19 Jul

The coffee shop doesn’t look very promising, but we want to get out of the drizzle. There’s one table of middle aged ladies and a karaoke machine with a huge TV, the sound’s off, but the lyrics are still scrolling across the bottom in Japanese. The walls are scuffed and it’s rather gloomy, net curtains filtering what little light is coming through the window.

We make our way to the only available space for five and sit down. One of the middle aged ladies pokes her head around the partition between our two tables and squeals excitedly to her friends, jabbering in rapid Japanese, the only word I understand is “kawaii” or cute.

As one, they descend on us, pointing and talking excitedly. The word kawaii is used a lot. Ned’s big green eyes and unfeasibly long lashes receive particular attention. At one stage, a young man, someone’s son I assume, is brought into the shop to admire the children, he shuffles awkwardly before making his escape. Then we are showered with gifts of rice crackers, peanuts and sweets. “Present, present!” they urge.

Wherever we go, the children are given small presents and cooed over, usually, but not exclusively, by older women. They’ve received sweets, fistfuls of origami, key rings, octopus balls, balloons and wooden spinning tops. Our very favourite present was three stag beetles (see above) which we were given over breakfast one day. After a brief play, we sadly had to give them back. While in many ways they’re the ideal pet, I’m not sure how UK customs would have taken it, and we do want to come home.

Most Japanese are, as their reputation suggests, incredibly reserved. We’re often not sure at first whether ryokan owners and volunteer tour guides are pleased to be saddled with noisy, sticky, clumsy foreign children. We spend a lot of time apologising for spilt water and dropped chopsticks and wrestling in inappropriate places. Then just as we think they’ll be glad to see the back of us, they surprise us with their kindness. It’s a funny old place.


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