All I meant Co do
was take a walk in the country, far enough from Tokyo to escape the August
heat. I had in mind a Japanese Alpine setting on the lower slopes of Fujiyama
with footpaths and Swiss-style signposts noting the time required, in minutes,
to walk from one hamlet to the next. When comfortably tired I would return to
the train station, ride back to Tokyo and celebrate my outing in the revolving
cocktail lounge atop The New Otani hotel. Or, if things were going well, I
might seek out a local inn, spend the night and hike on the next day. I put on
a pair of shorts because it was hot, stuffed a folded nylon parka in my pocket
because it might rain, picked up my camera and took a cab to the station.
Fujiyama is known
locally as "Fuji-san." This bit of lore, however, was not enough to
convince the ticket agent that I knew what I was doing. He kept shaking his
head, and only when I insisted did he reluctantly hand me a ticket and point
across the station toward the departure area.
are no problem in Europe. Roma means Rome, Milano means Milan, and so on. It's
not that easy in Japan. I did see a sign in English reading "Upstairs"
so I went up, but I had no idea where my train was. I returned to the ticket
window and told the agent I didn't know where to go. With astonishing kindness
and courtesy, he closed his window and came out to lead me. The station was
crowded. I failed to watch him closely, lost him in the crowd and looked in
vain at hundreds of unfamiliar Japanese. I recalled what we told the kids to do
when they were small: "If you ever get separated from us, don't wander
around looking for us. Stay right where you are. We will come back and find
you." I stayed. The agent came back and indicated that if I was ready to
go, he was.
He took me to a
platform, pointed to the left side, pointed to one o'clock on his wristwatch,
held up one finger to be sure I understood, nodded his head emphatically and
hurried away. When the train came I got on with a confidence that faded when we
stopped at the first station. How would I ever know when to get off? I brought
up the subject of Fuji-san from time to time with the conductor and, when he
was not around, with people seated near me until half the car knew my
destination. When the conductor, at least to my ears, announced
"Fuji-san," I stood up to leave. But half a dozen passengers told me,
"Not yet." I sat down and rode on in doubt until at another station the
passengers turned to me and chorused "Fuji-san!" I thanked them and got
off with a group of young people.
But Fujiyama, it
seemed to me as I stepped off the train, was still miles away on the horizon. I
turned to get back on, but a young man near me bowed his head and said,
"Fuji-san." I pointed at Fuji, made my fingers walk, and stretched out
my arms to indicate a long walk. He made his fingers walk and shook his head.
Then he made his fingers steer an invisible automobile, held his arms out and
brought them together, a short distance to drive. I loved him.
The group started
off, leaving me standing uncertainly on the platform. My adviser turned and
motioned me to follow, which I did gratefully. A few minutes later we entered a
narrow gate and stood in a tiny yard before a storybook, paper-walled house. We
were greeted by a bowing woman about my own age, 50. She invited us inside. We
took off our shoes and stepped up onto a spotlessly clean, beautifully polished
wood floor. We put our shoes into pigeonhole racks and put on woven scuffs. The
scuffs were all the same size and much too small for my feet. I asked if I
could go in my stocking feet and was granted giggling permission. Our hostess,
taking me aside, led me upstairs to a large airy corner room from which the
huge lavender cone of Fujiyama could be seen. The room was bare of furniture,
its floor covered with closely fitted thick straw mats.
My hostess stayed
with me for a chat, which was sociable and lively although she spoke only
Japanese and I only English. I thought we discussed my intention to hike around
on the lower slopes of Fujiyama, the lack of haze that made the mountain
unusually clear and the fact that I had come all the way from New York while
she had never been as far as Tokyo. Then, having put me at ease, she withdrew,
leaving me to wonder where I was, why I was there and what I should do.
After a period of
uncertainty I went back downstairs to find my translator and reconfirm my plan
to get to Fuji. No one was there. The house was empty. I lacked the courage to
depart without some sort of leave-taking, so I went back to my room, found a
pillow on a shelf and stretched out on the matted floor to think. I dozed off
to be awakened by rustling in a corner of the room. A young man and girl were
kneeling down, quietly going through the contents of a knapsack on the floor.
When I sat up the young man turned, grinned broadly, and said, "Good
evening, sir! Do we disturb you?"
"I'm glad you
did," I said, delighted that he spoke English. "It's getting late, and
I must get moving. I want to walk around a bit on Fuji."
now," he said. "Too soon. Climb tonight!"