A bonus of travelling to Gujo-Hachiman for the Bon Festival was the chance to see a town outside Tokyo and (a somewhat more nerve racking venture) inside a Japanese family home.
Gujo-Hachiman is a small town north of Nagoya, a large city south-east of Tokyo. It is set in idyllic surroundings, buried in the heart of the mountains with a river running through its center. Carp fill the streams and the water is pure and drinkable. Drinking fountains in the form of pumps and waterwheels sit on every corner. It is also famous for manufacturing the plastic food that is on display in nearly every restaurant window in Japan. Inside one shop, a demonstration of this process was underway while in another corner variations on the usual display food were for sale, including a spilled bowl of noodles and a rice plate with beetles on it. The postboxes (far right photo) are an unnatural union between a British postbox and an American fire hydrant.
Being invited into a person's home in Japan is quite an honour and I was downright terrified of doing something horribly wrong. However, the friend-of-friend's family who we stayed with were extremely friendly and had their two small grandchildren staying with them as well. Kids, I concluded, were the same somewhat barbaric creations wherever they were from. However, it was hard not to be impressed when the five year old approached me and said in clear English "My name is Masaki". She then fled, leaving her three year old sibling, Yuki (gender indeterminable), to offer me a pair of mouse ears.
Like everywhere in Japan, shoes are removed before entering a home. In this traditional styled house, rush mats covered the floor and we sat on cushions around a low table. The walls are all panels that can be slid or removed to make a single giant room, or put in place to divide the house up into different areas. That night, we slept on futons, although they were the slim kind that can be stored easily for guests and I did not see what the family usually used. The shower room was separate from the toilet and did not have a tray but rather fed down to a drain on the floor.
As way of thanks for the hospitality, we brought a gift of sweets to which I added a picture frame I had bought in Florida. The giving of gifts is an important act in Japan and I had brought a number of small items with me to give away for just such occasions. As far as I could tell, it went down ok.
The family's kindness extended to a generous amount of food, most of which I was now familiar with. At the end of the meal, we were all given a plate for dessert.
"You will need to show Elizabeth how to eat this. She will not have had it before."
I looked down at my plate to see an innocent slice of watermelon there.
"S'ok," I assured my friend. "I've got this one covered."