COLUMN: Experiencing fall in Japan

The sun set half an hour ago, although it still rises before 6 a.m. in the morning.

The 5 p.m. tone just sounded at Toyokoro City Hall and in the adjacent Board of Education office, several bars from “Edelweiss” which tell me to start winding up my day.

The sun set half an hour ago, although it still rises before 6 a.m. in the morning. I find it difficult to adjust, perhaps because I have always lived north of the 49th parallel.

Japan does not practice daylight savings time, which magnifies the difference. For me, darkness at this time of day means winter, but today was sunny and temperate and the next while promises more of the same.

Temperatures will drop at night though, and I am using the kerosene heater which is the only source of warmth for my little townhouse.

Houses on the north island of Hokkaido tend to be designed, insulated and heated in the same manner as houses on “the mainland” (the central island of Honshu where we find Tokyo, Osaka, Mount Fuji).

However, the climate on Hokkaido has a Canadian flavour which gives me some concerns for the coming winter.

Fortunately, my own abode is quite new and as the insulation worked well to keep out the summer heat, I am hopeful that the winter cold will remain outside.

I have had two complications with local travel lately. Navigating can be challenging when all the signs are in unfamiliar alphabets and English GPS systems seem to send us to  back doors.

I drove to Obihiro, the nearest city, for a staff dinner. When I neared the location which I had programmed into my phone, I was instructed to “turn right”…eight times in a row.

The pleasant part of that experience was that once I had parked, workers from three different restaurants where I inquired all left their posts and came outside to point me in the right direction.

One even ran down several side streets while talking on my cell phone to a teacher I was meeting. Naturally, I ran after him.

And I did eventually locate the almost unmarked restaurant down a long set of stairs on a little side street.

Restaurants in Japan have very discreet entrances, and are usually divided into small curtained alcoves or private rooms, so it is important to know (and be able to pronounce) the name under which your reservation is made.

My other complication was the first step in a wonderful day at the Ikeda Wine Festival, an open air event featuring Tokachi wines, local beef quartered and roasted on spits, sunshine, entertainment, and all you can eat and drink for four hours on a Sunday.

My plan was to catch the little commuter train at the unmanned Toyokoro Station for the 20-minute trip to Ikeda.

I waited with four other prospective passengers, but the 8:47 train did not arrive. Neither did the 9:20.

Signs were re-read, and a phone call made, by one who spoke the language.

The trains were not running that morning, but with smiles and gestures, along with the others I was invited into the vehicle of the one passenger who had driven to the station and we were off on a very quick road trip to the Ikeda station.

I will add this one to my growing collection of tales about Japanese rural hospitality at its best.

Janet Jory is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.