ground all about the towns, hillsides and in fields of Japan. And again, since these waters are heated by volcanic activity, the temperatures of the baths are regulated so no one  looks like a piece of Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken when they get out of them.

But really the questions people most often have about these Onsens is whether or not they are frequented by mixed sexes at the same time and place or not. The answer is almost all of the Onsens in Japan today are separated into male and female bathing areas. A few Onsens in Japan still sport the mixed sex bathing variety of Onsens but not many. Of course, mixed sex bathing is about as old as the hills when it comes to man’s cultured history, see link below. But for now at least, when you go to Japan, you can expect to see people only of your same-sex bathing next to you. I know, it’s a bummer, but what can you do right?

http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/baths.html

Entering an Onsen for the first time can be disorienting to new Onsen users. But don’t be put off by this-the experience of an Onsen is one that should not be missed by any visitor to Japan. I know we all think we are clean people, but really, especially when it comes to our toilets (but I’m not going there now), once anyone has bathed the Japanese way in an Onsen it is clear most of us carry around about one thousand pounds of ughy stuff  on our skin as we go about our daily living here in the West. Sorry-just saying….

The first thing to know is your shoes are coming off just inside  the door of any Onsen, be it a three dollar bath or an elaborate eight dollar, natural rock formation one. Slippers will be waiting for your feet on a slightly raised flooring just as you enter. You go to the counter, in most cases, wearing these slippers to pay for your bath and to receive a key for a locker which will guard your valuable belongings. Here you will either purchase a 20 inch by 14 inch towel to use or you have brought your own as well. Now you pass through a hallway that leads to either the female or male changing rooms.

The changing rooms have baskets for your clothes to be put in and lockers for your money, etc. Now naked you enter the Onsen bathing area itself. There will be several long-handled scoopers by running water to quickly wash your head, back and legs off with. Now you see a row, or rows, of benches with water faucets of hot and cold water before them. Sitting down on the bench you take the bowl before you, fill it with the temperature water your choose and dump it over and over on your body-everywhere you can think of.

Taking the towel you have you apply soap provided here and rub your entire body, arms, legs, face, head, back, butt etc. over several times. Now you use the bucket again to dump water on you until you are clean of all the soap.  You will repeat this process two or three more times which is key to getting really, super clean.  Finally it is time to take the small towel and place it on your head, as most men do, or put it somewhere clean and walk into the hot bathing area. So now, your completely clean body is soaking in very hot water. Here you rest for as long as you like.

It is important to note these bath areas are not small, cramped up spaces so your neighbor is not sitting on your lap at any time. These Onsens are nothing like hot tub parties are here in The States…

Some Onsens offer both inside and outside bathing areas and it is fun to switch back and forth between the two. Children are included in these baths so it is a family affair of many different voices. You can hear the women on the other side of the separating wall splashing around and having fun. Over all, when you get out of these baths, you are cleaner than you have been since before you were born.

Once out of the Onsen you rise off at the faucets with the buckets again. You towel off with the small towel, ringing it out over and over again as you do. I didn’t think this process would ever get me dry but it does. Now you enter the changing room again where there are fans to stand in front of, hair dryers to use and women sweeping the floor.

I should mention, perhaps, the women sweeping the floor. I found it to be a little different to be standing stark naked in front of women I didn’t know as they went about their business of cleaning the room. And, I should add, I thought it odd my first three Onsen baths all seemed timed to have me naked in the changing room as these women came in? Then I heard from my daughter that Japanese people , there is at least this rumor, think white guys have, well, you know, huge parts-King-Kong lives so to speak.

I didn’t think much about the huge white male rumor until my fourth Onsen when the eighteen year old girl, one  who seemed quite different from the elder ladies I’d encountered in the changing rooms before, entered the room I was in. She seemed somewhat taken back, maybe red in the face. As customary, this good looking girl bowed to me placing her head somewhere just below my navel. Hello! For a second it all just seemed so wrong as she looked up and our eyes met.

Anyway, I hope I have not dashed too many hopes and dreams as I made my way across the Onsen world of Japan. Thankfully, my last name has a lot of O’s in it, but this is a whole other story I’m not telling here. The point is this: the public baths are a God send in Japan. I think the whole process of them is a cleansing one in many ways.  It is liberating to be so clean and to do this with a society of people. The public baths unite a people in philosophical ways. It is a place of good, clean thought and purpose, a place not to be thought of in any other way. Go try one if you get the chance-now you know how to do it.

Franque


Arriving in Kitsuki and spending most of our days here in the nearby  local cities of Oita and Beppu has been exciting.  We had seen many other cities during our first  visit  to Japan four years ago and had decided this time we would like to visit the people and places  our daughter knows so well.  If there is one thing I have learned during this visit it is this: when Japanese people say they would like to meet you what they really are saying is  they would like to feed you.

Is there anything I haven’t eaten during this visit to Japan?  I doubt it. I’ve eaten every  fish known to man. I’ve eaten fish boiled, fried, baked, steamed at Onsens, fish chopped, minced, rolled in flour, sponge cake, dough, and of course I’ve eaten fish raw. In fact, the truth  is  I may have eaten fish unknown to man as well-it wouldn’t surprise me.  It is all good. But I do have  to say I find it disturbing how much I liked a part of a meal that turned out to be cooked cow intestines. I mean some things should just come with warnings on them.

I have discovered  I’m just not a huge fan of raw fish, even when it comes to tuna, a fish most people say is the best raw fish to eat. Give me a cooked fish, some lemon, tartar or red sauce  and I’m a very cooperative eater. But this is not to say I like squid. You can cook squid in hell for five thousand years and it still will not be done well enough for me, period.

I also have eaten every kind of root, leaf, stem, tubular knot, seaweed  and grass known to exist on the Earth. The key  is to never  say no when visiting so, yes, a fibrous thing or two I would not have eaten otherwise may have slithered its way into my stomach as I munch my way through my time here. Could it be  my daughter  has her mind on our life insurance polices and has per-arranged all this eating in hopes of getting some of it? I don’t know.  But as I have mentioned in a previous post, 99% of all the foods I have eaten here seem fresher than most of the foods we get at home in the USA and, cooked as they are, most of the flavors, smells and textures are wonderful to experience.

But perhaps the most important part of Japanese eating is the talking taking place while you do it. Meal times are not short, quick, hurried stops rushed through during a busy life. If I spent as much time in an American restaurant as I have in one restaurant  here while eating an ambulance would have arrived to see if I were still alive.  So it is during these meals in homes, at parks, at Onsens and in restaurants that a curious thing became evident: no one here in southern Japan had much of an idea about how things really were in Tokyo since the partial melt-down and quake.  My wife and I were constantly asked what we saw in Tokyo during our short train ride through it on our way here.

It was just yesterday while having breakfast at a Toyoko-Inn in Nagasaki that we happened to sit by a fellow who lives  in southwest Tokyo.  Finally, after nine days in Japan we have met someone who knows what it is really like in Tokyo right now.  The picture isn’t pretty.

The news we get from someone living in Tokyo is they are having five or so quakes a day that shake the buildings and rattle the windows. He said it is a common joke in Tokyo right now that people have their quake legs. He said for those living in Tokyo  it almost feels odd when the shaking stops! In all this fellow, a photographer for a wine and food magazine, a resident of Tokyo for the past eight years, says there have been 965 quakes in Tokyo since the first big one last month.  This is a lot of ground moving! Even odder still is the fact we have felt none of the quakes living where we are in Kitsuki-the distance between Tokyo and Kituski is just so great.

This news of the quakes  is amazing to hear. We will be traveling through Shinagawa and Tokyo on our way to Narita airport this Friday, the 15th.  I guess we are bound to feel a quake or two while we pass through the area. In all, besides the on-going quakes in Japan, it is an odd time for Tokyo and for the world. This is the third large Nuclear problem the world has had since 3 mile Island. I have to wonder how many major problems the Nuclear industry has to have before people, politicians and our leaders stop thinking or at least saying this source of power is safe for mankind.

In all the people of Japan feel a quilt about this most recent nuclear accident, but really, it is the whole world’s problem. We gather together here,we eat,  we talk and share our feelings. Then, when the food is done, when our time here to visit is over, we all just shake hands, rattle our heads together in agreement over how hard this time of Nuclear disasters is for the Earth and then we roll on with our lives. Here’s hoping this is so. Shake, rattle and roll.

Franque


Does it cost a lot to visit Japan? Maybe yes; maybe no. Currently, it certainly doesn’t help the American dollar is flushing it’s value quicker than Mario Andriette(sp?) might have zoomed down a swirling toilet bowl.  Here are some basic cost items, guides, you might experience in Japan once putting what seems like a 15% loss on the exchange rate aside.

Lodging: If you live on the cheap side of the traveling tracks you want to look up Toyoko-Inn for lodging. The twin is fine for one and the small double on up is fine for two. In each case the room is larger than the ones found on cruises but not large by any American standard. On the web site you can join for free as a member or just find and click on guest-scroll down when in doubt. A single costs about 55oo Yen, or 55$ per night and a double around 8000 yen= 80 bucks. You have everything you need in these, own shower/bath etc. tv and be sure to note non-smoking if this is the case. Simple  breakfast but all you need is included.

One step up are found on Agoda’s  web site-around 124-134 $ for two(double)-These rooms still are small in comparison to American Hotel rooms but bigger than Toyoko-inn’s rooms. A slightly larger breakfast offerings is included too.

Cheap tickets will show rooms up to 1700$ a night, some 400$, 300$ down to  Agoda’s rooms. Basically, a really great room in a hotel with in-door pool, gym, steam rooms, etc. plus a breakfast(be sure they offer it) a football field in length can cost two people 140-165 per night—

Some rooms are refundable, others not-check when booking and again look for non-smoking if you need to.

Food: Here again you can run the gambit of dollars. One hundred-dollar to three hundred-dollar meals for the wealthy (I’ve eaten at least one of the higher priced meals) on down to road side convenie (7/11’s) offered Bento boxes for 5 to 8 $. These are fine, filling, varied, including meats, rice, puddings, veggies and other stuff you won’t recognize. You can eat these anywhere and they come with everything you need to do so. Ice creams in stores or wonderful pastry’s are about 2 bucks up to 5. Most restaurants serve meals you won’t believe for 7 to 10 dollars. I ate lunch yesterday for 9 $ consisting of a rice bowl  with pork, Udon with onion and spice, fried chicken strips-about 5- side dish of veggies, green tea. All more than I could eat and I estimate a similar meal in Chop-stix in Gainesville, Florida would have cost about twenty dollars-the rice and pork bowl alone being about 6.50 in America.

One more thing about Japan-they won vending machine heaven. Yeah- it’s here on Earth in Japan.! Vending machines can keep you alive in Japan. Coffees, juices are offered hot or cold in vending machines- a whole range of sodas and citrus flavored waters you would love are here too all for about 1.20$ each. Need a quick beer to take the edge off? Try to pick one  from all of these kinds offered at  about 3$ each in vending machines around town. All sorts of food, crackers etc. are in others and it’s funny to see the cigarette machines too. Lastly, boiled eggs are 50 cents. So if you can stick to boiled eggs, bentos, a few drinks and maybe a 3 or 4 $ Udon bowl a day your around 12 bucks a day to eat-but really, you’ll most likely spend 20.

Traveling: Here is a cost to consider. Depending on your needs you may or may not want to buy the JR rail pass for one, two or three weeks. These passes are not cheap–2 week pass currently 564$ for one person- but this allows you to go anywhere, covering trains, subways, some buses and ferries. One way from Hiroshima to Tokyo is about 200 plus dollars by the super( the US needs these badly) fast trains, called Shin-kan-sen, you will be traveling at 160 to 220 miles per hour in some case. So maybe if you are only here to see Tokyo, a city reminding me of my home town NYC, a rail pass is not so much the way to go. But if you plan to  travel the country the JR pass will save you one million dollars which can buy you a lot of vending machine beero , as they call them.

One last little nuance about the trains…if you can, see if the white colored trains are timed right for you. These are the most beautiful ones. Last nights trains flew by the country side at 160 per hour and featured  flooring of white maple and what looked to be mahogany tongue and groove woods. The lighting was all indirect and the reclining seats were made of soft leather.

Gotta go see more today now. But in general, once you get here( our round trip was 960 each) it does not have to cost much to visit. It is a world apart here. A people and place so worth seeing. I wish you all could be here.

More tomorrow if possible.

Franque


The trip out of America heading for Japan had been a smooth one. We started it by driving a 1 hour and 45 minute drive for 2 and a half hours through tornado watches.  And really, compared to the Nuclear meltdown  we were headed for, the worry about a simple twister or two seemed almost enjoyable. Arriving at Orlando International Airport wasn’t its typical nightmare though, just a lot worse.

Our scheduled nineteen hour flight to Japan made the 48 hours it took to make seem a lot longer. We arrived in Narita somewhat unsure as to what day it really was but I don’t think anyone noticed. Finally, after sailing through a customs line made up of no other Americans, we got our bags ( I would have bet against  the airlines actually getting our bags to Narita on our same plane after 4 different re-routings). We quickly got our JR two week passes-train passes- and took a local to Shinagawa, a district of Tokyo like Queens is part of  NYC. This is where we missed our train to Kyoto.

So everything continued right on schedule; we had missed every plane and train connection possible. Now our arrival time at our resevered hotel in Kyoto was a late 12ish instead of a fresh-faced 8 PM as we had thought. And BTW, who knows exactly where this Smile Hotel is anyway?  Not me for sure. So as we road the iron rail through the night I thought I might ask the two gentlemen sitting by me about this so called Otsu-Seta stop…does this train really stop there? Neither man knew.

This is Japanese workers Friday night-our Saturday night as they work, generally, 6 days a week. I could smell the Saki in the laughters these two men had together while they hurriedly called numbers on their cell phones to find out where this stop was. My wife got busy trying to read the train map printed in Japanese and made a hit! We were maybe two stops away from our target.

We reached our stop and one of the two men explained that this was his stop too! Amazingly he was there to guide us up stairs, across train connecting bridges, down stairs and to outside this train station. My wife and I thanked him for his help and explained we would take a taxi to our hotel from here. The man then told us, speaking little English, that indeed, our hotel was in front of our eyes not 1/2 block away. He walked the distance with us, came into the hotel, made sure our papers were in order and our room not given away since we were so late arriving. Once settled we shook hands, ok, I hugged him, and he vanished through the hotel doors back into the night. He no doubt had a train to catch.

My wife remarked how this man who had helped us hadn’t even known this stop’s where-a-bouts when we first had asked him about it on the train.  This is when, in my frazzled state, I realized that yes, this man had lied to us about this being his stop for the sake of helping us. This is when I realized we had just met our first angel of Japan. And because I have visited Japan once before a long four years ago I knew he would not be our last. These are people cut from the cloth of kindness. This visit, just as our last visit, my wife and I will remain wrapped in this cloth our entire visit.

More tomorrow if possible.

Franque

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