by Stefan Chiarantano, Jan 28, 2006 | Destinations: Japan / Tokyo

My coming to Japan has been a series of journeys. I am now leaving for Hamamatsu to teach for a short period to cover for a teacher who is ill. Riding the train from Komagane to Toyohashi was very enjoyable. The track line runs through quite a few mountain passes. So, you are always coming in and out of the light and catching a glimpse of the surrounding countryside.

As the train approached Toyohashi the mountains receded in the background and from there to Hamamatsu, the flat Japanese coastline was visible.

I discover that Hamamatsu has a wonderful expatriate community. On my first night, I met Brazilians, Koreans, English, Australians, Americans, and Canadians.

The day before I left Komagane I attended the local Matsuri. It was raining but it didn't stop the community from celebrating and enjoying the Matsuri festivities. Parading in the streets, were teams of men carrying various examples of portable shrines but there was one team made up of several female members and there were also several teams made up of young children. They were adorable. March they did in the downpour through the streets of Komagane shouting out Japanese chants. They persevered and showed the Japanese stamina.

I got to taste some very crispy fried grasshoppers that were covered with a sweet syrupy sauce. They happen to be a local delicacy. They were tasty.

At the Komagane station the next day, there was a lovely elderly couple waiting patiently for the train to arrive. When I saw them, I broke out into a smile and greeted them with a konnichiwa; they did likewise.

The weather had cleared up. There was not a cloud in the sky. I could hear bits and pieces of an English song wafting through the air. So, I sat beside this sweet Japanese couple and waited for the train to arrive to take me on my journey.

One evening while relaxing over a latte in ZaZa City Starbucks café, a fairly large Caucasian male walked in. He was dressed in a Yukata, a summer kimono made of cotton. He was huge and looked like a Sumo wrestler. He was prancing about in geta, Japanese sandals, and was talking loudly. A fairly large young woman accompanied him. She, however, was dressed in Western clothes. They were speaking so loud and with the man's clattering about in his geta they attracted much attention.

I have found that for the most part the Japanese usually wear a public persona to the world. Their faces rarely convey emotions but I think ithis s changing with the young. Today's Japanese youth remind me of the youngsters back home. As I was saying, this couple with their size and clattering about and loud voices drew the attention of many of the patrons inside Starbucks including moi-meme. There was a smart looking Japanese couple seated to my right. I was seated in a corner table across from them. I noticed their reaction. They literally cringed. I could hear them thinking too. They were disgusted. It showed on their faces.

I thought this Western couple showed poor judgment by behaving the way they did. They acted inappropriately by disturbing others.

I suddenly recalled something I had ready by the Canadian journalist Robert Fulford. He wrote in his article "A Canadian Journalist in Japan" that "Every foreigner in Japan has a particular role to play, and we Canadians, like other gaijin, must work out the ways we will play it. It is part of the daily spectacle of life in this country. The Japanese and their visitors from abroad are involved in a continuing ritual of interaction feeding each other's fantasies, stimulating each other's curiosity. We engage in mutual scrutiny, gaze and counter-gaze, like rival teams of anthropologists examining each other."

Here was such an example and I thought how dead on his comments were.

On the weekend I visited the museums of Hamamatsu. There are many.

On Saturday morning, I visited the Hamamatsu Musical Instruments Museum. It was a pleasure to see most of the world's instruments housed under one roof.

I copied the inscription that greets visitors as they enter the museum. Here it is:

By its shape and the materials from which it has been produced and from the way it creates sound and the color of tone, a musical instrument and the music it brings forth speak eloquently for the sensibilities and aesthetic sense of the region and people it represents.

I thought how apropos! I spent the entire morning working my way through the exhibits, listening to samples of music, and trying my hand at the hands on display, a display of a cross-section of instruments.

I learned the name of the instrument that a snake charmer uses to charm the cobra. It is called a Pungi.

I came across a Native American Flute and learned about Japan's musical heritage. I also got to see close-up Tibet's musical instruments, the Dung-chen, Damaru, Rnga, and the Dhyamgro.

On Sunday, I visited Hamamatsu Castle. It's a reconstruction. The original fell into ruin during the Edo period. There are many Japanese visitors present. There are two other foreigners in attendance besides myself.

It is an oppressively hot and humid day. I take time out to cool down. I find a stone bench perched on top of one of the rampart walls. I can hear the cicadas and the din of the city traffic far below. Woods and gardens surround the castle. It is refreshingly cooler here than in the city below. I am seated on a stone bench beside a very small red painted Shinto Shrine. Behind the shrine is a large stone tablet with an inscription in Kanji. I can hear too the squawking of crows "Ha, Ha, Ha." I hear bits and pieces of conversation floating in the wind. It's a hazy day. Mt. Fuji isn't visible.

The castle was rebuilt in 1958. It was the stronghold of the first Tokugawa Shogun.

Following my visit of the museum, I take in the gardens. There are lovely Japanese gardens adjacent to the castle. There are waterfalls, ponds filled with goi, stone lanterns, wooden bridges, a pavilion, pathways, birds, dragonflies, and butterflies galore.

There are also a few homeless men sleeping on the benches and one asleep in the pavilion.

I sit for a while to contemplate the beauty of the Japanese gardens. It's a lovely place to be on a hot and humid day.

In the afternoon, I visit the Hamamatsu Art Museum to see the Adolphe Mucha exhibit. His works are beautiful. He reveres the female form. Of the series of lithographs, Iris is my favourite.

I particularly enjoy the modern silver prints of turn of the century glass negatives. I am intrigued by the modern silver print photograph of Paul Gauguin playing the harmonium in Mucha's studio (1895) and of Paul Gauguin's mistress, Anna la Javanaise, (1895).

On Monday (it's a holiday), I visit the Hamamatsu Science Museum and enjoy the hands on display.

It's Saturday morning. I have left Hamamatsu. My two weeks in Hamamatsu went by so quickly. I enjoyed living in Hamamatsu albeit from a hotel room. It's a charming city.

Before I leave, I received a lovely card from the children I taught at the hospital. It was so touching. It made my day. The young boy, age 6, in my class wrote the following note, which was translated into English for me. Here it is:

"When you came here, I learned English well. But I forgot them the next day."

How sweet! Having had the chance to teach them was a highlight of my short visit.

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