2 Yonezawa: Hedges and the evil empire

This morning I sent another box back to England.  Books and extra t-shirts have become too much of a burden.  Literature and cleanliness became luxuries the instant I had to lug them around all day.  I have kept hold of Graham Greene`s 1930`s guide to Mexico though – could be useful in a crisis.

Today and tomorrow the forecast is for rain; the rainy season lingers longer in Tohoku.  Camping in the wet is not on my itinerary, so I have played my ace card already, using up my member points at the evil Toyoko Inn, a soulless tower of sterile rooms that stain every city in Japan.  (But a much-loved sanctuary when it is pissing down outside.)

On reception young women struggle through 24 hours shifts. From when I was leading tour groups, I remember the difference in quality of service at 9:30am, when they are finishing their shifts, and 10am when they start.

“Toyoko Inns only employ women. Even the management are all women,” a man told me at lunchtime today. I think he is right: I can only recall one man out of the 100+ staff encountered in 4 years.


Dumping Shrewsbury and the bearpack at the Toyoko Inn, I went exploring while the sun still shined.  I had high expectations. 120 odd years ago, British visitor Isabella Bird called Yonezawa a “perfect garden of Eden…tilled with a pencil instead of a plough.” 

Amongst the concrete death, patches of the garden are still alive.  Orchards and allotments all over town were filled with vegetables, thick clusters of orange plums, ping-pong ball-like aubergines, and in one place, a grapevine acting as a garage roof.

And then there were the hedges. Bright green, gorgeous hedges. According to the city guide book, 20km of ukogi hedge line the city streets, the most in Japan.  Only 3 foot high, the shallow hedges do not protect privacy very well.  But they make the houses look friendly: Please look in our garden, we have nothing to hide. Breeze-block walls should hang their heads in shame.

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