Saturday, November 05, 2005

Shimoda

Maiko's birthday was a few weeks ago and I decided to treat her to a night at one of the hot springs resort towns all over the Izu Peninsula, both because they're a popular vacation spot and because they are conveniently about halfway between here and Tokyo. After consulting with teachers at the school and actually, a New York Times article, I ended up choosing the town of Shimoda. Maiko and I met at the top of the peninsula and then took the train down the coast together.

Shimoda is a quiet little fishing port town, only famous because it happened to be the place where Commodore Matthew Perry decided to arrive and force Japan to open itself to the oustide world back in 1854. Shimoda was one of two ports then originally opened for use for trade with Americans and afterwards the home of the first US Consul General to Japan, Townsend Harris. Harris was also the first American to live in Japan for any length of time, at a local temple. Now, it's rather hard to believe that this town, out of so many possible others, was chosen by Perry or by fate to be the site of such a momentous historical event. It's not a busy port, nor a large one, and the town itself is quite quaint.

It makes a nice little getaway precisely for the reasons that it does not make a good major trading port,of course. There is no shortage of places in Japan where you can be surrounded by millions of people and be swept up in some surging lifestream; here it was nice to walk along narrow streets in a little neighborhood with enough space and distance from other people to actually harbor the illusion that you were alone. This is a rare luxury in Japan; I've spent hours walking around in Tokyo looking for a place where one might have privacy only to be immediately interrupted by some random person. This was good for both of us, since Maiko is stressed out with her graduation thesis and I'm a little sick of kids yelling "HARO!" at me and laughing hysterically.

We walked through the city, which was small enough to cover in just a day, and ate sushi at a local place. Hardly a restaurant, really, more accurately just a part of some family's house (while we were eating, the kids came running down the stairs on their way out to school and a soccer game) where the mom got us tea and the dad sat behind the counter and cut and rolled fresh sushi for us. There were a couple other locals in the place, and it was a real friendly, casual atmosphere. The fish was excellent, extremely fresh. We also stopped at a German coffee shop that had been built in the early 1900's. We sipped rich German chocolate drinks while a mysterious Japanese man also around since the early 1900's sat in the corner cross-legged, counting coffee beans endlessly as if a sort of rosary.

We visited "Perry Road", one of many things named after the erstwhile Commodore of the Black Ships. I thought it was interesting how an event that was both likely frightening on a personal level - these villagers had never seen anything past fishing and shipping vessels using sails or oars and suddenly a full group of modern gunships appeared in their little harbor - and rather humiliating on a national level - basically being confronted with the irrefutable fact that their country was hopelessly outmatched and antiquated - has been transformed into both a symbol of pride for the village and for the country. Shimoda is sold now within the village as the place where the relationship between Japan and the West began, and by the government as the place where the strong US-Japan alliance was forged. So you have here several monuments, (including this one of Jimmy Carter I posed next to with my best Jimmy Carter slack-jawed hick smile) and a whole bevy of restaurants, souvenirs, posters etc, commemorating what was really not a happy day for Japan. It was the catalyst for the eventual emergence of the country as a modern power, sure, but that was an evenuality born out of shame and vulnerability. I amused myself greatly by talking about my plan to reveal myself to the villagers as a descendent of both Perry, Harris and William Adams (the real inspiration for the character anjin-san from Shogun) taking advantage of their celebrity status in the town as a way of bilking the people out of whatever I could.

Anyways, my pontificating aside, we ended up back at the Tokyu Hotel, where we had a beautiful view of the bay and surrounding coastline. The water was a beatiful blue-green color, enhanced by the rugged coastline, mountainous and lined with Japanese pines. The next day we went down to the shore and saw one of Shimoda's several white sand beaches. I was really surprised at both the beach and how crystal clear the water was. It really appeared tropical, except for the trees running down to the water's edge that are unmistakably Japanese. We had a nice dinner and then went to the hot spring baths. There were two baths with each set aside for a sex for one night and then reversed in the morning so a guest can sample both in a one night stay at the hotel.

The men's bath for that night was an outdoor bath on a deck, all of white cedar. I washed and went out to sit in the main bath for a bit. Usually, you sit for a while, get out for some air, maybe retire to the sauna or to the indoor bath that is slightly cooler. Japanese baths are very, very hot, so the rule is basically that you just try to sit there as long as you can, but that is not usually more than 5 minutes or so. After a bit I had gotten a little hot so I thought I'd stand up and go lean against the railing to see the view of the ocean below. I stood up and stepped out of the bath in one motion and walked to the railing. I felt a rush from standing up too quickly, and I steadied myself by grabbing the railing.

Then, I passed out.

I woke up probably only a few seconds later to the frantic yelling of several elderly Japanese men. This did not help me orient myself. Only after a few more seconds did I realize that I was hanging partly over the railing - naked - being supported and pulled back by a couple of Japanese grandpas - also naked. I realized - to an extent - what was going on and sat down. My head was swimming for a minute or so. As my wits returned to me I felt the double shame of acting like a jackass and of being a foreigner who acted like a jackass in Japan, this second shame always acting to enhance the first because of the special attention I receive and a certain responsibility placed on my every action here which is always endued with the immutable distinction as me being a foreigner acting. It is entirely possible that to many people, I will be the first and last foreigner they will ever have any direct contact with, which means that I am essentially all foreigners to them. So I don't have the benefit of just being a moron who doesn't know that you shouldn't stand up fast after sitting for a long while or make the blood rush to your head quickly when you've been in a hot bath, I am an emblem of how all foreigners are too stupid to take baths properly.

This whole thing however, occuring in my mind, might have been occuring there alone, as the three old guys all remarked, "You drank too much tonight right? Watch out for that and go take a cold shower to wake yourself up." So perhaps my imagined humiliation was easily subsumed and therefore forgiven under the perfectly acceptable Japanese tendency to do unbelievably juvenile and ridiculous things while intoxicated. All I was really sure I was left with was a set of strange railing bruises on my inner thighs and a silent prayer of gratitude that the railing was not a few inches lower.

After doing several math problems in my head, composing some philosophic arguments, and speaking and translating between Japanese and English, I decided there wasn't any permanent brain damage and called it a night.

Other than that, it was a very relaxing and romantic weekend. Maiko and I had a great time together. Unfortunately for you, if you're interested in that kind of thing, I only write about things here that are funny, annoying, or unjust.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the great weekend! It was the best birthday present ever! (Happy I could share things that you are not talking about here :P ) myko

drcaa said...

sounds somewhat like my weekend in Mexico after beer and tequilla i was light-headed but enjoyed some romance with my partner while admiring the ocean view!

moiji said...

scandelous! ; )

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a nice romantic adventure Duke...Danielle and I had a similar Melbourne experience, only with 100k more people, booze, dancing and horseracing! (really not that similar eh)..

but true, stick to comments about:
"bilking the people out of whatever I could" and "my pontificating" and of course "I amused myself greatly by talking about my plan to reveal myself to the villagers as a descendent of Perry..."

This wit will only keep your readers coming back for more...