OK I admit it: I got tired of figuring out this place all on my own, so I signed up for a "Landmarks and Viewpoints" tour for foreign visitors.
This was a day to forget.
At exactly the appointed time the bus rolled up to my Okoyama (Kyushu) $26 a night capsule hotel (Hotel River Side).
The driver was gruff, but well-dressed with impossibly clean white gloves. The guide, Sachiko, was the usual pretty young woman who comes standard with such operations. Her English was fairly good as long as she stayed on script.
I climbed in and sat by myself in a two-across.
"One more, and we'll be on our way," Sachiko chirped.
We pulled up to the Hyatt Regency, but nobody appeared.
Our guide became increasingly agitated, made phone calls, then paced up and down outside trying to spot a lone gaijin. Eventually, a woman in her 50's came out of the hotel looking a little frazzled, got into the bus, and planted herself in the seat beside me.
My seat companion was Judy, a hospital administrator from Lincoln, Nebraska. She was traveling alone to "forget a messy situation back home."
The other people on the bus kept themselves to themselves, and I can barely recall anything about them. Near me were a young German couple, and an elderly English couple.
Judy liked to ask questions. She wanted to know Sachiko's opinion about "the odd food they eat in Japan" (e.g., whale meat), were pachinko parlors "always run by yakuza?" (gangsters), and did Sachiko think "they would ever start another war?"
The Germans looked a little uncomfortable. Sachiko answered with generalities and smiled politely.
The elderly English woman restricted her interactions to delicate inquiries about bathroom and refreshment stops. The time for lunch was brought forward because of some dietary issue with her husband.
At one temple I learned it had taken 12,423 liters of lacquer to restore the structure. One view was the third most scenic in Okayama prefecture. Sachiko told us where to stand to take the best pictures.
Sometimes Sachiko's "facts" were a little mangled, but Judy continued to make little notes for her Facebook.
There seemed to be a lot of bathroom breaks, and we spent a significant amount of time at three gift shops. Judy got bored and declared that once you've seen one temple you've seen them all.
Towards the end of the tour she told me she was afraid to go out alone to buy some essentials at a nearby department store: "you know what their men do to ladies in crowded places."
Reluctantly, I agreed to accompany her.
As we walked to the store, Judy enthused about the Hyatt's Tex-Mex restaurant. Apparently she was going to buy me dinner.
At the Mitsukoshi department store we took the elevator to the 7th floor.
The entire floor was devoted to women's intimate apparel. This was a bit of an eye-opener: my experience had not extended beyond the excellent food hall in every department store basement.
Judy swept past an alarmingly pink Hello Kitty section and made a beeline for a rack of rather impractical thongs.
"You choose," she commanded.
I woke in a cold sweat and reached for my phone to see what time it was.
I then noticed the date.
Japan is 14 hours ahead of US Central Time.
Update: Note the publication date (above); this post is fiction, satire. I did not take a tour.