Helen was surprised that the view from the carriage window consisted almost entirely of concrete buildings. There was the occasional open space on the trip south.

I hardly recognised Hanako at the turnstiles. She has grown into a confident young woman and her English has actually improved in the twelve, or so, years since she lived in Melbourne. Her boyfriend, Masa, drove us to Junko`s shop, where she sells fashion clothing for her “fiance”, Mr. Hirayama.

After an hour at the shop, we headed for Miyajima, which, for me, is one of the most beautiful places anywhere. We had a traditional Japanese lunch at one of the many restaurants there, and then walked around for a couple of hours. It got cold quite quickly, at about 4pm, so we began the journey back. It took a while, in the evening traffic.

We went to the shop first, and then took ages to go to Mr. Hirayama`s house, somewhere half-way to Kabe. The parking spot is about 50m from the house, as the crow flies, but we had to lug our cases 50m down some steps, and then 50m back up, to get to the house. Junko and Mr. Hirayama arrived as we were opening the front door, which meant that they had either had a better run home than us, or drove like maniacs.

Once we settled, we all gathered around the table for the traditional “stuff the guests stupid and get them drunk” hospitatlity for which the Japanese are famous. Junko had a never-ending array of dishes, and Mr. Hirayama kept reaching into the corner behind him to pull out yet another variety of alcohol.

We began with French champagne, followed by red wine. I declined the beer, but we also had bran whiskey, plum wine and sake. Helen and I paced ourselves, unlike Masa, the “human garbage disposal”, who ate and drank everything put in front of him. (He wasn`t flash this morning.)

The conversation was a mix of bad Japanese and English, but we all seemed to communicate pretty well. We hit the sack at about 11.30pm, after a very amusing evening.


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