From the serene mountaintop monastery, I took a bus, a cable car, seven trains, spent one night at a Air BnB cum flop house in the red light district of northern Tokyo, and took two more trains and a bus to a sleepy seaside city called Shimoda. Funnily enough, I had a Czech great grandmother named Anna Shimota.
I’m here with my nephew, who has chosen the pseudonym Charlie for when I mention him in social media. I won’t be sharing any photos of him, so here’s a mental picture: he’s nine, with those just-grown-in adult teeth. He’s got brown plastic glasses held on with an elastic strap that runs around his head and makes his big brown eyes even bigger. Neither fat nor skinny. Top him off with a thick mop of brown hair.
Charlie is not allowed to watch TV, movies, or play online games at home. He’s got permission to do some of that on this mini vacation with me, and he’s like a radar detector for all opportunities to do so. Forbidden fruit, I guess.
Charlie is somewhere between a kid and a teenager. There is a child’s yukata in the room, and I was sure he would eschew wearing it because it’s got bunnies on it. But he put it on right away.
It’s been raining all day. We ventured out and Charlie spent 20 minutes throwing rocks into the ocean while I huddled in a bus shelter nearby.
Right now I can just see the top of his head and one foot as he lies on his futon watching TV and cuddling the stuffed dolphin he bought with his own money at the Shimoda aquarium yesterday. There is a pile of snack wrappers next to his futon. It looks like his suitcase exploded, spewing clothes everywhere. I made him green tea and he promptly spilled it all over his sheet.
“You’re like that character Pig Pen, in the Charlie Brown stories,” I commented. He grinned.
I’m not used to a TV constantly blaring, so it’s taken me forever to write this post. Since I know only three words of Japanese, all the yammering on TV sounds alike, with lots of people yelling excitedly about who-knows-what. There is lots of “Hai! Hai, hai, hai,”—which literally means “Yes” but is the Japanese filler word, like English speakers say, uh-huh, and folks in the middle east say, yanni.
Right now there is something on TV featuring people who are very excited about cantaloupe. They’re buying cartloads of it at the grocery, and families are sitting around their tables, each eating half a cantaloupe. As with most shows here, there are small screens in the corners featuring people watching and nodding their heads …
Charlie flips the channel: a news show with Shinzo Abe and other pols, all wearing yellow feathers in their button holes. Why?
Next channel: A home improvement show, with everyone wearing slippers.
Next channel: individuals demonstrating gift-wrapping techniques followed by a demonstration of how to fold an origami water beetle.
Charlie is not the only Internet addict. When we walked into the room I was enchanted by the view, then dismayed to find there was no wifi except in the lobby, three floors below. The old lady at the desk shrugged helplessly and gave me a weak smile. I’m sure she wondered what the big deal was. Why does everyone get so worked up about this newfangled technology thing that will probably turn out to be just a fad?
My laptop (but not my phone) can detect a couple of free open networks. I’ve been able to connect once. Now the siren call of the free public wifi is just grinding away; tantalizing me with hopes of seeing which friend of a friend’s birthday is today.
Once again, maybe I need to accept this as a non-voluntary but healthful digital detox.
We did go down to the lobby this morning to Skype with Charlie’s dad, mom, and little brother. Immediately as we got connected and were smiling and waving, the old lady came from behind the reception desk and announced she was going to vacuum now (Charlie translated for me). Sigh.