“Welcome to Oharanosato,” said the Japanese Guest Houses website, “Located far north of central Kyoto, this modern ryokan is a little old and run-down”. But the website was being modest; the white pagoda-style building I’m standing in front of is anything but derelict. “Old and run-down” to the Japanese must be brand-spanking new to everyone else.
Lost in translation: learning Japanese
The solid wood door glides open and a middle-aged Japanese couple with kindly faces appear and greet me with warm ‘good afternoons’. But that’s where mutual understanding ends. As they begin to reel off long streams of Japanese my heart pounds in terror. I assumed they would speak a little more English and it appears they thought I would speak Japanese. I just smile and nod profusely as though I understand and it seems to do the trick.
Japanese etiquette: room for error
Before I settle in my hosts give me some lessons on footwear. In Japan there are shoes for outdoors and slippers for indoors. Simple enough. Yet there are times to wear the slippers and times not to wear the slippers. They must be put on as soon as entering the ryokan, yet should not be worn in the bedroom or the breakfast room on the tatami mats. There are a separate set of slippers to be worn in the toilet. Gulp.