It wasn’t exactly tempestuous when I opened the curtains, but it certainly was raining, and dull, and grey, and hardly worth getting up for. After breakfast I moved the Mariposa to a new and drier parking place, under the eaves in one of the many narrow alleyways between the ryokan’s various extensions, and did my best to give it a service. This involved oiling the chain, sprockets and gear mechanism, and inflating the tyres with something I liked to call the Crap Pump, since it was possibly even more crap than the Crap Map.
As many of the cyclists among you will know, a normal bicycle pump works like this:
1) Unscrew plastic cover to tyre valve on front or rear wheel.
2) Either screw or push business end of pump onto tyre valve.
3) Inflate tyre.
4) Either unscrew or pull business end of pump from tyre valve.
5) Replace plastic cover on tyre valve.
But for some reason, the Crap Pump had been designed to work like this:
1) Unscrew plastic cover to tyre valve on front or rear wheel.
2) Unscrew plastic dooberry from metal whatsit on business end of pump.
3) Either screw or push business end of pump onto tyre valve by locking rubber thingamajig to plastic dooberry and metal whatsit, while being careful not to let fiddly bit come loose.
4) Attempt to inflate tyre.
5) Realise that no air is passing from Crap Pump via tyre valve into tyre.
6) Repeat steps 2 and 3.
7) Inflate tyre.
8) Unlock rubber thingumajig from plastic dooberry and metal whatsit, being careful not to send fiddly bit pinging off across the floor, never to be found again.
9) Hear air escaping from valve as you struggle to complete step 8.
10) Repeat steps 2, 3, 7 and 8 as required.
11) Replace plastic cover on tyre valve.
Due to the unmitigated crapness of the Crap Pump, the Mariposa’s tyres had never quite been fully inflated, which had no doubt added a significant amount of time and effort to the trip. Still, there was no point in riding anywhere today, so I donned my pac-a-mac and set off on foot, in search of something a little stronger than the Nescafé instant that accompanied breakfast. Without the luxury of pedal power, distances suddenly seemed huge, as I trudged down long, straight roads from intersection to intersection. My decision to head vaguely northwest, though, proved fortuitous, as it led to a café-cum-delicatessen that specialised in imported coffee. The woman behind the counter was friendly and keen to chat to a gaijin, as they didn’t have many foreign customers, she said, apart from the occasional Brazilian with a similar craving for caffeine. She taught me the word to use when asking for a refill (お代わり / okawari), and I explained that the concept was practically unheard of in the UK, where your drink would also cost more in the first place.
At a nearby shopping mall I enrolled as a permanent member of yet another internet café, this one being as bright and spacious as a supermarket with at least a couple of hundred computers. It appeared to specialise in online role-playing games, and as I walked to my allotted PC, most of the other customers were fighting off big, hairy orcs in mythical kingdoms. With a whole day to waste, I extended my net time as far as I could manage, but ran out of obscure news stories to trawl, and was on the street again before I could tick over into a third hour of surfing.
Next door was a branch of Daiso, the most recognisable chain of hundred-yen shop, and although there was nothing I needed to buy, Daiso is a great place to browse, if only to marvel at the incredible variety of goods on offer for approximately fifty pence apiece. Such shops are another post-bubble phenomenon from the early nineties, and symbolise Japan’s ongoing economic vulnerability, not just because consumers now demand cheaper goods than ever before, but because those goods come almost exclusively from China, its new competitor and rival. When moving house, the Japanese are encouraged to take everything with them, up to and including the light fittings, and if you are the new tenant arriving in such a completely empty space, a hundred-yen shop is the ideal place to purchase supplies. Apart from large items of furniture and electrical goods, you can buy pretty much anything you need - even food, drink and clothes - and while you may not have a particularly elegant or healthy lifestyle as a result, you will end up with more change out of a ten-thousand-yen note than if you had shopped somewhere else.
By lunchtime the rain was getting heavier, and there was little in the way of cuisine to choose from in such a car-centric, suburban part of town. A lengthy search for proper food would have left me soaking wet, and I ended up negating Tuesday’s act of subversion by ordering a Filet-O-Fish and large fries at the local branch of McDonald’s (only McDonald’s, incidentally, could name a product using such an appalling linguistic bastardisation as ‘Filet-O-Fish’, which for no discernible reason utilises French, pseudo-Gaelic and English). Sitting at my spindly table on a vinyl-covered seat, and surrounded by disposable packaging and paper napkins, I was still plagued by the same feeling of déjà vu that had been with me for almost twenty-four hours. Every ten or fifteen minutes, a kind of mental hiccup would burst the same scenario into my head, although never for long enough to give me a proper look, and like a word on the tip of one’s tongue or a dream recalled upon waking up, always just beyond my grasp. In this mysterious memory, I had arranged to meet someone – possibly a Japanese couple – in a restaurant or hotel in the hills above Fuji City. We were on a veranda, or perhaps in an open-plan area with large windows, and…and that was it. Even after so many glimpses, this was as much as I could remember. I never made the vital breakthrough, was never presented with the complete picture, and never found out who else was involved or when this had all taken place.
Having squeezed as much enjoyment as I could from Fuji City, I made my way back to the ryokan, where there was nothing to do except lie on my futon, looking up at the tobacco-stained walls as the light outside began to fade. It wasn’t long before I drifted off into a siesta, and by the time I woke up the typhoon proper had arrived.
Typhoons differ from hurricanes in name only, and sweep up from the Tropics during August and September, producing three quarters of Japan’s annual rainfall in the process. Even in a city like Tokyo, when a typhoon is forecast, schools close, buses and overground trains are cancelled and the streets are all but deserted. The previous summer, a record-breaking ten typhoons had made landfall, although as with earthquakes and tsunami, the country rarely suffers as much damage as its near-neighbours in Southeast Asia. I didn’t for a minute think the Fujimi Ryokan would be blown or washed away in the night, but I did wonder how I might have coped in the countryside with only the Snow Peak for protection. Even somewhere particularly sheltered, I couldn’t see a tent lasting long, and as I subsequently found out, the storm passing over Fuji City that night was classified as no less than a Category Two Super Typhoon, with winds of up to hundred and fifty kilometres per hour, so not the kind of thing you would wish to encounter while camping.
Pairs of visitor’s slippers were neatly arranged outside several of the other rooms, and once or twice I would hear voices as they passed along the corridor, but without really intending to, I somehow contrived to avoid all human contact for the remainder of the evening, even when I emerged to eat dinner and take a bath. I would normally devour book after book if I were stuck in a hotel room, but the fact that I had brought nothing besides Morning, Noon and Night in Japanese did not seem to matter. Having written my diary, I just lay on the futon in a daze, or stared out of the window, where great gusts of wind slapped the side of the building, rattled the windows in their frames, and rocked streetlights back and forth to cast flickering shadows in the rain. Both mind and body were making the most of their rest day by simply shutting down, and my time in Fuji had been rather claustrophobic: like being given a one-day prison sentence in a jail where there is no barbed-wire fence, but no means of escape either. Listening to distant objects being flung around by the wind, I wondered before I went to sleep if the déjà vu would disappear once I had been granted parole.