Bear essentials in Japan
Reliving our adventurous European camping holidays in a mini-van in the 1970s, my husband and I hire a campervan in Tokyo and head off on a three-week road trip around the main island of Honshu.
Though compact, our van comes with all of the necessary equipment for a road excursion: iPad with local information and GPS, Wi-Fi, stove, fridge, table and chairs, utensils, sleeping bags and thin mattresses. We even have a shoe horn chained to each sliding door for removing our footwear.
We sleep well in our van for the first three nights, staying at the wonderful “park and stays” found throughout Japan. These are free car parks, usually on the outskirts of a main town, and are serviced with clean toilets, sometimes a restaurant and always a convenience store.
As we venture into the Japanese alps, the evenings grow cooler so we decide to treat ourselves to a real bed and forgo another night in the chilly van. The small tourist office in Kiso provides us with an origami souvenir and the name of a nearby ryokan. “We don’t know anyone who has stayed there, but it is budget-priced and only a short drive into the mountains,” we are informed.
After much backtracking and many dead ends, we find the rambling old farmhouse. Being cautious, I inform my husband that if we don’t like it, we won’t stay. To our surprise we are greeted by Mariko, a sprightly 87-yearold, clutching her mobile phone and indicating that we should listen carefully. She then talks into the mobile in Japanese and a clear English voice relays her instructions to follow her upstairs to our accommodation.
As we enter the bedroom my heart leaps. It has tatami mats, thick futons, artistically folded yukata gowns, buckwheat husk pillows and painted paper screens that separate us from an adjoining room, where Mariko later serves us green tea and little bean cakes.
After settling into our delightful abode with breathtaking alpine views, I mention to our landlady we are going for a walk in the nearby forest to admire the cherry blossoms. To my surprise, she hurries downstairs and returns with a small transistor radio. Putting it in my hand, she turns the volume to maximum and informs me, “This radio is for keeping the bears away!” We have arrived in the authentic Japan. Send your 400-word contribution, with full postal address, to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists receive copies of Lisbon by Rebecca Seal and Dalmatia by Ino Kuvacic, newrelease hardbacks featuring sumptuous photography and recipes from the heart of Portugal and Croatia’s Mediterranean coast. $95. More: hardiegrantbooks.com.