While my room-mates may have been quiet, the Sunflower ferry’s PA system was most definitely not. An alarm sounded at both 6 and 6.30am, before an automated announcement at 7.30 to tell us that the coast of Aomori Prefecture was now visible to our left – not much use as a) there were no windows in Room 358, and b) even if there had been, it was raining too heavily to see anything. After that we were treated to information about the restaurant menu and opening times, followed by a selection of muzak that included Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London arranged for Bontempi organ.
As the ferry arrived in Tomakomai I got talking to Mr Small Forest, who was on his tenth cycle tour of Hokkaido and rode a lovingly maintained, old-school racing bike .
This amusingly sensational public information poster ('Be Poisoned. Flashback. Be Broken. No Future!!') caught my eye in the ferry terminal ticket hall.
At Tomakomai Cycling Terminal - a kind of bicycle-themed youth hostel - when the receptionist asked to see my passport, I realised that I had no ID on me of any kind: no passport, no gaijin card, no driver’s licence, not even a credit card, although I did have my Co-op Bank debit card, which he graciously accepted as evidence that I wasn’t going to take part in any terrorist activities.
‘There was a G8 summit at Lake Tohya the other week,’ he explained, ‘so everyone’s been on the alert, particularly public institutions like this one. They brought in extra police officers from all over Japan – if you’d been here at the time, you probably would have been stopped and searched. Are you American?’
‘No, I’m from England.’
‘Really? Ah, that takes me back! I spent three months in Ramsgate in – when was it? – 1974. I was practically the only foreigner there, so they treated me like a VIP.’
Well, I suppose someone has to get nostalgic for Ramsgate.
‘Tomakomai is the rainiest place in Hokkaido,’ said the restaurant's chef and proprietor, Mr That Swamp. ‘Does it rain a lot in England?’
‘Not as much as you might think, actually.’
‘How about London fog?’
‘No, no. That was all over a long time ago.’
‘England, England. Let me see... Ah yes, James Bond!’ I joined in as Mr That Swamp hummed the twanging guitar theme from the James Bond films. ‘What's the actor's name?'
'Yes, yes, yes. And who else was there?’
‘And Pierce Brosnan!’
‘Of course. And Timothy Dalton.’
Mr That Swamp was so impressed with my knowledge of James Bond that he gave me an extra deep-fried prawn and a free cup of saké, and invited me to come back the following morning for a demonstration of how to make soba noodles.