We were in Japan for two weeks. It was hot, thirty five degrees centigrade. Hotter than ideal for walking round temples, down busy streets, doing anything other than lying flat out in an air-conditioned room, but there was so much to see, and do, that we hauled ourselves out into the humid air anyway, made frequent use of the numerous chilled drink vending machines.
Endless noise. In the parks, cicadas and crickets and probably hundreds of other species (have you seen Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo?), chirping and clicking away from trees all around, so loud. On the roads, in the stations, a constant soundtrack,cheerful melodies played to indicate the green light for crossing the road, piped birdsong on the platforms, unique jingles for each subway station stop, yet more jingles to indicate tannoy announcements, so that eventually you begin to feel like you are in a film, perpetual soundtrack.
But then also the quiet. Of peaceful temple gardens, lowered voices, bare feet on ancient wooden floors. The not-quite-silence of trees.
In Fukuoka, dinner at one of the yatai, pavement stalls serving food, one of the many in the strip by the canal. Perched on stools, cold beer, vegetable tempura made in front of us, aubergine, okra, baby corn, sweet potato, green pepper, hot, crisp. Tempura squid, better than any squid I have ever tasted. Shitake mushroom, grilled and drizzled with a delicious sauce. We get talking to the couple sitting next to us, en route to a holiday in Seoul. Half in Japanese, half in English, lots of smiles. They offer up morsels of their food to try, tempura fish roe wrapped in spicy leaves, beef tongue.
Flower shops with breathtaking orchids, ten regal flowers to each stem, so perfect, so uniform. Outside one flower shop, discarded orchid plants, leaves only, tumbled into a crate, selling for a pound or two, unwanted without their impressive plumage.
A trip by ferry to an island off the coast, jellyfish translucent in the water beneath us. A bus ride across the island in the hope of finding a beach, instead finding ourselves at the island flower park, without many flowers, wrong time of year. Sheltering in a covered picnic area during a sudden rainstorm, drinking grape Fanta, laughing. At the harbour, waiting for the ferry back, a pair of sea eagles, gliding just above us, swooping down to catch fish.
In a supermarket, oggling at the unfamiliar, fairytale mushrooms, spindly, pale asparagus, giant white radishes, octopus tentacles in cellophane packaging, suckers pink and glistening. Dried fish sold like crisps. I could spend hours in foreign supermarkets, and Japan is no exception.