We come out of the Tokyo subway at a station called Tawaramachi. Our directions, printed out a page from the internet, say continue straight-on and take the fifth left. We walk along the pavement, surveying the neighbourhood and counting the streets on our left. We’re in Asakusa, one of the oldest parts of Tokyo. The atmosphere is sedate, relaxed and the streets are calm – cyclists and pedestrians pass by at ease. The fifth left takes us down a lovely old street; on the way we pass a sushi restaurant, a karaoke bar and a shinto shrine. We take the second right and there’s our guesthouse, Ryokan Toukaisou.
It’s a humble brick building, but before we go in, I notice the building across the road – a purple love-hotel called Hotel Dancy. Out of a curiosity for all things Japanese, I had at one stage voiced an interest in spending a night in a love-hotel. Although they’re generally paid for by the hour and frequented only by couples, some love-hotels can be really quirky and the price per night can be very cheap; that’s according to my guide book. Don’t even think about it, was Sachiko’s response, my suggestion was quickly vetoed. A signs outside Hotel Dancy states that they also welcome single guests, making it quite clear what kind of clientele they typically serve. Our guesthouse is definitely a safer option; we enter Ryokan Toukaisou.
Inside we are met by a friendly girl who checks us in and shows us to our room. Small, functional and very clean, it contains all the mod-cons of a Japanese stay-over: a yukata each, a futon, a supply of green tea and a Hokusai print on the wall. For Tokyo, we are paying budget price (¥3300 each, about €29 per person) and for what it is, it’s extremely good value. Most of our one-room sleeping area is covered by the futon and the Hokusai print on the wall is a beautiful representation of Mount Fuji, called South Wind, Clear Sky.
There’s a separate shower and bath in one room and there’s a toilet and sink in another. This little room is unbelievably small, real genius has obviously been used to design a toilet into such a tiny space and despite all the yoga I’ve been doing recently, I have real difficulties manoeuvring in that miniature space. But, because it’s Japan, I mark it down as an authentic local experience.
After a shower and a quick power nap, I awaken and Sachiko presents me with a rice ball – a delicious, nutricious and filling snack. We get ready to go out, for we’re meeting a group of friends in Shinjuku at six o’clock. I’m given a new lease of life by the power nap and we leave the guesthouse in high spirits. When we get outside, I punch the air with exuberance:
It’s all good. A three week horizon of idleness and travel stretches out in front of us. We walk down the road towards the station. On the way, I notice a sign that includes two Japanese kanji characters I recognize:
A literal translation is 小 = small and 林 = forest, but more importantly, it’s a familiar surname and one made known to many Westerners through the film The Usual Suspects; it’s Kobayashi.
‘There’s your name!’, I exclaim.
Sachiko praises my eyes, but isn’t much enthused by seeing her surname on a sign for a dentist.
‘Kobayashi is like Murphy’, she tells me. ‘We’re everywhere.’
We re-enter Tawaramachi station bound for Shinjuku where we’re meeting our friends at six. Our venue is The Dubliners Irish Pub.