Partly because it was my first time under canvas for three years, and partly because it was raining all night, I didn’t get much sleep at the Kitsuné-uchi campsite, and once I had packed the still-wet tent away, was even more desperate than usual for my morning coffee . On previous tours I would have treated myself to a sit-down breakfast in a proper coffee shop, but this year Mrs M has been tightening the purse strings. Like most wives in Japan, she handles the family finances, and keeps what is known as a kakeibo (家計簿 / household accounts book), which is filled with receipts and columns of figures detailing exactly how much we have spent and on what, right down to, for example, on-the-road snack breaks. So my budget for the holiday was restricted to 40,000 yen – about £200 – with another 10,000 set aside in case of emergencies, and my breakfast on Monday 22nd set the pattern for the rest of the trip.
Drinks-wise, this would mean a 110-yen, 500ml carton of coffee: very milky, very sugary and not quite as caffeine-y as I would normally take it. Food-wise, it would mean a pre-packed bread product of some kind: either hotto cakey (four small American-style pancakes, zapped in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the ‘butter’ and ‘maple syrup’ sandwiched between them), a bread roll with a jam and margarine filling, or on this occasion, a variation on eggy bread that was steamed rather than fried. Japanese bread products are – how can I put this in as tactful and diplomatic a way as possible? – completely devoid of taste, texture and nutritional value, but since I can’t quite bring myself to eat rice for breakfast, I put up with them out of both habit and financial necessity.
Not that I bought my breakfast there, but this is very much the kind of corner shop you might find on a quiet country road in Japan:
Hello shop! And a little further along Route 294 I found this:
Billboards placed many miles away from the location they advertise are everywhere in Japan: this one is either telling you to proceed for 20km and turn right, or to turn right and proceed for 20km, and it’s not unusual to find them even further afield, or to find billboards telling you to make a u-turn and head back in the direction you’ve just come from. I would have been genuinely intrigued to check out the ‘authentic tea room’, ‘English goods import shop’ and ‘British Hills original cakes’, but they never materialised. Instead my route took me along a winding valley road (which my diary entry for the day summed up as follows: ‘waterfalls, drizzle and roadworks’), over a mountain pass and down to Lake Inawashiro (猪苗代湖).
In fine weather, Lake Inawashiro is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, but today this was hidden in the clouds, so after eating another pre-packed bread product – this time a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off and extra sugar in the peanut butter – I continued on to the Aizu Hometown Youth Hostel in Aizu-wakamatsu, which by day doubles up as the Yamaguchi Off Licence.
‘If you’d booked in advance,’ said the manageress as I was checking in, ‘I could have made you an evening meal.’
‘That’s OK,’ I said. ‘I’m trying to save money anyway.’
‘Well, if you go to the Co-op down the road, they should be cutting the prices on their bento boxes about now.’
And indeed they were, thus enabling me to sit in my own private room at the hostel and chow down on this luxurious supper – a snip at just under 500 yen for the lot.