Since I was a child, I’ve had an overly idealistic idea of what Japan is like. When I went over there to meet my girlfriend, I was prepared for it to not live up to my lofty expectations.
It was truly lifechanging.
I booked an itinerary with Air France to and from Kansai international airport (MAN->CDG->KIX), and an onward to Sendai (SDJ) with Peach Airlines. I also tried to book a hotel somewhere close-ish to where my girlfriend lives, but they either weren’t bookable online (and I’m scared of telephones), or they were booked out, as apparently October is a bumpin’ time with public holidays. I ended up using AirBnB, which wasn’t able to find me a single place, but did find two that would cover my whole stay.
Air France then, less than 24 hours before my flight, and after I’d thoroughly ruined my sleep schedule to be able to make it, told me they’d cancelled my flight, and later to say they’d arranged a different flight that went via Amsterdam instead, and was much later, which would have caused me to miss my Peach flight. They were very helpful on the phone though, and I got my original CDG->KIX flight back, having to instead take a much earlier MAN->CDG flight at around 0500 instead of 0900.
CDG was reasonably nice. They had some sort of bakery in the waiting area, filling the whole place with bakery smell, which was nice, if you’d like to spend a hundred and thirty euros on a croissant. Not yet in the holidaying mood, I refrained.
The long haul plane was cool. It had these touchscreens in every seat that would play you an advert for something I won’t mention whenever you used them first, and there were technical issues with the plane so it kept being rebooted, causing one to have to watch the same advert again. Once you got past the advert Endless 8, you could watch some films, listen to some music, play some crummy games, watch a live map, or some live camera feeds from outside the plane, which I liked the most.
It also let me catch this chappy working very hard indeed.
Technical issues resolved, we were off the ground only about 50 minutes late, and in good time to land in KIX at negative eleven in the morning. (Yes of course I set the touchscreen language to Japanese instead of English).
I had woken up at around 0200 UK time, with the hope that I’d be so darn tired that I’d fall asleep shortly after getting on the 14 hour CDG->KIX plane, but it turns out planes are very noisy when you rest your head against any part of them, and a window seat leaves one with a sloped-inwards wall for a pillow. I’m not a large man by any measure, but even so, getting comfortable in the economy seat was impossible, and I had probably the worst sleep (or eight sleeps) of my life since my ex’ cooking dissolved my stomach lining that one time.
Sadly I didn’t get to sit next to any of the many Japanese people on the plane to have a nice conversation with, instead I was sat next to a somewhat elderly French couple, which meant the flight attendants all addressed me in French, which I don’t speak. I suppose my moustache also threw them off. With a little nudge, they switched to Japanese, and I got “chicken, or beef?“ed, which made me smile on the inside. I didn’t realise they were Western-style chicken and Eastern-style beef, so I went for the chicken, which was… Well it was good, but it was good for airline food. What’s the deal…
On the live map feature, one could choose to view a pseudo-HUD showing heading, altitude, speed, and so forth, with low budget 3D rendering of the planet below. When in the thick of the clouds, it was a more interesting watch than the live cameras. Here is the first time I “saw” Japan.
And a half hour later, I caught my first real glimpse of Japan through the clouds. I got a picture of a different bit for posterity. My eyes see much better than the camera.
In Osaka, there was a bit of a wait before the next plane, so I took advantage of some free WiFi and had some conversations with whichever friends were awake at the time. I showed off the messy solder join in the ring I’d made and brought for my girlfriend, and snapped a picture of a giant sign saying “Welcome to Osaka” which was a good cold opener. My friend suggested I present the ring outside its box, because in the box it might have connotations, which was a good shout.
I also looked up how to take public transport in Japan, figuring it’s probably not so bad, and learnt about “IC Card"s - similar to the UK’s Oyster cards. My Japanese is weak, however, and whenever I asked how to get one, I was told they weren’t on sale here, or to try some other place, or Suica was going to be hard to get but if I was only going to use it in Sendai then I could get an ICSCA… All highly confusing. I decided to try my best with cash.
Landing in SDJ, I gave the reigns to Google Maps to get me to the first AirBnB. Knowing what I now know, I’d probably grab the Sendai access train all the way to Sendai central station, then ride the undertrain to Yagiyama Zoo, or maybe even get off the access train at Nagamachi and walk, but Google Maps had me get off at Nagamachi, then catch a bus one stop too far, then walk down the hill. The train apparently turns from the Sendai airport access line into the Northern(?) line after a certain stop, so Google colours it in a different colour, which confused me, so I got off, and looked around for another train, having to wait for the next one when I realised.
Riding the bus was also exciting. I waited at the right place, and it turned up exactly on time just like the trains (highly alien behaviour), and let others get on first to figure out what to do. The buses in Japan that I saw have two sets of doors. People ahead of me got on the bus by going through the door in the middle of the bus, and fiddled with some device at hip height when doing so. This perturbed me because I thought perhaps, similar to the trains, buying a ticket before boarding was necessary.
In my horrifically broken Japanese, I asked the lady next to me if buying a ticket beforehand was required, and she said “it’s ok, you pay when you get off, (off) time, ok?”, with the “off” in brackets in English. 「オフ時ね？」 I get the impression she was mega jazzed to try out her English skills, which warms my heart to this day.
Dutifully I followed Google Maps’ directions, and walked past a bus stop I’d ridden past to get to Kazunori-san’s place. He was waiting outside (I fear he may have watched me go past on the bus), let me in, and gave me a tour. He seemed confident enough in my Japanese to give the tour in Japanese, except for a bit where he switched to English to explain how all the wood in the place (solid exterior walls, a big pillar in the living space, floors, stairs, probably more) was all bought from the depopulated zone around Fukushima, and shipped all the way to Sendai, because he wanted to help out. Similar to the lady at the bus station, I get the feeling he was excited to speak English. He also taught me that Roberu’s family name has something to do with a right-wing political party, and corrected my use of 俺 to 私, which I switched to when speaking to him. I still think 俺 is cooler though, so I still use that for myself in other company. (Sorry Kazunori-san).
I asked my girlfriend if she’d like to do anything that night, and she was like “don’t invite me to today’s date today!” To which I tried to respond “ok then tomorrow I’ll invite you out on a date yesterday,” but I either didn’t command the language well enough, or it wasn’t funny, or both. While waiting for her to respond to a slightly later message, I passed completely out. In the morning, I checked, and she replied less than five minutes after my message, I was just that conked by the trip.
On the Friday I awoke and replied to my girlfriend and set up a date, learnt she’d prepared a present for me, and perused the map looking for somewhere to eat. There was a promising bakery a five minute walk away which I visited, to find out it was closed for the entirety of my stay in Yagiyama, which was a little sad. I returned to the Green House and packed some stuff to go exploring in the city instead. I picked a place to eat, rode the undertrain to Aobadoori, and walked round in circles for hours. For some reason I was convinced I’d left my tablet back at the house, so stubbornly wandered lost hoping to happen upon the place by chance. At some point I stopped at a Seven, bought some delicious baked rolls of some sort and 2L of water, and when attempting to put the water in my bag (in its bottle, I didn’t pour the water into my rucksack), found my tablet in the way. With it in hand, the restaurant was quickly found, and I had something which didn’t at all seem Japanese. I believe it was called a “Nord”.
It was very tasty though.
The next job was to become internet enabled. I’d looked up a pocket WiFi rental company, and marked them on my map, so set off in search. Finding the building was easy enough, but the business name wasn’t on any of the signs, so I became convinced it was the wrong place. Only after being lost for a bit did I check the address on the website, figure out on which floor it was, and explore the floor myself. With my characteristically poor Japanese, I fumbled through the rental agreement, declined insurance, picked a plan that would only work in Sendai and had limited bandwidth, and forked over the cash. It ended up being 6000円 for a months’ rental, with 90GB of data included, which I really don’t think is too bad at all. I believe that was about £33.50 at the rate I bought my Yen. The employee (owner?) was also very patient with me. I’ll probably go back there.
Amusingly enough, in Kansai airport on the way home, I found pocket WiFi rental for a similar price but on a provider that covers more of Japan. Ah well.
Not to be outdone, I decided that if I was to receive a gift from my girlfriend, then I should give TWO gifts, and had something in mind - a game she was putting off buying until the next month for budgetary reasons. I had no idea where to buy video games in Japan, however. I barely have any idea where to do so in England, I just mail order them. I walked around Sendai for many hours in many multi-storey shops, and found all manner of interesting things. In a shop full of gunpla and some creepy dolls in the back, I found a bunch of Final Fantasy musicboxes that presumably played arrangements from the OSTs, one of which I was sorely tempted to buy for myself, but refrained.
In the same building, I found a bunch of concept art for anime, including my very favourite. I did my best to ask an employee if it was ok to take pictures, and asked if they were originals (they were not).
Almost as thanks for letting me take pictures, I bought a volume of Yotsuba&! I didn’t already have, and volume one of a jazz focussed manga I’ve not heard of before called “Blue Giant”. I haven’t opened that one yet, I’m terrified I won’t be able to understand it. The former centres around a young child’s adventures in normal life so the language isn’t all too challenging.
Again, in the same building, I found one of many card shops and bought a couple of Weiß Schwarz Hololive promo cards (Watame, Ina, and Fauna), and sandwiched them between the books for safekeeping. I could definitely have spent more money there, and probably will next I go back.
Feet aching, I picked a direction in which to walk until I found a café, and was distracted by a travel agency. I was struck with a question, one that I would end up asking many people - on a “temporary visitor” entry permit, working in Japan is verboten, but what about working while in Japan, for an English company, receiving payment into an English bank account? Were I allowed to do that, the time limit on my holiday would essentially be the length of the entry permit, (ignoring that I’d already bought the return flight). I went in, and, seeing that it wasn’t so busy, apologised and asked the lady behind one of the desks. I was clearly not a paying customer, nor would I be convertible to one, but she very politely and diligently researched the problem for me. Unable to find a satisfactory answer, she printed off a sheet of contact information for FRESC, who she said would know for sure, and encouraged me to call them. We then made some idle chatter about how dire England is, and I left, found a cafe, ordered a drink, and sat down to peruse the map.
Google Maps let me down greatly, searching for any variation on “video game shop” simply brought me to arcades and pachinko parlours. Somehow, I eventually stumbled into a general electric store, which had the game for which I was looking in its somewhat small selection. I put it in my bag and headed towards the station to go to our date, and the first time I’d meet my girlfriend face to face. Tensions were high, because I’m a dingus with a lack of self-confidence, but I hid that.
She picked me up from a FamilyMart car park (she’s unimaginably beautiful, by the way), and we went to a nearby ramen place, because I’d listed that as one of the things I’d like to try. Ramen places appear to follow the same sort of layout, where one enters, puts money in a machine and presses a button (or many) to receive tickets for menu items, which one then hands to the wait staff. Don’t forget to ask the machine for your change.
We exchanged light conversation and gifts. I had handmade her a 4mm silver ring, flush set with a 2mm emerald and 2mm topaz. It was a highly amateur job as it was the first I’d made, but she seemed to appreciate it. Being a gift, I couldn’t really ask “hey, what’s your ring size” beforehand, so I guessed that perhaps with the height difference, if I made it for my little finger, it would fit well on her ring finger. Turns out, like my feet, my hands are also teenyweeny, so it fit her little finger, too. She seemed to like it.
In return, I received a gold chain with a teardrop cut London blue topaz as a pendant. She picked this one specifically because she thinks it matches my eyes, and I find myself agreeing. I don’t pay them much mind, because they’re in my head, but my eyes are somewhat of a charm in Japan. Basically every native Japanese person has black or very dark brown eyes, so my misty grey/green/blue eyes are a bit of a standout. I was complimented often for things I don’t really think about while I was there. It was a huge ego trip, thank you Japan.
The meals arrived, and I had apparently ordered something with pork and a boiled egg. I took the opportunity to ask her how to use chopsticks, and she gave me a quick tutorial, then said “but I don’t do that, I hold mine weird, look”. Eating the meal, especially the egg, with chopsticks was a highly embarrassing affair, in a fun way. We didn’t seem to want to part, so after the meal, we clambered into the car, and half drove aimlessly circling around the question “what should we do now?” Eventually ending up all the way back at the Green House. My girlfriend didn’t enjoy driving around Yagiyama, the roads are narrow, steep, and windy. We said our goodbyes and I went inside to wash and sleep. We talked more after she got home, and set up a date for Saturday. We would go to Matsushima.
The next day, I woke up ridiculously early (a pattern that continued until about the last three days), got washed up and headed to Sendai again to meet my girlfriend.
We rode the train together to Matsushima, which is a somewhat sleepy little coastal town near a whole bunch of islands, I think 30+. We ate some sashimi and oysters in a cute small cafe near the train station. It was my first time trying oysters ever, which went as well as you might imagine. I ate two of them and decided to give it a rest. The sashimi was salmon, tuna, a pink paste of some sort that was highly delicious, shirasu (which were very nice), and the usual Japanese sides of pickled vegetables, rice, and miso shiru. It was my first time trying the latter and I was an instant fan.
There’s an iconic long red bridge in Matsushima, which I believe holds some record or other. I took a photo of it in the distance.
We had a walk around, and visited a temple/museum of sorts. There were a bunch of mini caves carved into the rock, with little statues left carved into the air, all by ancient Japanese people. I also saw a lot of a tree I would see even more of, though I still don’t know what it is. It likes to get very tall, go STRAIGHT up, and have a little canopy at the top. I’m pretty sure it’s not bamboo.
In the temple-museum there were a bunch of artefacts to do with the Miyagi prefecture, and a WHOLE lot of stuff that I couldn’t read. I was tempted to ask my girlfriend to be an audiobook for a bit, but I didn’t understand the little I could read, so it would likely have been moot. I also referred to “ink” as “squid ink” by accident, which stirred some mirth.
After the temple (museum), we had a bit more of a wander - I identified some English speakers’ home countries by their accents, and taught my girlfriend the correct pronunciation of “vegetable” (a remarkably difficult word for Japanese people), while she wondered where we could get some zunda for me to try. We walked past a car park, and I excitedly pointed out “look, that registration plate is 88・88!” Which earnt me a bit of a shushing. Once out of line of sight of the car, she whispered to me that that’s probably owned by someone in the mafia. I hoped that my obvious air of being a clueless foreigner would shield me, but nobody seemed to mind.
On one of the nearby greens, a family was playing with their medium-sized dog, throwing a ball for him. My girlfriend rather likes dogs, and was saying how cute it was, so I said we should ask if we could throw the ball. Ignoring her protests, I went over to the owners to ask exactly that, and they were quite pleased. We threw the ball for the dog once each, then went to the nearby toilets to wash our hands. You know what dogs are like. I said something to the effect of “see, you can just make friends that easily, and friends are people you like, so it’s easy to find people you like,” and learnt rather worryingly that my girlfriend has friends that she doesn’t like. I thought (and think) that maintaining such a relationship is folly and breaking it off would be better, and my neuroticism took tight hold of what she said to bother me later.
More strolling; we almost made it back to the train station, but still had the previous day’s desire to not part ways, so found an excuse to do another circuit - I had to try surimi. It took me weeks to find out what that is, but I wasn’t much a fan of it. When I ate it, it was some anonymous very fishy white mass that was shaped into a large teardrop and skewered, for roasting by the customer. It was a very hot day (for an Englishman), and standing in front of the grills was a little uncomfortable, then the kamaboko (the form in which the surimi was, I think?) Were kinda rubbery and had a strong taste but were also bland at the same time. They tasted artificial. They weren’t awful, but I don’t think I’d have another one.
Eventually we circled back to the train station. It was a very bright day, and my girlfriend complained as such, so I had the bright idea to retrieve my hoodie, put my arm in one arm, and out the other, turning myself into a bizarre kind of flag pole, and keep my arm raised to shade her. I felt a little silly, but she was suitably impressed, and noted that those nearby were likely envious that she had such a chivalrous knight. I may be embellishing. I also snapped what I think might be my favourite photo of her, though there’s an unrelated third party in the background who was NOT ready to have her photograph taken, and is wearing a rather distracting expression.
We rode the train back to Sendai, and I presented her with her second present - the game Lies of P - which she seemed to appreciate a lot more than the ring I handmade. Later in the journey, she fell asleep, which was of course adorable. We split at Sendai, taking the undertrain in diametrically opposed directions.
On Sunday we made plans to go to Michinoku park because the weather was nice. Clothes shopping would have to wait. The weather was slated to be rainy on Monday, so while it was still sunny, to the park we should go.
When we met in the morning, she gave me a tuna musubi, and some vinegar drinks, one strawberry and one another kind of berry I didn’t recognise. “Vinegar drink” had always confused me when she’d said it before, because vinegar doesn’t lend itself well to drinking straight. I had thought my Japanese was simply too poor to understand properly, but I tried the strawberry drink, and I can’t think of a better way to describe it than “vinegar drink”. They definitely taste of acetic acid and have that characteristic vinegaryness to them, but they’re highly sweet in addition to being rather sour. It’s a confluence with which I’m unfamiliar in English drinks… Not that I’m particularly adventurous with those.
On the way, we saw a gigantic statue on the mountain, the Sendai Colossus. A huge statue of the goddess Kannon, visible for many miles around, dwarfing even the nearby mountains. I asked how it was made, and she said “I don’t know.” After parking up at the park, she headed off to the toilet for a moment, and I devoured the musubi in mere moments. It was very nice indeed. Being brought delicious food and drink made me quite happy - I’m a simple creature.
Michinoku park was very pretty indeed. There were all sorts of water features, flowerbeds, and wildflowers.
It’s situated by a huge reservoir, in a tiny cordoned off portion of which customers can hire boats to go around in circles for a bit. The boats on offer were a row boat, a pedal boat, and a pedal boat in the shape of a Pokémon. I wanted to go in the row boat, not because I’m a cheap git (even though I am), but because it seemed like the most fun. Probably for the same reason, my girlfriend overruled and we got a pedal boat instead. She was concerned the row boat would tip over. The pedal boat was made with people much shorter than myself in mind - probably children - so pedalling it was a pain in the back. I couldn’t straighten my legs and my spine hurt against the seat. There was a refreshing breeze however, and the view was sublime.
Once our time was up on the boat, I tried feebly to convince her to come out again on a row boat this time, but she was having none of it, so we moved on to the recreation of an old set of houses. From what I understand, the houses are originals from way back when, but they were to be knocked down for new development or something, and were instead dismantled, moved to Michinoku park, and reassembled. We went in and out of each house, causing me to unlace and retie my overly complex boots many many times. In one of the houses, a couple of old ladies were telling stories of sorts. We arrived for the end of one and stayed for the entirety of another. Without visual clues, I was a little lost, but I believe it was the story of how the crow came to be all black.
On the Monday, even though it was a public holiday, we didn’t meet again. She was tired out from the full weekend and needed a day off. I wandered into the city again to kill some time and explore the local cuisine. Practice with chopsticks was very much required. I found a store full of handmade buttons and miscellanery that I thought my sister might quite like, though was never able to find my way back.
I also found a bunch of VTuber merchandise and collaboration pop-ups, which I enjoyed seeing, given that’s how I learnt Japanese so far.
I found a ramen shop nestled in a back alley and ate something rather delicious for very little money. I improved slightly with my eating utensils, but not a huge amount. I also confirmed my suspicions that I could eat the largest size.
With the feeling that my girlfriend doesn’t at all enjoy driving, that it stresses her out, I thought it would be rather nice if I could drive for her instead. I don’t get stressed or worried on the roads, the motorway doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and I infact quite enjoy driving. Planning to end up at the Miyagi prefectural police department, I ambled carefree despite the rain. I ended up finding a zunda shop somewhere near this photograph.
I bought a zunda dango, which was interesting. The dango was made of mochi, a smooshed up chewy kind of rice, and I didn’t much like it. The zunda is a vivid green… Sauce of sorts? It’s somewhat reminiscent of porridge, with a slightly grassy, slightly sweet flavour. I think it might be best as a milkshake or ice cream.
Procrastinating, I found myself in a book shop, which turns out is dangerous for me. I always end up buying at least something, and I spend a long time looking at covers and spines, trying to read anything at all. I found a section on programming, and found a book on Python for beginners through which I flicked, impressed.
As my girlfriend has expressed interest in retraining to be a programmer, I bought it as another present for her. I spent some following evenings reading through it as best I could, and scribbling notes to her in the margins in pencil. The book was, as far as I could tell, quite good, but I thought that some extra English here and there would help if she ended up going forwards with it, as most programming is done in English.
Eventually, I arrived at the police station and went inside to ask about driving licenses.
Being a day off, the place was rather quiet, but there were two policement in there who helped me a great deal, well tolerating my imposition to walk in and ask questions as a foolish white man who can barely speak the language. Unfortunately, it turns I had mega goofed, and not prepared properly before going to Japan. To drive in Japan as an Englishman, one must either:
bring an International Driving Permit, which can only be attained in person in the home country;
pass the Japanese driving test, which requires a place of residence and probably more than 18 days; or
have one’s UK license translated, then take that and a bunch of other documents (including stuff that requires a place of residence) to the police station to skip the driving test.
Not having known of its existence ahead of time, I had neglected to acquire an IDP, which meant that, at least for this holiday, me driving was off the cards. While there, I also asked about working for an English company while in Japan. The policeman was unable to answer definitively, but said that probably, if the money goes to an English bank account and then is converted to Yen by an exchange, it would be fine. That sounds reasonable to me, as there would essentially be no monetary difference between that and not working, but having payday fall within the holiday period.
Regardless, I then knew the requirements to drive for next time. There were bound to be some mistakes with my first real holiday. I retired to the Green House for the day and reported my diet to my girlfriend. She told me to eat some vegetables.
On Tuesday I scrolled around on the map looking for somewhere new to eat, this time not in the city centre and maybe with vegetables. I found a shokudou about a 40 minute walk away and head out, getting only a little lost. For an Englishman, it was fine weather with nothing special to note, but for a Japanese person, it was quite rainy indeed. I was walking about in my T-shirt. There weren’t too many pavements about, and at some point I ducked into a pathway off to the side to allow an older lady to pass. She, however, wanted to go down the path that I was now blocking, which was unfortunate. I got out of her way again, apologising. Seeing that I could somewhat speak Japanese, she worriedly asked where my umbrella was. I explained that I was English, and went on my way.
There were some traditional seats at the restaurant at which I wanted to sit, but it was a four person place, and there were other customers, so I decided to take a table instead.
I did my best to figure out the menu, put it away, and sat patiently, then a waitress came over to ask for my order. I was like “one of X and one of Y please”, to which she replied “something something something”, and I panicked a little and said “a-ah, no, that’s ok!” I didn’t want to cause any trouble.
She busied off to the kitchen and later came back with two meals. I guessed that what she had said was “that’s two meals, are you sure?” I had been tricked by the price - eating out in Japan is remarkably cheap compared to England. Naturally, I ate it all.
Belly jiggling, I left the establishment with no plan. Without the map, I started walking vaguely back in the direction of the Green House, hoping to find something interesting on the way.
At the foot of these steps, I heard someone practicing a brass instrument, perhaps a euphonium. I listened this way and that, hoping to figure out the direction, and go listen closer, but was unable to figure it out, and chanced it by climbing the stairs. I was wrong, but I found a very pretty walk.
At the top of the route there was a nice view of Sendai over a steep drop.
I also found some colourful and large spideyboiz. They were so large that other, smaller spiders were chilling in their webs, as if they paid rent.
Further on, I found some more nice views over Sendai. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the Sendai Colossus also made an appearance.
I made my way back to the Green House, where I engaged in a misunderstanding with my girlfriend. I’d come over primarily to see her, but failed to properly communicate that, and came off as needy and dependent. Fearing that I was becoming a friend that she doesn’t like, I went to sleep, and attempted to fix it in the morning.
I managed to make it a bit better.
Evening fell and I tried some kopipan (a prepackaged sandwich) which was ok, and some melon bread which was amazing.
In preparation for clothes shopping on Saturday, on Thursday I ventured out to look for a salon and a barber. The salon required an appointment, so I booked something for 14:00, and walked down to the barber, where I was able to walk in and impotently try to explain that my facial hair is a catastrophe but I kinda like that my moustache does that twirly thing but it also extends a bit down past my mouth and is a bit of a loose end and I have no idea what’s going on with my chin and…
Satou-san the barber was very accomodating and sorted me out proper, even shaving my cheeks, forehead, and between my eyebrows. I don’t know if that’s normal, but I looked better coming out than I did going in, so good job Satou-san.
With a couple of hours to kill before the salon appointment, I searched for somewhere to eat in the vicinity, and found… “Hot Through?” (Update! It’s not “Hot Through” (ホット・スルー), it’s “To be Refreshed” (ホッ・とする), thanks みきさん!) An okonomiyaki restaurant. I ordered a Kansai style with extra sausage, and I have no idea what most of what I ate was, but it was the best I’d eaten so far. It came with some sort of cutting implement that I didn’t know how to use, and there were too few other customers to learn from, so I struggled with just chopsticks.
I wasn’t sure what to do with my crockery after the meal, so I took it to the counter to pay, which apparently isn’t the correct thing to do. The employee, (perhaps owner?) rushed out when he noticed me and thanked me profusely, I paid, and we made idle chatter about from where I came, why I was in Sendai, and that I thought the meal was the most delicious one I’d eaten so far. He was very happy to converse and to hear the compliment, and asked me to come back with my girlfriend some time.
After stopping in at the Green House to brush my teeth, I went to the salon and explained badly that I wanted a cut, but not too much because I like it long, and also please God just fix it somehow it’s a bombsite. I was seen to by a young man who washed my hair in one of those sinks (you know the kind) then took me over to a mirror to blow dry it and cut it a bit. He didn’t say much at all at first, presumably because I’m very obviously not Japanese, and speaking to me in English was probably quite daunting. Once he figured out I could speak passable Japanese, though, we had some conversation - why I was in Sendai, how I learnt Japanese, so forth.
As my hair dried, it turned into the fluffy cloud it usually does, and the young man called for backup. A young lady joined the fray, and they both set to my hair with straighteners. Clearly I have so much hair that two people are required. They did a good job, though, and conversation revisited similar points with the new person. At some point I was also offered a drink, but given caffeine is off the table, I only got a water. All in all, the beauty team did a good job.
In conversation with my girlfriend that evening, I made things a bit worse again. Words are not my strong suit.
On Friday, I decided to not repeat Wednesday and left the Green House for something to do. My feet made their way back to Hot Through, where the owner seemed immensely pleased to see me again. This time I ordered a Hiroshima style with udon and extra burger. It beat out the previous day’s Kansai style for most delicious food so far.
The owner invited me to come back another time and try Hiroshima style with soba, which I fully intend to do.
I headed North-West into a forest and had a walk around. It was beautiful.
I also found a stripey stick, standing up out of the ground. At this point it was kinda hitting me… There’s simply no trash. Were I in England in a similar place, there would have been crisp packets here, empty bottles and cans there, an old CRT TV ditched in the water… But in Japan it’s different. It’s like the people respect their surroundings. I didn’t get a photo of them, but I did see a couple of signs in some places that said things like “let’s keep our surroundings clean!” Like a team effort.
Something else that kept echoing at me was that I could go out in England and walk amongst nature, brown on the bottom, wood in front, and green up top just the same, but everything was kinda different. All the trees were different, all the shrubbery was different, all the moss was different, and I bet the dirt would have tasted different too. It was like listening to your favourite song played on different instruments.
A few times on this walk around the forest, I was swimming in the contrasting emotions of awe at the beauty of Japan, concentrated into this microcosm, and of having probably ruined my relationship entirely, and so quickly. (Neurotic, remember?) I had no choice but to sing. I let the forest know about Pink Floyd, Streetlight Manifesto, and Ryo, (though it probably already knew about the latter).
I saw a lot of red/pink ribbons tied around trees in the forest, and wondered their meaning. I also saw signs warning of bears, but the signs were small, so I wondered perhaps that the bears might also be small, and that I could defeat one should it arrive.
On the way out of the forest, I walked past some planted vegetables, and longed to live in the house there.
Returning to the Green House, I discussed what kind of clothes I wanted to buy with my girlfriend and made it worse (again!) And set up a time and place to meet.
Saturday arrived, and it was time to check out of the Green House. Amusingly, AirBnB doesn’t seem to allow booking one place for more than ten days, at least it didn’t let me. I didn’t HAVE to check out on that day as there was plenty of space and time, but I’d booked up to that day, and booked a different place for the rest of the trip, so check out I must.
I wasn’t able to contact Kazunori-san before I left, so I sent him a message saying I’d posted the keycard and thanked him for having me, and lugged my luggage up the hill and to the city centre.
When my girlfriend met me, she was surprised at my newly straightened hair, and the luggage, and carted me off down to a coin locker to stash at least the suitcase, which was a great help. Without her, I would have morosely trailed it behind me for the whole day until it was time to check in to the next place.
We toured some clothes shops in a multi-storey fashion shop near the train station. The shop keepers were highly attentive and talked a lot, which perturbed me. I don’t much like being sold to, but didn’t want to cause a fuss. With some deliberation, I ended up spending about £250 on a matching jacket and trousers, and a zip up hoodie. That feels expensive, but it’s the first time I’ve shopped for clothes, so who knows.
Smartly, I’ve yet to take photos of myself wearing the ensemble.
Feeling hungry, we explored under the train station in an indoor alleyway of restaurants. She chose a place that was rather busy so we went in to write our names down on the wait list, and lined up outside. I asked why she wrote her name in katakana instead of kanji, and she said it was because kanji can have all sorts of pronunciations, so it was easier this way. I was less convinced because her name has a pretty unmistakeable reading, and even less convinced when we were called in and the wait staff had misread it so said it wrong.
I had another katsu, while she had… I’ve forgotten, even though I finished it off for her. She also elected to get mixed grain rice, which looked highly interesting.
Checkin was after 16:00 and we still had time, so we had a little walk and found ourselves in a café. Our stops were terminals on the same line, but in the opposite direction, and Sendai is dead centre, so when it came time to trundle off, I rode the undertrain with her to Izumichuou, didn’t pass by the barriers when seeing her off, and rode it all the way in the other direction to Tomizawa. The ticket from Sendai to either costs the same. I don’t think that’s particularly allowed though. (Also I completely forgot to give her the book).
From Tomizawa to Guesthouse Hibari was about a 20 minute walk in a straight line, so I of course got lost. When I got close to the place, I also turned down the wrong street, glancing this way and that. A passerby saw a white idiot with a big rucksack and a small suitcase and said “Hibari?” Then guided me to the place (which was the next left). I thought they might have been an employee, but no, simply another instance of a Japanese person being unreasonably friendly.
At checkin, Maeda Miki-san greeted me, walked me through the checkin process on the tablet, and gave me a tour of the guesthouse. I was sat at the large round table in the common space as more guests arrived later in the evening, and after giving them their tour, Miki-san introduced me to them, “this is Adam, he’s an Englishman, and his Japanese is really good!” Highly embarrassing, but very much broke the ice. Everyone at the guesthouse was incredibly friendly after being introduced, and I made a good many friends. I’m going to forget exactly who was there on exactly which night.
I know that Akira-san, a student of THE highest rated university in Japan, was there, as we connected on Discord. He was only there for that night.
Kayoko-san was there - a grandmotherly older lady who was consistently bringing back some manner of delicious snack each evening and sharing them with everyone she could find. She was staying at Hibari while she’d been temporarily displaced to Sendai for her work as a nurse. I misguessed her age about 10 years below what it actually was.
I think Takeda-san might have been there too - a guitarist for Gut Explosion, a comedy grindcore band. He knew Chinese, and was fascinated with foreign pronunciation. He was playing with saying “Adam” and “Margot” all night. I misguessed his age too, this time about 20 years below what it actually was.
That must mean Margot was also there, a French-Vietnamese lady around my age. She didn’t join in the conversation quite as much, and when she did, she kept almost giving up and diving for her phone to translate for her. She reminded me a little of myself, I’m confident her Japanese is gonna get way better real soon.
Finally, later in the night, I believe another man turned up, whose name I either didn’t get, or have forgotten. I may have misunderstood, but apparently he’d walked all the way from Tokyo to Sendai, and was going to continue walking, resting there only for the night. I admired that, doubly so now I’m back in England, and wish I could simply walk the fuck away from it all. I had a vivid dream about walking very far that night.
The next day, I went where I knew I needed to go - when turning up the day before, I had seen that there was a cheesecake shop Yuzuki right next to Hibari. Cheesecake being my favourite cake (if you don’t count tiramisu), there was no other choice. Together with Akira-san, I went into the shop, and ordered a slice of caramel cheesecake, and a slice of blueberry cheesecake. The employee said something to me about having to wait two hours, and I asked Akira-san “help!”
I didn’t much understand what went on, but I acquired my cheesecake (and it was rather expensive I think), and waited outside for Akira-san. We walked a short distance, then parted ways, and I never saw him again.
Returning to Hibari, I attempted to eat the cheesecake, but it was frozen solid. After a few attempted mouthfuls, I decided that this was probably what the lady behind the counter was trying to explain to me - it’s frozen and needs to defrost for two hours.
Breakfast thwarted, I took a stroll up the road to Kaoru and ordered a tsukimi tororo soba, which is some kind of cold noodle dish. The soba comes cold on a platter, there’s a bowl of raw egg and some other stuff, and I forget what else. The flavour and the texture was interesting, but I might not order it again.
The owner was particularly fluent in English, which was cool. Or at least, his pronunciation was so good that I assumed he was particularly fluent - I navigated the encounter in Japanese.
With no plans to meet my girlfriend (and more neurotics than you can imagine), I returned to Hibari once more, and frittered time in the common area. The weather turned and was a little rainy, but still rather warm and not the sort of rain one would complain about in England.
When the cheesecakes had thawed I ate them, and they were good, but I felt like perhaps twice the size for the price would have been good. To save my wallet, I didn’t go to Yuzuki again. When 16:00 rolled around, Miki-san turned up again to deal with checkins. Nobody else was around so we made conversation on and off, between her doing some work on the laptop, and me watching videos on my tablet.
I think the cleaner, Satou-san (not the barber), might have also been there. I have a chat log talking about a double rainbow on that day, and I think I remember Satou-san pointing it out to Miki-san.
My girlfriend’s sister expressed a desire to meet me, through my girlfriend. We, well, she, arranged to all go somewhere the following Sunday. Me, my girlfriend, her sister, and two of her young children. I was excited to meet the children as it sounded like an excuse to climb some trees. We also discussed a lot more, and my stupid idiot head calmed down with thinking stupid idiot thoughts for a bit.
Back to weekdays, Monday saw me having a walk out to what turned out to be a family restaurant, Marumatsu. They had little pucks on the table with a button to call the wait staff when you were ready to order, and it made the loudest possible sound over the speakers. The waitress who was stood mere feet away from me answered the call. I suppose it’s more useful during busy times.
I had myself a double chicken katsu meal, which was pretty good, and some Eastern style pancakes for dessert, because no power on Earth will stop me having a dessert at breakfast/lunch when I’m on holiday. Sometimes there’s not much that will stop me having three. Ask my grandmother.
The pancakes were filled with some sort of jam whose flavour I couldn’t place, and the dark red ball is anko - sweet red bean paste - which became somewhat of a favourite of mine. It seems to be used in a similar manner to how we use strawberry jam over here.
A reasonably large family was also at the restaurant at a table over by the way, mother, father, two young children, and two other adults of some description. At some point, the young daughter went to go refill her drink, and clearly wasn’t yet old enough to have figured out how to look at someone without looking at them, staring very openly at me on the way. I was back to my usual fluffy self, long brown frizzy hair, striking anonymously grey/green/blue eyes, funny moustache, pale white skin… What a novelty I must have been.
Around this time, thoughts on harmony were congealing in my head. I got the feeling that Western cuisine was designed for its own purposes, then the cutlery was designed for the food. You have the knife, fork, dessert spoon, soup spoon, teaspoon, coffee spoon, cake fork, butter knife, steak knife, fish knife, and so on and so on. It seemed to me in Japan that they had the chopsticks, and they designed the food in harmony with those. The chicken katsu is sliced into strips before serving, so it can be easily picked up, the rice has been bred to be extremely sticky so clumps of it can be formed for easy chopstickery, the lettuce is shredded extremely thinly so it tangles into balls when picked up, noodles of all sorts are left long so grabbing just a few still leaves one with a full mouth…
I sat in a park and watched a few shinkansen go by. I hadn’t booked a return flight from SDJ to KIX, so the question of how to get there remained open. The shinkansen looked very fast, and what sort of a dumbass would I have to be to come to Japan and not ride it?
Pondering further, I took off my boots, and sat cross-legged on the bench. A young man brought five or six children to the park and they played a little football in the sun.
On the way back to Hibari, I stopped in at a sweet shop where I caused some distress to the owner, as she was worried I didn’t speak Japanese. I apologised and bought a kusamochi (grass mochi), and some anko doughnuts. The kusamochi tasted like grass, and had the texture of mochi, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but did. The anko doughnuts were doughnuts filled with anko, so were incredibly delicious. I should have gone back to that shop, but never did.
It may have been this night that the (unknown to me at the time) owner of Hibari, Matsuno-san, stopped by to handle checkins, and gave me a baked sweet potato. It may also have been another night, but I forget. We spoke about some things, then he left. He was very tall indeed.
Also at some point, Miki-san invited me to go to an onsen with her and her husband, which sounded fascinating. I don’t remember the invite being on the same night as Matsuno-san being there. Also also at some point I was asked to clear my bed of stuff for Tuesday before 10:00 so the sheets could be changed.
Tuesday came, I woke, washed, and wobed, and set to stripping the bed. Satou-san noticed me doing that and was very thankful, but said she would do that. I had some time to kill before the onsen, and chatting to Satou-san was fun, but I felt I was getting in the way, so I went out to find a mahjong place.
When I entered from the elevator, I was hit with a wave of cigarette smoke, which was highly unpleasant. It was a relatively small place, so it felt rude to turn back. I held my breath and went in. I asked if it was possible to play there without having brought friends, and they said it was, and sat me down to go over the house rules which were four pages long. The lady employee helpfully read them out to me (I would have really struggled with the kanji otherwise), and explained a couple of the rules with pen and paper, but there was a lot that I didn’t understand.
Towards the end, there was the explanation of chips, and how a hand with some certain gold pieces were worth chips as well as points, and at the end of a game the point spread determined how the players paid chips to one another. Chips were bought with real money at a rate of 1:1, and could be sold back to the store at 1:1.
Dang. It’s a gambling place. The reason for the chips, I assume, is because gambling is illegal in Japan (from what I understand). I know that pachinko places run by the Yakuza back when handed out prizes instead of money, and pawn shops near the pachinko places also run by the Yakuza would buy the prizes for money, as a loophole, and I figured this was similar. Still, I’d taken up a lot of the staff’s time, so I went ahead and played some games.
There were a total of seven people in the store, two employees, so naturally one of the employees was playing. In a store with a whole bunch of extra house rules. Playing for keeps. I bought 6000円 of chips, and left with 2500円, stinking like an ashtray.
Also one of the rules was “do not sexually harass the female employees” or similar, which… I dunno. If you have to write a rule like that down, what sort of place are you? What sort of clientéle are being attracted to you, and why?
I did not enjoy my time in the mahjong café. I don’t know if playing for keeps like that, and all the house rules, are par for the course, and I’m not sure if I care to find out on my next trip.
I caught the one train per day that rides the line through Taishidou but doesn’t stop there, and had to wait in Natori for a train going back the other way. Back at Hibari, I showered again because of the stench, and prepared for the trip to the onsen.
Miki-san arrived with her husband, Koyou-san, in his car to pick me up. She expressed surprise at my just-got-out-of-the-showerness, and I explained the situation. Both were surprised I went to play mahjong in the first place. I suppose it’s not a very white guy thing to do. On the way to the onsen, they asked if I played shougi. I don’t, but I do enjoy chess, so shougi is probably a good shout.
At the onsen, we ordered tickets to the baths like it was a ramen shop and went in. Miki-san went to the lady’s bath alone (of course), while Koyou-san took me to the men’s bath, explaining briefly the deal.
At the onsen, you strip completely naked at the lockers, and stow your stuff. You take your little washcloth with you, and can hold it limply in front of your junk if you like. A good many of the men I saw in the onsen gaven’t a hoot about such things.
In the entryway to the baths, there are a good number of stools set in front of mirrors and showerheads, with shampoo and soap. You wash yourself properly, then head to the baths.
There are a variety of baths to choose from. First we got into one that beat the heck out of you with water jets, noted the other indoor baths were quite fully occupied, and that there was a sauna over yonder. Koyou-san tired of the novelty of the jets, and we head outside. There were some individual tubs which we didn’t try, and a couple of shallower pools, one with decorative large rocks and mini waterfalls, and one without.
We talked about all sorts of things, our relationships, our careers, where we came from, how I learnt Japanese, working from home, and more, then - fearing we may be keeping Miki-san waiting - departed for the lockers to dry off and redress.
Luckily, we were out before Miki-san. She had another twenty minutes or so relaxing before she turned up, then discussion of dinner started. I stayed mostly out of it, happy to go wherever, and we set off to the car. At this point I learnt Miki-san’s age, and had to stop walking for a moment. Underguessing peoples’ ages in Japan was already somewhat of a pattern but I thought I had adjusted well enough. Not at all though, I guessed she was perhaps a little over half her real age. I swear they put something in the water over there.
We arrived at a canteen-style restaurant whose name I can’t remember at all. Miki-san remarked that the clientéle for this chain were basically all male, 30+ years old, for some reason. Koyou-san likened it to “McDonalds in Japan”, which caused me to ask “what about McDonald’s?” Which has a good foothold in Japan too.
We lamented not being in the onsen any more, and talked about how technology nowadays is ridiculous, and how the Internet of Things sucks, and Miki-san extolled my helping her with her laptop back at Hibari. They asked if I had any more things I’d like to do in Japan, and I thought going to some place where I could speak to a bunch of people would be nice, like Hibari. Koyou-san suggested a sports club, and while I’m not much of a sportster, Japanese archery - kyuudou - seemed interesting.
This set Miki-san off, and she started looking up places on her phone, seeing what was open when, if anything was open to beginners, and so forth. She found a place that’s open to beginners and is only 250円 for an evening, which sounded great, but needed to call ahead to check something. She wasn’t in work the next day, but said she’d phone them on my behalf and inquire, which is just above and beyond above and beyond.
As a reminder, Miki-san is an employee at Hibari - she handles bookings, checkin, and some cleaning - and she’s inviting me out for a recreational evening with her family and getting me into bowshoot school. At this point, I think things were kinda cementing in my head.
I’ve spent three decades in England, doing somewhere between the bare minimum and my absolute best, and never once felt like I belonged anywhere. In a foreign country, almost as far away from my birthplace as I can be without needing a spacesuit: the love of my life is here; everyone is kind; the bad experiences are still quite good; there’s no litter; the air is clean; you can see stars at night; restaurants are cheap; construction sites hire people specifically to stand there and bow to passers by as an apology for the disruption; the public transport is on time, cheap, and reliable; it’s warm in October; and now within two weeks of me setting foot there, Miki-san is being a better mother than my own flesh and blood ever was.
What’s the point of England?
I have to leave.
We piled into the car and made our way back to Hibari, but talk turned to dessert. We mentioned the cheescake parlour close to Hibari, and I asked whether tiramisu was a cake or not, and got two different answers, making defining cheesecake as my favourite or second favourite cake difficult. I was asked a couple of times if I was still hungry and wanted dessert, and each time I said I was fine, but we pulled up to a Sushiro- anyway because Miki-san had become dessert-desiring with all the talk.
We ordered some desserts, then returned to Hibari and parted ways.
I headed out to Morichan to check out some other shokudou, but it was closed, and there weren’t any opening hours posted anywhere, which was disappointing. There was another, Kazu, not too far off, so I went there instead. I was on the South side of the road on the way up, there wasn’t a crossing, and there were SO many crossings everywhere else I got the impression one wasn’t meant to cross without one, so I had to go further East to the lights. I caught sight of Penguin Bakery with a huge line out the front of it, which was exciting, as I am a fat fat boy, and baked goods are very goods indeed.
In Kazu, I had another katsu with a very dark demiglace. There was also some manner of weird sponge vegetable in the miso shiru, eating it reminded me of packing peanuts, or a loofah. It wasn’t disagreeable, but it wasn’t great either. The katsu made up for it, however.
Curiousity sufficiently piqued, and stomach insufficiently filled, I checked out Penguin Bakery and got a rather large meat filled bun for about 120円, about 60p. It was warm and delicious and large and cheap and all in all very quite good indeed. I returned to Hibari impressed, and hung out with whoever was there, I think it might have been Satou-san again.
I also set up another date with my girlfriend. She was busy with a work thing on Saturday, and we were meeting on Sunday to hang out with her sister and her sister’s kids, so we arranged to go to a yakiniku near where she lives on Friday, where I would be able to try Sendai’s famous beef tongue.
I awoke to a message from Miki-san, saying that I was welcome to go to the kyuudoujou but because I was a beginner, I’d only be allowed to watch and learn, which was a bit of a shame, but I made plans to go anyway. It started at 18:30, and was about a 40 minute walk away, so I had time to kill. If I recall, Miki-san turned up at 10:00 to do some cleaning, and we had a good natter.
I headed out to the bakery again and got two different meat-containing sandwiches, and an anko doughnut, all of which were brilliant.
Some time around here, Kayoko-san checked out, too, though I don’t remember the exact day. Some days before this, Hasegawa-san, a jeweller, checked in. She was always out in Sendai city centre late, selling her wares.
When the time came to leave for the kyuudoujou, Miki-san was busy in another room so I didn’t get to say goodbye, donned my fancy patent leather shoes for a special occasion, and went for a walk. A remarkably poor decision, as they rubbed a hole in my left ankle, and (of course, it’s Japan) I had to take them off before entering the building when I found it anyway.
Arriving at the correct buildings, I walked around looking for an entrance, got into the car park, and then saw a bunch of people doing kyuudou. “This must be the place,” I thought, and walked in, changed my shoes, and waited for something to happen. Eventually, a man named Kenta-san figured out I was in the wrong place and came over to talk to me, and guide me to the right building (same car park, opposite direction). His English was remarkably good, and he was very excited to converse with a native for a bit, so I obliged and switched to English for him.
He got me to the right place, joined me inside and I sat down in what I guess is a judge’s box? Kyuudou was completely different to how I imagined. Before I went, I figured “archery, right? It’s about hitting the target,” but watching it in front of me, it seemed much more meditative and ritualistic. The archers would enter the firing range, take a certain amount of steps in a certain gait, bow towards the flag (of Japan or the club, I couldn’t tell, they were very close), walk parallel to their assigned station, then turn and walk to it, spread their stance, hands on hips with two arrows in one hand and the bow in the other looking down. They’d then raise their bow in front of them, and sort of line the arrows up, one facing the other way, nook the other, look at the target with the bow raised high, then half draw the bow above their head and line it up with the target, then fully draw it bringing it level with their eyes, then loose the arrow and fling their drawing hand in the opposite direction, becoming a star shape like that picture DaVinci drew.
The arrow flew and hit wherever it wanted to, and they held the pose for a bit, then went back to the hands on hips again. Some of them made facial expressions or vocalised what they did wrong quietly, then the process repeated. It was as if the bow, the arrow, the target, atmosphere, archer, and God were all having a short conversation about what happened while they held the pose and contemplated. I get the feeling that advice such as “before drawing the bow, give thanks to the arrow” would be just as appreciated as “try to do the same thing twice in a row even if you miss, then adjust your aim next time”.
Kenta-san reappeared later in the evening for a few moments and asked my thoughts, and I roughly explained the above, and he seemed pleased.
Before heading back to Hibari, I stopped by Kenta-san’s kyuudoujou to see if he was still there and get his business card. He was, and I did, and we exchanged a couple of emails after that.
Back at Hibari, I apologised to Miki-san for not saying goodbye, and shared my thoughts.
On Friday, I checked out a salon, PEPPER, in preparation for my date. They pencilled me in for about a half hour later, and I very poorly explained I wanted my hair straightened. Apparently they can do a “permanent straighten” which interested me greatly, but it was about £105 and I was going home soon, so I refrained, and got an “iron set” instead, which sounds much cooler.
The vibe in PEPPER was very nice, the owner was loud and friendly, and they referred to the hairdresser who did most of the work on me as “Michiko-sensei”, which I thought was cool. After a little while, she figured I had a lot of hair, and got her assistant to help out too. We talked about the usual, England is rainy, I learnt Japanese by watching VTubers too much, so forth. It was an enjoyable time, and after straightening, she sprayed a bit of nice smelling oil on her hands and frisked them through my hair, and it was crazy how much better it looked, it was approaching what you see in adverts for shampoo. I was impressed and fragrant.
In case of rain, I chilled at Hibari waiting for the evening. I also had a back and forth with my girlfriend about where to meet, she was adamant about picking me up from the station, and I was adamant that I’d stroll to the restaurant. Some time the next day, I told Miki-san a story.
The husband in an elderly couple always eats the crust of the bread. He doesn’t like it much, so he bears it for his wife, so she doesn’t have to eat it. His wife always gives him the crust, even though she quite likes it, because he eats it every time.
Around midday, a customer turned up. Much before checkin time, but self checkin is doable. I’d seen the checkin process enough times by now that I sprung up to help out, explaining the tablet process, be quiet after 22:00, there’s stuff on sale in the fridge, and so forth. The customer, Rina-san, was incredible, she was so animated and happy that my spirits were lifted, even though I was already quite happy indeed. She wasn’t sure of her room, so she stowed her luggage under a table, and pulled out a whole bunch of idol stuff and arts and crafts gear, setting to work cutting out signs and making a flipboard of sorts.
Rina-san, a nurse like Kayoko-san, was in Sendai to catch Naniwa Danshi’s live concert the next day, and had left some of her preparation to the last minute. Her goal was to get some fan service (a wink, finger guns, a blown kiss) from Mitchie-san, and she was very determined. Though I follow VTubers, idol culture, especially male idol culture, is still quite alien to me, and I had no idea who Naniwa Danshi were. I looked up one of their songs on YouTube and it was very strange. They were all very pretty and kept looking into the camera and smiling and stuff and it made my heart flutter. I can definitely see why ladies fall for it.
I helped her out a tiny bit with the work and made some conversation trying to learn about the culture a bit. After a while, she took a break and went out into Sendai to take some photos at spots featured in the manga Haikyuu!, then it was time to go. I got changed into my expensive clothes, and wandered out.
The yakiniku was the most expensive place I ate the entire holiday. For the two of us, we spent about 8000円 or £40. That was THE most expensive. We had some beef tongue, some pork “hormones”, (offal), some squid, some chicken, and some stuff I might have forgotten, along with rice as a side. We might also have had a pudding, but I forget.
I lost the fight after dinner and she drove me back to the station. We hugged in the car at a red light before I got out and went back to Hibari. I also forgot to take a present she gave me - some guitar picks, which she figured I’d need after I’d cut my nails in response to her not thinking much of them long.
On return, there were some more guests there to see Naniwa Danshi - Honoka-san, a university student, and Sakaguchi-san, a college student. Honoka-san was conversational in English which was cool, and Sakaguchi-san held himself in a much older way than he was, everyone was surprised he was so young. People were also surprised when he came out wearing his Naniwa Danshi hoodie and people realised he was there for the concert too.
Miki-san was also there until 22:00 to handle checkins. Word had gotten to her that I did my best for Rina-san, and she was thankful, but was surprised to see me with kempt hair, impressed I’d made such an effort for my date, which caused everyone else to be interested in how it went.
Miki-san also let me know that there was another meeting of the kyuudou circle on Saturday, seeing as I was hunting for something to do. That surprised me, as I could have sworn the instructor had said he was there every Thursday and Tuesday (moku to kayoubi), but maybe he said Thursday, Saturday, and Tuesday (moku, do, kayoubi).
Rina-san’s gumption working on her signs for the concert sparked inspiration in the others, who had brought some stuff, but saw that they could do more. We all headed out on a trip to the Lawson so they could print some stuff out. I bought a bunch of snacks, including some anko doughnuts. They weren’t as good as the ones from Penguin of course, but a not-amazing anko doughnut is still rather good.
Rina-san liked taking photographs, so I ended up in a couple. Here the four of us are on the way to Lawson, a fine occasion to take a photograph. Clockwise from the bottom-left, Honoka-san, Sakaguchi-san, me, Rina-san.
On return, whispered conversation and crafts continued deep into the night.
More people there to see the concert checked in too, one pair of young ladies who seemed very close, but didn’t seem to speak much to other people, likely due to missing the introductions from the staff. I gave them the checkin introduction as best I could, and they found their room thanks to Miki-san’s colour coded maps she drew before leaving for the late checkins.
I forget the occasion, but Rina-san decided another photo was in order. I have completely forgotten the name of the lady on the right - she was one of the pair. From the top, it’s Sakaguchi-san, Rina-san, and me.
Another pair of exceedingly trendy young ladies turned up later, but seemed uninterested in this weird foreigner trying to tell them stuff, and simply made their way to their room. Later they came out and had a shower together, laughing and talking much past 22:00, which was highly unfortunate. As they left I quietly let them know the walls are very thin and people are sleeping, and they asked if using the hairdryer was ok. I said “probably”. They were perfectly nice people, I think they were just wrapped up in their own world. Is showering together normal? Maybe they were a couple, which is romantic if so.
At about 01:00, a voice came over the speakers saying they were staff, and asking us to go to bed. Oops.
I had asked Sakaguchi-san if he needed to be up in the morning and he asked to be woken at 07:30, so I woke up to do that, then took it slow to kill time. Satou-san and Miki-san turned up at 10:00 to clean again and I kept her company and got in her way as usual. At some point, the subject of my love for anko had come up, so Satou-san suggested taiyaki, which I’d heard of but not made the connection they contained anko. She suggested a place in THE MALL, so when the time came, I head out to find food, with a plan to end up there, then go on to the kyuudoujou afterwards. Miki-san also noted there was an all-you-can-eat buffet nearby, remembering that I am very greedy indeed and I could probably put them out of business.
They were both also very surprised to see what my hair had done after a single shower.
The first stop was a place that seemed like it might serve a lot of vegetables, Nanaya, so I could avoid being told off again. I of course ordered a “burger”.
I went for the mixed grains this time because I recognised the item on the menu, and I really do prefer them. According to my girlfriend, Japanese people prefer the white rice, but order the mixed grains to be healthy. I, on the other hand, get to be healthy while eating something more delicious. Good good.
Continuing the healthy eating theme, I had a soft serve ice cream in a sugar cone, then left to THE MALL to find even more sweets to eat.
I walked around THE MALL for a couple of hours, (got trapped in a bookstore again, and bought volume 1 of the Re:Zero manga), but wasn’t able to find the taiyaki place. I gave up, bought a cream puff from somewhere else, and asked where the taiyaki place was. They explained it was down to the left, so I thanked them, and went right, towards the exit, as it was time to go. I imagine it seemed like I simply didn’t understand.
Arriving at the kyuudoujou, the instructor was amused to see me again, and after dealing with some other people, gave me a rubber bow with which to practice, and gave me a bit of instruction. A “rubber bow” is a very short stick you hold in one hand, with a rubber hose looped into it. You use this to practice the motions and I guess also the muscle strength? I practiced until I was told to stop and go sit down to watch and learn again. Later, a young lady turned up also to try it out, and was told to sit and watch too. Later we were brought a DVD to watch.
Back at Hibari, the concertgoers were back and riding high. Rina-san didn’t catch any fansa, but she said there wasn’t really much fansa given out at all this time, so she wasn’t bitter. Honoka-san had donned a white pullover dress for the occasion which made her look rather cute, and Sakaguchi-san was cool as always. One of the pair of ladies whose names I’ve forgotten gave me a strip of the ribbon used at the event presumably to cordon off sections, which I understand to be an important piece of memory.
They were also surprised to see my normal sheep’s wool head of hair, having only seen me with the salonned straight hair up to that point. It, being a rarity in Japan, impressed them.
I made an instagram account to connect with Rina-san and Honoka-san, as they don’t do X or discord, and got banned instantly, before I’d even been able to log in, like what the heck? Trying again I didn’t get banned, and we added one another, and Sakaguchi-san, even though we’d followed one another on X.
Sunday necessitated an early rise, as I was meeting my girlfriend’s family on the other end of the undertrain at 09:00.
I got to across the road from the meeting spot at 08:59, but the lights took ages to change for me to cross, so I was one minute late. I was let into the people carrier by my girlfriend and we all exchanged greetings, and my girlfriend’s sister was suitably impressed, complimenting me on my Japanese, and introducing me to the children, who were absolutely overwhelmed with shyness and couldn’t even look me in the eye, which was adorable. I didn’t press the issue.
We set off for Jougi Nyorai Saihouji Temple all the way off in the mountains. The weather was pleasant, as was the conversation. My girlfriend made some efforts to rope the kids into conversation with me, bringing up how I’m a programmer and I like to play games, like the young boy wants to be and does, but he was much too shy to join in. The young girl also averted her eyes a bunch, but we didn’t seem to have much in common. After a while they pretended to sleep to stop being bothered.
After an hour or so we arrived, and everyone but me needed the toilet. Both of the children finished quickly, and poked their heads out, but didn’t see anyone waiting except me and ran back in to hide. Reuiniting, we all went down to eat some fried tofu which was quite nice, and then my girlfriend and I also had a big musubi with miso on it, which was incredibly good.
Walking back up the road we arrived at the temple. A lot of sticks of things were burning presumably as some offering to some god. My girlfriend and I rinsed our hands and mouths with a cup on a stick filled from a small water feature, then rang a HUGE bell. I noticed a 5円 coin on a side, and figured I should leave my own. We walked up to something that looked like a well, into which one throws money to make a wish. She said a coin with a hole in it is best, so I threw in a 50円 coin and wished.
Moving on, we came across the five storey pagoda. My girlfriend’s sister found out that we had zero photos together, so demanded we take some then and there.
Opposite those photographs there was a large sweeping pond housing a great many koi, which were rather excited to come and see the humans, on the off chance they had food. I wanted to try and pet one of them (because it was mega huge), but my girlfriend told me not to. Her sister’s child, the young girl, appeared to appreciate the silly suggestion though, slowly figuring out that I’m just a fuzzy fool, not a big scary foreigner. Or both perhaps.
We went into the nearby building that had a couple of displays aimed at a young audience, such as a one way mirror that cycled different ugly masks and showed one to you when you pressed a button - a great prank. “Haha you look like a monkey, this is you dude.” Mysteriously, when I tried it, nothing at all happened, then the children tried it and it pranked them good. I guess there was some sort of cooldown timer on it or something, and I didn’t get got because my girlfriend had only just been got. I played it off as simply being too handsome.
Besides the writing on the walls in which I was very interested but too illiterate to understand, there was a diorama of a small old Japanese village, which was cute enough, but they had panes of glass stood up in it here and there, onto which actors playing something out were projected, which I thought was very cool indeed. They’d walk into frame from inside one house, say something, and walk off, and other ones would turn up on a different pane at a different depth. Very 2.5D.
Having had a satisfactory visit to the temple, we set off to my girlfriend’s sister’s favourite okonomiyaki restaurant, as she’d heard it was my favourite cuisine. (I’m surprised I was able to find that on Google Maps with such ease). It was lunchtime, and the place is apparently rather popular, so we had to queue outside in the car on the street.
No doubt bored of waiting, the young girl was doing whatever to occupy her mind, and I heard tiny little fart noises coming from behind me. Turning round to investigate I saw her attempting to produce such noises with cupped hands - a noble goal, and one at which I am well-practised. I demonstrated how a big boy does it, and she was much impressed. In a similar episode later I heard feeble whistling noises, as she and her brother were attempting to do a sort of wood pigeon imitation by cupping their palms, placing their thumb knuckles together, and blowing through them. Again, something at which I am experienced! I suggested with a demonstration that instead of interlocking fingers, placing the hands perpendicular might be better, allowing a better seal, and more range when varying the pitch. Another win in the “look kids, I’m not scary” book.
Once we’d gotten parked up, my girlfriend and I took position in the people queue. The wait was long, and she was tired out, so later she went back to the car, after much convincing from me that it was ok if she wanted to. Inching closer as each party left, we all got at least inside the outer door and took off our shoes and made our orders.
I made conversation with my girlfriend’s sister, discussing things like the ring I made for my girlfriend (she’s wearing it in that picture above!) How often it rains in England, and I was complimented for having good posture and a “tall nose”. I may also have told my girlfriend’s sister that I love her sister and hoped she approved, making my avoidance of using any of their names so far construct not at all confusing sentences.
At some point, my girlfriend’s sister was trying to coax some words out of the children, asking the young boy a couple times “are you embarrassed? Are you shy?” I said that one’s embarrassment being pointed out usually made it worse, and that if he wanted to talk to me, he was welcome to at his own pace, and to not push him. I hoped that put him a little at ease.
The seating was traditional, small flat cushions on a raised tatami floor, so I sat traditionally, on my shins. That got me praise too, as apparently that’s very proper, but also elicited some worry - “you’ll get pins and needles!” I explained that I have only skin and bones, so there’s no more or less discomfort sitting like that.
The food arrived, and I had a large amount. I never said as it is my girlfriend’s sister’s favourite place, but it wasn’t a patch on Hot Through. The ladies expressed doubt that I could eat it all, the FOOLS! Once consumed, my girlfriend’s sister wondered out loud where I’d put it all - I explained it all goes to my giant butt.
She was also curious about what types of vegetables we eat in England, so I tried poorly to explain for a while before my girlfriend reminded me that I’ve been photographing every dinner for her since she asked what sort of food we eat here - showing those photos would probably be easier. At the same time I showed off the “making of” photos of the ring.
Customers were waiting and the children were tired, so we hopped in the car and headed back to the station. I presented my girlfriend with the present I forgot to give her the previous week, and she seemed unimpressed, which I understand. “Here, I brought you some homework!” She accompanied me into the station up to the gates, we hugged again, and that was the last time I saw her. I still don’t know when I’ll be able to see her again. I’m not gonna say I held it together back at Hibari.
Checkout was the following day - Monday - at 10:00, and I had eventually decided to fly Peach on the way back too. The shinkansen route only went as far as Tokyo, so required a seven hour bus ride that I wasn’t at all sure how to book. The flight from KIX to CDG was at 10:30 on Tuesday, so the earliest Peach flight would arrive way too late, and I’d have to fly in the day before and figure out sleeping arrangements ad hoc. Both were somewhat undesirable, doubly so because they were carrying me away from my love, and Japan. I booked my flight, and wrote in the Hibari guestbook, then went to bed.
In the morning, I woke late, showered for too long, and was late to checkout, but nobody seemed to mind. I said my goodbyes to Satou-san who had turned up for work, and head into Sendai city centre one last time.
On the good guidance of my girlfriend, I stowed my suitcase in a coin locker once more, and explored for breakfast. I didn’t keep the receipt, and can’t at all remember where it was, but I ended up waiting for a katsu restaurant to open up. I think it might have been a smoking establishment, as some other customers caused gross smells when they turned up, but the food was definitely the best katsu I’d had. They also served me some sort of tea instead of water while I was ordering, but took it away when I let them know I didn’t do caffeine and replaced it with water. Still a nice touch. I informed the waiter of my opinion as I left, and made my way back to the pocket WiFi rental company with a view to find some taiyaki first.
I had walked past a taiyaki shop, and a crépe shop, on the way to find food, but was unable to find the latter again, highly puzzling. I got a normal taiyaki with some cream and anko, and it was interesting. The dough was partially uncooked, which I understand is intentional. Carbs, fat, sugar, anko? Delicious.
The owner of the pocket WiFi rental company was expecting me, sorted out the return, and gave me some pocky as thanks for my business… But I don’t like chocolate, so I left with only the thought. I picked up my luggage, boarded the train, and headed for the airport.
From where I started counting I forget, but my journey back home started at 18:30. I got to KIX just fine and considered my options - sleep in the airport or find a hotel nearby? The holiday mindset was wearing off, and I opted for thrift. A predictably bad night’s sleep followed, but not before one last authentic Japanese meal, another bowl of ramen with some pork and fried chicken for a side (which was odd).
I woke up much too early and brushed my teeth in the bathroom with some bottled water, and learned that fun is banned in KIX.
Nobody was behind me on the flight from KIX to CDG, so I took my hoodie, slipknotted the sleeves, and tied my head to the headrest. The harness doubled also as a blindfold. Coupled with my in-ear earphones blocking out the very loud low and high frequencies of the plane, my sleep was better than on the way in, though still pretty awful.
There were two empty seats next to me, but someone else changed seats into one of them of his own accord, and placed a bunch of his luggage on the other one. He also had special dietary requirements, and was the exact kind of person to have special dietary requirements, if you know what I mean.
In CDG, a truck with a jet engine on it was chilling under our wing on the MAN flight. I don’t know what it was or what it was doing. I chose to believe it had stolen the engine off the wing.
My good friend Mike picked me up from MAN and took me home. I caught up with my Dad, and reintroduced myself to my cat, went up to my bedroom, and felt like I was in prison.