Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Looking for the Lost

By four o'clock a thick mist had hidden the hills. And at four-thirty, in the only grocer's shop I found to rest in that cold August day, I came face to face with one of the unlikeliest creatures you can encounter nowadays in the hinterland of Japan.
She was an unmarried college graduate, twenty-two or three, very bright and very pretty, who, despite studying for two years in Tokyo and working for another year at a day-care center in Miyazaki city, had come back to live with her aging parents on the shore of this lake in the middle of nowhere and help them run their shop. It was a move that almost anyone in her position, with her attractions, would have resisted, even though her mother was ill, she told me, and spent most of her time asleep. But the young woman looked content with her situation; or at least she looked more content than her father, who sat on the raised tatami of his living room, glaring suspiciously at us through his open screens for the entire time that I hung about his shop, which was as long as I could realistically make two large bottles of beer last, all ready to leap out and separate us at the first sign I displayed of committing aggravated rape.
"Aren't you bored here?" I asked the pretty young woman.
"Oh," she said, "I was born here, you see." Then she added, as though it explained the whole of life, "And there are fireworks in the summer."
. . . .

"What do you dislike most about this place?"
"The mosquitoes," she said brightly. "They're so big and black. Don't you think they are so big and black?"
I hadn't noticed any, I confessed, and she giggled. So I took my eyes off her face for a second and glanced around the shop for mosquitoes, and saw three of them, black and silent, feasting serenely between my knuckles.
I had better stay at the Fujiya Business Hotel, the pretty young woman told me. That's where she would stay if she were me. It was about three kilometers further up the road in the village of Murasho. Of course there was an old-fashioned ryokan as well, for men who came to fish in the lake. But a person of my tastes, accustomed to city life like she was, well, I should stay at the Fujiya Business Hotel. What on earth had they built a business hotel for, out here among these dams and mists? Oh, that was simply what they called it. It was more like a pension really, with a coffee shop downstairs and a few small bedrooms with showers. Sometimes she went to the coffee shop. There were no other coffee shops for miles and miles. Yes, sometimes she went to drink milk tea there. She would stay at the Fujiya, without a doubt, if she were me.
From Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan by Alan Booth

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