July 22 2019
The Perilous Lifestyle of a ‘Japan – 100 Hidden Towns’ Contributor – CHAPTER 1 – Terror Comes To Nagatoro
I am a clumsy buffoon.
All the evidence – the plasters, the bandages, the hobbling gait – supports this confession. I am apparently unable to walk and think simultaneously.
Specifically, it seems that the further I take myself from my day-to-day domestic existence, the more accident-prone I become. The work that I did on the Japan – 100 Hidden Towns project led me – via a bloody succession of cuts, bruises and sprains – to this painful conclusion.
In the following accounts, I shall endeavour to catalogue my series of missteps and mishaps as I travelled around the perilous terrain of Japan, carrying out research for this publication.
CHAPTER 1 – TERROR COMES TO NAGATORO
My tales of woe began immediately, on my inaugural research trip for the book, in the town of Nagatoro in Saitama.
This first injury was actually not to my body, but to my pride.
Owing to my novice status at those early stages of the production process, I had failed to confirm whether all of the planned attractions for my trip would actually be open for business on the day of my visit. As you will no doubt surmise, this oversight was met with consequences.
Nagatoro is basically a fairly quiet town at any time of the year, so the deserted approach road to my very first port of call – which I will not name for reasons you will soon understand – did not trigger any alarms. However, the unlit lobby, chained entrance, abandoned courtyard and ‘closed’ sign on the door all confirmed that I’d got things started on a bad footing. A start that was soon to become much worse.
Resigning myself to returning on a later occasion when the attraction would be open, I reconciled myself to snapping a few photos of the attractive exterior of the establishment, before moving on.
With no prohibitive fence around the grounds, I gingerly stepped with my camera over a rope strung between two wooden posts into… the jaws of hell!
Uh-oh! The unmistakable roar of impending trouble. I’d been spotted!
Scuttling from an unseen sentry post, with an onigiri rice ball spattering from his mouth onto the ground between us, and dressed in what appeared to be his pyjamas and a pair of toilet slippers, I came face to face with maximum security – Nagatoro style.
Within seconds, I was pinned down by a fusillade of fury that went well beyond the outer extremes of my Japanese-language abilities, both for its speed, and its colourful choice of vocabulary… but the gist was roughly this:
“You are a criminal. You are a terrorist. The police must be summoned. You are fortunate that I do not have a gun. In your country (I assume he was referring the USA, although, had I been given the chance to interrupt his invective, I might have politely pointed out that I actually hail from the United Kingdom of Great Britain) you would be shot dead for less. Remove yourself from this establishment immediately. I am summoning the law.”
(Pauses to angrily wipe food from lips, and straighten spectacles. Leaves untucked-in pyjamas and puffer bodywarmer in state of slight disarray.)
“And you!”, addressed to a kindly Japanese gentleman of considerable antiquity who had, until a few minutes before, been gently regaling me with local legends of (…I think – this was all quite a traumatic experience, you understand…) ogres, dragons, curses and pregnant women, “What the hell are you doing?! I’m calling the cops on you, too!!”
With my hands raised, showing I was armed with nothing more lethal than my soggy rucksack, I backed away slowly, taking care not to make any sudden moves, nor to trip backwards over the perimeter rope and look even more stupid than I already felt. I then turned on my heels and fled to the cover of Mount Hodo, before the SWAT team descended on the scene.
Cowering in the undergrowth of Hodo-san’s forested slopes, I listened for a wail of sirens… that never came.
All this within 30 minutes of arriving in town.
Well, things can only get better… I thought.
COME BACK SOON FOR THE SECOND INSTALMENT OF THE PERILOUS LIFESTYLE OF A ‘JAPAN – 100 HIDDEN TOWNS’ CONTRIBUTOR – CHAPTER 2