Arriving in Toyama City by the Sea of Japan, the area where I lived for 12 months almost 20 years ago, was, well, I have to be honest, underwhelming. My rose-tinted memories of Toyama had not included the drizzle, cold and greyness that greeted me as I stepped out of Toyama railway station. Great thick clouds hung heavy and still in the air casting a dull, flat light over the city. The whole place looked depressingly oppressed, even the people seemed to scurry along the pavements with their heads down. The modern buildings surrounding the station had a whiff of ‘nuclear bunker’ about them, like faceless lego bricks in every shade of grey. Trees, flowers and any sort of greenery were nowhere to be seen. Having spent the previous five days admiring and marvelling at the rich and colourful beauty of Japan’s rural villages and autumnal scenery on my Walk Japan tour (which was a lot of fun, see the photos at the end of this blog), it was pretty dispiriting to be faced with this monochrome vision. I thought about my JET friends from long ago and how I’d never considered Toyama to be dull and grey back then, quite the contrary. I suppose I’d been so busy being busy that I’d never stopped to look around properly. Looking out of my 14th floor hotel window that first day in Toyama by myself, at the great stretch of bleak city beyond, I felt like Rapunzel with no-one to rescue me.
Things looked up the following morning however when my old friend Kazu arrived at my hotel, like my knight in shining armour, to take me out in his gleaming black 4×4 Porsche. Not quite a black stallion, but good enough. He took me to both schools where I used to work and I was lucky enough to meet two of my old english teaching colleagues. As a result of this chance meeting, I was invited out for dinner by Oyama-sensei, whom I had taught english with at one school, and her husband who had been a Kyoto-sensei (Deputy Head) at my other school. It was wonderful to see them after so many years. Oyama-sensei brought some old photos of me teaching which she proudly showed to me. I was very touched, although I inwardly baulked at the sight of myself aged 21 with out-of-control frizzy hair and a face which resembled a large peeled potato. I think, I hope, that I must have had a bad cold when those photos were taken.
Kazu took me out on both my days in Toyama, treating me to a wonderful afternoon in a mountain onsen where I languished outside in the hot water admiring the awe-inspiring views, and several delicious meals in restaurants I would never have ventured into on my own. We visited my old apartment and even some of my old JET friends’ apartments too. I had the privilege of being introduced to the local Buddhist monk, a friend of Kazu’s, and attended a ceremony in the local Buddhist temple, an extraordinary experience. The Buddhist monk spoke a little English so stopped the ceremony at frequent intervals to translate for me, which was very thoughtful although it made me feel terribly conspicuous, but very grateful. I am indebted to Kazu for looking after me so well and making my stay in Toyama so memorable.
I’ve spent the past two days in Kanazawa, which is a much larger city than Toyama, and considerably less grey. Today I travel to Tokyo on the shinkansen and on Tuesday I leave Japan to fly to Hong Kong. The next adventure is just round the corner!
Below are photos from the Walk Japan tour from the 9th November to the 13th November. We walked from Nagoya to Matsumoto, following the old Nakasendo Way, an ancient highway used mostly during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). We had a lot of fun, primarily due to four highly successful Filipino businessmen who were having a ‘boys holiday’ and who laughed, and made us laugh, most of the way!