Es­sen­tials

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Cover Story -

Stan­ley Ste­wart was a guest of Am­per­sand Travel (020 7819 9770; am­per­sand travel.com), which of­fers 10-day itineraries to Ja­pan from £6,600 per per­son with stays in Tokyo, Kawazu, Shuzenji, Osaka, Kurashiki, Kikunoya and Kanazawa. The price in­cludes in­ter­na­tional flights, car hire on Izu Penin­sula, bul­let train travel, en­trance fees and pri­vate guid­ing. The Art of Travel (theartof­travel. net) ar­ranges unique ex­pe­ri­ences in Ja­pan, from vis­its to gold leaf lac­quer­ware artists to mar­tial arts lessons. A geisha evening in Kanazawa with a night in a Ja­panese house costs from £945.

thoughts of The Four Sea­sons were for­got­ten. Her play­ing was ex­quis­ite – haunt­ing, fem­i­nine, melan­choly. While Emiya played, Yoko, the trans­la­tor, leaned to­wards me and whis­pered: “She has lost her prince. There has been a heart­break.” In the stilted at­mos­phere of this strange evening, this rev­e­la­tion of emo­tion was star­tling.

When the geisha re­turned to the ta­ble, we chat­ted po­litely about Kanazawa’s 16th-cen­tury cas­tle and the ex­quis­ite Ken­rokuen gar­dens, among the finest in Ja­pan. Then sud­denly, just as I was get­ting into the whole geisha thing – the mu­sic, the sake, the more in­ti­mate at­mos­phere, the poi­sonous blow­fish – our ap­point­ment was over. Hold­ing me by the el­bow, Emiya kindly steered me to­wards the door. Any un­steadi­ness wasn’t the sake. Both of my legs had fallen asleep.

There was more bow­ing, there were ex­pres­sions of re­gret and thanks. Emiya pointed the way and called flut­ing salu­ta­tions af­ter me. Out­side in the dark lane, I turned to wave. She stood in the door­way, the lighted room be­hind her. The melan­choly rain, namida ame, washed across the yard. “You have won­der­ful hair,” I called back to her.

Emiya smiled, rais­ing a hand to one of the lac­quered pins. Then she spoke, a lit­tle halt­ingly, for the first time in English.

“It is not real,” she called across the yard. “It is a wig.”

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