The area in which we were staying at Hirafu was a winter ski resort and quite sparsely populated in the summer months and at its busiest from late November to March. We were there in June and the weather was glorious, warm and mainly sunny with a top temperature of 22°. Sunday was a busy day for family outings and we enjoyed watching groups out together enjoying the sunshine. The roads were much busier at the weekend and we saw many motor cyclists on the road as well as Lycra clad cyclists.
The area had been partially colonised by Australian and some European ski enthusiasts so there were a number of restaurants offering western style food – burger and chips, pizza and a more upmarket restaurant serving French cuisine (only open weekends). We tried to avoid these places on the basis of “when in Rome . . .” but once in a while we felt noodled and riced out and craved for something European.
We went to a soba noodle restaurant for lunch and found a dozen or so people waiting patiently outside, so we joined the queue. A Japanese man, also waiting in the queue, kindly told us to go inside and write our name on the waiting list so we could be called when it was our turn. The system worked beautifully and twenty minutes later we were called to our table. Inside the restaurant everything was calm and orderly with no sign of staff rushing about. Iced water was brought to our table which overlooked an area of woodland and we ordered a beer and chose our food. When the food came it was beautifully presented on a tray, a dish of broth with soba noodles and a plate of tempura with tiny dishes of herbs and seasonings. I was so excited I forgot to take a photograph.
At the end of the meal we left our table and went to pay and I forgot to pick up my handbag. When I went back for it a few minutes later, the man at the next table had already noticed my forgetfulness and was looking round for me, showing great relief when I came back for it. In England a Good Samaritan would grab the forgotten bag and run after the owner to give it back (we hope) but in Japan it was not the custom to touch another’s property. Earlier in the week we saw a young man in a restaurant suddenly jump up from his seat and sprint after a group of elderly ladies who had just left the restaurant. He escorted one lady back to their table and pointed out a bag that had been left behind. We were told that if you left a briefcase or purse in a public place it would not be touched (we hope).