Day six. My friend Nicolas Bouvier and his book (Le empty and the full) played a fun trick on me today. As I was on my way to see the golden pavilion (click, click, click, if you can find your spot on the viewing platform), I read a passage about how the Japanese perceive the Zen stone garden of the ‘famous Ryoan temple’. Ryoan? This one did not ring a bell. Did I miss something worth writing home about? I looked up the map: Oh my god, it’s a throw-gravel away from the golden pavilion! Minutes after having read the page, I was enjoying the view of the temple and of its zen fountain that says ‘吾唯足知‘ （I learn to be contented). At the bus stop, on my way back, I could not resist sharing that gem of a paragraph with a French woman who looked a bit on the low side as her husband had just decided to made a coup and seize power over his bored teenager: ‘Bon, ben puisque vous êtes insupportables, a partir de maintenant, c’est moi qui décide’ (OK, since you are unbearable, from now on, it’s me who decides). She liked it and immediately wrote down the name of Nicolas. I am glad I was able to make one more fan.
But today was more of a day to meet Japanese people. After five days here almost on my own, I bumped into Takashi, a Japanese guy who works in a yogurt factory but who studies English on week ends to become a teacher (I am told these week end English classes are common). In a very abrupt way, and at the pedestrian crossing, he asked me if he could practice his English with me. As any lonely planet writer will warn you, this is usually a red signal for scams. But somehow, that did not sound like it and we ended up with a nice conversation over a lunch that included a full description of all Japanese noodles and of the way the Samurai flattened themselves on the floor to beg for apologies （土下坐）. After lunch, he asked me if I knew why there were so many foreigners in the neighborhood of his English language school. I replied that he was just in between two famous Kyoto temples. ‘That all makes sense, now’ He said, grateful for the tip, and determined to try again conversations with random strangers now that he had successfully managed one. For sharing that piece of strategic information, I even got a ride in his small car to the railway station. Felt weird to leave Kyoto and the peaceful ryokan where I had established base.
But as if one random meeting at lunchtime was not enough, in the evening, on arrival at Takamatsu on Shinkoku Island, I met a traditional Japanese doctor at a restaurant who got me started with a second chapter of the Japanese Wikipedia on noodles (That one was called: Udon, the specialty of Sinkoku). As we were done with dinner, he took me to the local onsen. A beautifully designed one with modern architecture and a water rich in Calcium that makes bubbles around body hair and gives a soft touch to the skin. Soaking there was so relaxing that a young man was reading his novel in the tub with his wet towel folded carefully on his head. ‘Bad manners’ said my friend Kats in a definite way. On my way out, I picked up some post cards that caught my interest: The conductors of the local train company actually staged a number of photos in the onsen to advertise for it a little but like French rugby players sell calendars.