Mrs Wisteria Mountain treated me to a truly epic breakfast of rice, fried eggs, pickles, spinach, miso soup, prawn and asparagus stir-fry, milk, yoghurt, Yakult, potato salad, tomatoes, raw squid and grilled salmon. As well as asking if I wanted seconds (although it was rude of me, I had to turn her down on this one), she discounted my bill, re-filled my water bottle and sent me on my way with a packed lunch of hand-made rice balls (if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m vegetarian, she said, she would have thrown in some sausages and pork cutlets, too).
‘I was supporting that group of long-distance runners,’ he said. ‘I handed out food and drinks and gave them massages by the side of the road if they were suffering from cramp, although I was cycling instead of jogging.’
‘How come you’re on a scooter, then?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, I gave the bicycle away once the race was over. I have to go all the way back to Ibaraki so I figured this would be quicker.’
‘If I’d lost half a litre of blood after that ride I’d have ended up in a coma,’ I said.
‘They give you free drinks and sweets, you know, and anyway I’m used to it – that makes twenty-eight times in all.’
‘Since as soon as I was old enough,’ he said, showing me his blood donor record card. ‘I’ve already been six times on this tour and my ambition is to make it to a hundred.’
We had arranged to meet at the top of Mount Hakodaté, from which the view at night is renowned – among the Japanese, at least – as one of the most beautiful in the world.
‘You've got a nephew? How old is he?’
‘He's five now. My sister got married when she was still a teenager, but her husband spent all of his money on hostesses and in the end she kicked him out. That’s when they moved back in with us.’
‘Doesn’t it get a bit crowded?’
‘It does a bit, but my grandparents like having their grandson around.’
‘You’re not in a hurry to have kids yourself, I take it.’
‘Actually I’d like to start a family soon. I've been going out with the same girl for about a year and a half now, and when I’m at home we see each other most days. She’s pretty laid back so we just like hanging out, really – you know, sleeping late, going shopping, that kind of thing. She comes to cheer me on when I have a soccer game and I watch her when she plays hockey. Since I’ve been on this tour, though, I only call her about once a month. If it was more than that I think we’d start to miss each other – plus it would be too expensive.'
‘She doesn’t mind it when you go away hiking and cycling, then?’
‘Of course she does! She didn’t want me to go on this tour at all, but I just ignored her and went anyway.’