The day dawned rainy and gloomy. Charlie and I walked to the sea front to do the top tourist activity in Shimoda, a ride on the Susquehanna, a reproduction of the black ship with which Admiral Matthew Perry “opened” Japan in 1854.
As I’ve written before, Japan closed itself to foreigners for over 200 years. Perry wouldn’t take no for an answer. I paid our fares (1200 yen for me; 600 for Charlie). It was only us and a couple with one kid, so we were spared the selfie-stick crowd.
Charlie couldn’t wait to spend the 2000 yen pocket money his mom had given him. He bought a bag of seagull food for 100 yen and within 20 seconds it was gone. I found a seat below, out of the rain, and he joined me. It was fun to watch the dawn of understanding as I explained what a breakwater was.
“It’ll get a lot choppier once we pass it,” I pointed out. “Look at those waves.”
Charlie moved to the other side of the cabin and kept yelling over, “Look, Auntie Anne, there’s a mountain/huge wave/another ship!” The scenery was beautiful.
“Look at the seagulls following us!”
There was commentary, in Japanese. I knew the ride was supposed to last 20 minutes but hoped they would drag it out longer since it was deadsville for tourists in Shimoda. But no, 20 minutes later we disembarked.
It was 9:30.
I had counted on buying a book that would explain everything about Perry’s expedition but there were none in English in the tiny ticket/gift shop.
“What did they say in the commentary?” I asked Charlie.
“I dunno, I didn’t pay any attention,” he replied.
“Well next time, do,” I ordered. “How else am I supposed to know what’s going on?”
We walked back toward the train station, to the tourist information desk, to inquire about the second-most-popular tourist attraction in Shimoda, the cable car ride to a mountaintop park. As we walked, the sun came out and it went from warm to oppressively hot.
“Look there’s steam rising from the sidewalks. Thank god we’re gonna be up on the mountain for the rest of the day. It should be cooler up there,” I said. This was going to be a great way to kill most of the day. We would have a picnic and go for a hike. I remembered seeing colored pencils in Charlie’s bag. We could bring those and try our hand at sketching the views. I laid out these plans to Charlie and he nodded in satisfaction.
At the information desk, the friendly staff explained to Charlie, who turned and explained to me with great disappointment, that the mountain was closed.
“The mountain? Don’t they mean the cable car?”
Charlie consulted with the staff in Japanese, then turned to me so they couldn’t see the dubious look on his face. “They say the mountain is closed for repairs.” Then we both laughed out loud. We knew there was no point in trying to get them to explain what it meant.
“Isn’t there another way to get up there?” I asked him to ask. Maybe we could take a cab to the top, like Lynn and I had done with Mount Wakakusa.
The poor tourist staff shook their heads, looking guilty and helpless. They were truly sorry that we wouldn’t be able to ascend the broken mountain. I hoped they wouldn’t commit suicide later.
“Ask them what else they would recommend we do,” I instructed Charlie. We were encouraged to visit the aquarium.
“Okay,” I said as we walked away, “but first I have to get some cash.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. “Don’t make me walk outside! It’s so hot and I’m so tired!”
“Ha. You would have been a barrel of fun on the mountaintop. Sit right here and don’t move until I get back. I’ll be gone five minutes.”
It took me 10 minutes, and as I rounded on the station I saw Charlie walking off after a strange man.
“CHAR-Leee! Get Back Here!” I screamed. Everyone turned to stare at me, shocked.
No one screams in Japan, apparently, even when their kid is being abducted.