There and back again - Ed Brock

We were sitting on rough-hewn, upended logs that served as stools, eating ramen noodles at a cozy little place near my in-laws' house in Chiba, Japan.

The Beatles were playing in the background.

That was our first outing on my latest trip to my adopted country. The prior day and most of that morning had been spent sleeping and recuperating from the 14-hour direct flight from Atlanta to Narita Airport near Tokyo.

It was to be a dangerous week for Japan. Typhoon No. 23 tore a long, bloody gash through most of the Japanese archipelago, killing nearly 100 people with floods and mudslides. By the end of the week a fairly major earthquake gave Niigata prefecture a good toss, killing around 25 more people.

We felt a few bumps from that one in Chiba where we were almost directly across Honshu, the central Japanese island, from the quake's epicenter. The typhoon gave us a minor lashing as well, but overall fortune smiled on us.

It's surprising how much you can do in a week and a half, and since most of it dealt with visiting family and friends I won't bore everybody with the details. But I'll give you some fuzzy overarching images.

Craving a relaxing dip in a mineral bath called an "onsen," we went to Hakone prefecture in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. It was there that I learned that one must wear the summer kimono, called a "yukatta," and all kimonos, I gather, with the right side folded under the left or risk bad luck. The dead are dressed with their kimonos in the reverse style.

Sadly, my Japanese wife couldn't remember which way was the right way and she had to steal an embarrassed look at the other guests before making a last minute adjustment in an empty stairwell when we went to dinner.

Well, at least she was the one who pointed out that there is a wrong way to wear the robe.

And let me back up a bit to plug the "Hakone Open Air Museum," a wonderful sculpture garden that we visited before going on to the hotel.

The edge of Typhoon 23 lapped over the area on the following morning, but for the most part the rain was just a drizzle. Indeed, the clouds gave the mountainous area a far more dramatic mien, however we were worried that we would not be able to see Fuji-san from the rope-way we planned to take to another village.

But I climbed Fuji-san in a typhoon, and he and I have an understanding. When we arrived at the mid-way station with the best view we could see the old volcano's mid-section looming through the mist. We took pictures, then ate some "black eggs" that had been boiled in the sulfur-rich mineral springs nearby.

Just the shells were black, by the way, and they tasted pretty much like regular boiled eggs. However, by eating them we added seven years to our lives, or so it's said.

The rest of the day was spent on the shores of a lake that filled an even more ancient volcanic crater, and as the drizzle slowly increased to occasional downpours we caught a bus for Tokyo.

We entered the city on a highway that pushed its way through the tight-packed spires of high-rises, the fifth-story windows of which pressed so close against the roadway I could see workers sitting at their desks in individual offices. We ate dinner with friends at a swanky restaurant in Ginza and caught the last train home.

The next day we weathered the storm, and the day after that we went shopping. My wife took advantage of the trip to stock up on any delicacy that was portable and non-perishable enough to make it back to America.

Then Friday night we were back in Tokyo, meeting yet another friend (my wife is very popular in her homeland) in the Roppongi party district. The place was filthy with "gaijin," foreigners there on vacation, business trips or perhaps to live.

Our first stop was the "Tokyo City View" observation platform on the 52nd floor of a brand-new tower in the heart of the city. Tokyo Tower, a taller version of the Eiffel Tower painted orange and white, looked like a model from our perspective, and the metropolis meandered out into the darkness all around us.

We started the festivities at the Geronimo Shot Bar, very literally a hole in the wall decorated with American Indian paraphernalia, ties that had obviously been discarded by drunken businessmen, women's underwear and tiny brass plaques bearing witticisms like "Whatever, I'm drunk."

After that it was dinner again at a Korean barbecue place (no, they didn't serve dog there) and then dancing at the House of Motown. Actually, it was more like a Brownian Motion vibration considering the crowd, but it passed for dancing.

Well, that about sums up the interesting part of the trip. The rest is family stuff and getting ready to come home. And home is where I am now, trying to find that day I lost on the way back, or on the way there. I'm not sure.

It was just another jaunt to the far side of the globe, something that's becoming pretty regular for me, but never routine.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at ebrock@news-daily.com .