I picked up my JR Pass from the collection point at Narita airport and headed into Tokyo where I planned to stay one night before heading south to Kyoto.
After 8 hours sleep in a room no bigger than a rabbit hutch, I uncoiled myself, stretched back to full height and set out for Tokyo station, the terminus whence I would take the shinkansen (bullet train). I had noted that the line that would take me to Kyoto also passed through Nagoya so planned to spend 24 hours there en route.
My shinkansen ride produced mixed emotions: I never fail to be amazed by the speed and efficiency, however, this particular trip also turned me into an accidental con-man.
I’ll explain: the train was very busy and I was in the window seat of a three-person banquette, two trig, well-dressed, Japanese businesswomen in the seats next to mine. After perhaps an hour of travel, a large, snow-capped volcano appeared to the west. It looked familiar, as if I’d seen it on postcards or in films. I asked my neighbours, through an interpretative form of charades, whether this might be Mount Fuji. They nodded enthusiastic confirmation before turning to Google Translate to continue a conversation.
We went back and forth and, in due course, I had told them about my extensive trip. “We are envy” they responded to this information. I tried to assuage their envy by saying that yes, I was having fun,but that I now had no money. Forgetting that Google didn’t translate humour.
The conversation abated but, as my companions’ stop approached, they both produced ¥1000 notes (about US$10 each) and pressed them into my hand with a courteous little bow. I was surprised, then nonplussed, then, as realisation dawned, I was horrified. They had thought that I had literally no money and were being heart-warmingly charitable. Embarrassment doesn’t begin to cover it! I remonstrated politely with them and tried to explain the miscommunication but they were having none of it and, saying “Please, no problem, we have lots of money” they bowed, waved and exited.
I wanted the floor too swallow me up. Right up until I bought a lunchbox from the train assistant without having to open my wallet. It’s not a scam without intent, right? Right??
Arriving at Nagoya I checked in and decided on my target activities: castle visit and Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology trip. I set off for the castle, taking in the atmosphere of the city. Unlike the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Nagoya has a sleepier character; The charm of a well-worn corduroy jacket – once chic, smacking of erudition and now, ultimately, somewhat faded and out of fashion.
The castle itself was a large, whitewashed structure with a blossom of green slate roofs spreading from its central stem. Once I had discovered that the original had been all but destroyed and that this was mainly a reconstruction, I was inclined to spend less time inside. The exterior and the hibernal beauty of the gardens, however, compelled me to wander the grounds until the chilly tendrils of evening, entwined with the final rays of the setting sun, reached out, reminding me of the flimsiness of my jacket and forcing me hotelwards to evade their grip.
One of the reasons for stopping in Nagoya had been some pretty photos posted by a friend and former colleague on Facebook a week beforehand. Finding that she was still in town, we arranged to meet up for food and sake, both of which were delicious!
My next morning’s chosen destination was the Toyota museum. I’ll admit that the biggest pull factor was the promise of robots and other animatronics but I was soon enthralled with the whole story. The Toyoda (sic) family, having patented a circular loom decided to pit their wits against a more advanced western automotive industry and were soon the proud manufacturers of Japan’s first mass-produced car.
I thoroughly enjoyed the history but, given werevast amounts were very interactive, I also enjoyed pushing all the buttons, naturally.