Morning: Took train to Yokote. Grotty-looking hotel across from station was fully booked for a festival in a city over a 1 hour train ride away. Station area very shabby, more dead shops than live ones.
Made inquiry at two storey Abe Ryokan. The owner shuffled up to the genkan (porch); he had greasy, receding, straggly hair and wore a sky blue rag tied carelessly around his forehead. A brown, flowery apron hung over his pot belly. He was polite and humble, mumbling a request for good favour and bowing when I booked a small tatami mat room, filled with generations of dust and clutter.
Later the owner handed me a town map on which he had curiously ringed every traffic light in Yokote in red pen.
LUNCH: A bargain 500yen for prize-winning cuisine, yakisoba (fried noodles) at Kuidoraku (J), winner of the 4 Heavenly Kings Grade B Food Grand Prix for 5 years running. The town of Yokote is famous for its fried noodles, particularly for adding a special feature – a fried egg . The small Kuidoraku chain also boasts a special sauce.
“What`s the special ingredient in the sauce?” I asked the waitress.
“Worcester sauce,” she whispered – possibly British cuisine`s finest achievement in Japan.
Then again possibly not. Two hours later I had stomach cramps.
EVENING: Drawn to the sounds of taiko drums in the darkness, I visited a small shrine behind the Abe ryokan. Inside children were preparing for a festival by the river tomorrow. One of the children`s mothers invited me in to watch them practice.
Two Dad`s in turquoise factory-suits directed the children, 10 local boys and girls of mixed ages and sizes, who took it in turns to keep the drumbeat going. A relentless rhythm. By the end, I felt ready to go to war with them.
Behind the kids , one Mother was playing a yokobue (Japanese flute); a Father was playing on an obscure, unidentifiable instrument which on closer inspection turned out to be a mobile phone.
Looking forward to seeing the real thing tomorrow.