On an island of lengthily unpronounceable place names, this was the lengthiest and most unpronounceable I came across.
'What do you recommend?' I asked when he arrived at my table (as it happens this was one of my most frequent Japanese utterances of the summer), to which the reply came in English.
'Do you like natto?'
'Yes, I do.'
'Then you should try the tororo soba.'
'OK, I will. Do you mind me asking where you learned to speak English?'
'From my foreign girlfriend when I lived in Tokyo and Fukuoka.'
'Really? Was she American?'
'Ah, I had many foreign girlfriend! Where are you from?'
'I'm from England - have you ever been out with an English girl?'
So there you have it. If any female readers of this blog happen to find themselves in Otoineppu, may I suggest that you make your way to the local soba restaurant, where the manager / waiter / cook / dishwasher will give you a warm and multilingual welcome. Sadly I didn't think to take his photo, but he was, in so far as I am a good judge of these things, tall, dark, handsome and open to offers.
Just outside the restaurant I found this car - the lettering gaffer-taped to the bonnet reads 'Tokyo - Hokkaido'.
The forecast was for heavy rain, so in the coastal town of Esashi I checked in at a ryokan, where my room contained the first coin-operated television I had ever seen (one hour for a hundred yen), and where, more importantly, I would be able to use a washing machine. One of the other guests, a Mr Flower Field, introduced himself as I was transferring my clothes to the tumble dryer.
'I studied English for ten years,' he said. 'It was my major at university, but you know what? I can hardly speak a word.' And he was right - when I challenged him to read the label on my bottle of Dr Bonner's, his pronunciation was terrible, and he almost invariably failed when trying recall an English word or phrase. 'I've been to Hawaii and Guam on holiday,' he explained, 'but of course, most of the people there speak Japanese for the benefit of the tourists, so I didn't get the chance to use any English.'
Mr Flower Field was in Esashi with a colleague of his for their 'side business', as he called it, importing ingredients for cosmetics from India, and suggested that we go to the local festival together. As far as I could tell from his description, this involved performing a dance to ward off ghosts and evil spirits, and was essentially a large-scale fancy dress party. As well as cartoon characters and celebrities, some of the costumes functioned as advertising for local businesses, so there was a cow promoting beef, a milk carton promoting, er, milk, a block of tofu, and even someone dressed up as a slate-grey block of kon-nyaku (devil's tongue - a flavourless jelly made from a type of potato).
Instead of kon-nyaku, Mr Flower Field treated me to a plastic glass of beer and a paper plate of chips, which we sat down to eat with disposable chopsticks at a folding table with a paper tablecloth. While neither of us wore a costume, Mr Flower Field claimed that people often mistook him for Prince Charles, although I'll leave you judge the credibility of this for yourself.