First thing I realise is that I’m going to get the footwear thing wrong. We arrive at our beautiful little ryokan on the main drag of this little hot springs resort town, and immediately our sturdy, Gore-Tex lined walking shoes are spirited away in favour of some plain brown guest house slippers. When we reach our room we must remember to walk no further than one or two steps inside before removing even these items of footwear, and offer nothing to the fragile tatami mats but bare or stockinged feet.
Also known in the west as “Japanese pizza”, this create-your-own-adventure snack is a staple in Osaka and Kansai province, but the people of Hiroshima claim to serve the best okonomiyaki (or “hiroshimayaki”) in the country.
I’m not a huge fan of Japanese food. My palate is much more attuned to the more robust flavours of their Indian, Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian neighbours. I recognise and appreciate the Japanese approach to food, their clean palate, their appreciation of texture, their focus on impeccable presentation, but it’s never my first choice when eating out.
It’s a source of real irritation to me that, no matter how much you spend in an Australian shop, no matter how high-end, the likely greeting by the shop assistant at the till will be “Just these today?”. Once I was shopping for a whole new work wardrobe, assisted by a personal shopper. Even with the personal shopper’s discount my bill in one shop was a comfortable four-figure number. “Just those today?”, I was asked as I approached the counter. I almost asked whether she would prefer I shop a little harder just to gain her acknowledgement as a bona fide customer.
The Japan Rail officer on the opposite platform performs a brief balletic ritual as the Shinkansen pulls away exactly on time. In precise and well-practised gestures, he ostentatiously points at his shining silver watch and then at the departing train with a white-gloved hand, signifying its timely departure. Apparently, all of the officers’ watches are synchronised. He gestures to the officers in front of and behind him along the platform. He points at his watch again with his index finger, reciting something aloud – I can’t tell what of course – but I imagine he is announcing proudly that another JR Shinkansen, that technological wonder of Japan, has departed bang on time.