The best laid plans … they say that the easiest way to make the gods laugh is to tell them your plans.
It was all arranged. Shoko’s mother was staying at the “care home” for a few days. Shoko and I planned to leave for Yokohama Sunday morning. We would explore the area around Yokohama Chinatown on Sunday then spend Monday in Kamakura. I had expressed particular interest in visiting the bamboo temple, Kohokuji.
We got up early Sunday morning, had breakfast, and then packed our very small suitcases for the trip. We were collecting things and taking care of last minute items at the house. So far so good … right? Until, as I climbed down the staircase in Shoko’s house, my funky left knee decided to act up. As I stepped down I felt a wobble in the knee and a pain went shooting up the back of my thigh. By the time I got to the bottom of the staircase, I couldn’t put any weight on it. And now I was hopping around, swearing in multiple languages, wondering how this is going to play out.
Not to be denied, I walked around gingerly to loosen it up. We then slapped a few tokuhon patches on and around the knee, finished out packing, and headed for the train station … walking a little slower than usual, but walking nonetheless. Fortunately, I was using one of Shoko’s suitcases — one of those with four wheels so it’s very easy to push along.
However, now that I was injured, “Are you OK?” concern permeated everything we did. We searched for the elevators in all the stations so I didn’t have to drag the suitcase up and down the multiple staircases involved in Japanese train travel. Sometimes this involved walking a whole lot further than the staircase! Sometimes it involved grabbing my suitcase back from Shoko who was trying to carrying them both up or down a staircase.
The good news is that there was only one change of trains between Shoko’s house and Yokohama. We negotiated that, and boarded the train to Yokohama’s station ... and it was jammed like a can of sardines. So for the better part of the next 2 hours, one of the vertical poles in the train car became my best friend as I stood and swayed and tried to keep my balance without stressing the knee further. I suspect my fingerprints are still imprinted on that pole.
Our hotel was a short walk from the Sakurajicho station once we figured out which way to go. When we dropped our luggage at the hotel, Shoko had a long conversation with the desk clerk before we headed out. The clerk pulled out a map and circled something. Turns out Shoko had been asking if there is a sporting goods store nearby so I could get a brace for my knee. Fortunately here was one very near the station, so off we went to find me a knee brace. I won’t elaborate on the embarrassment of sitting in a small booth trying on knee braces until I find the one that fits is a "4L" (extra extra extra extra large) size brace. 8,300 Yen later (About $75) I wore it out of the store.
Now, because of my bad knee, we grabbed a cab instead of walking to Yokohama Chinatown. It’s a very noisy and crowded and challenging area for someone with a wacky knee. The sidewalks and shop entrances are only an inch or two high and perfect traps to turn an ankle or exacerbate a bad knee. We walked very carefully through this area as we weaved and dodged the crowds. We found a quiet place for lunch, then were joined by Shoko’s Chinese teacher for the rest of the day. She was lovely, and now the conversation was weaving in and out of three languages instead of just two. As we wandered and went in and out of shops I had a odd sense of dislocation. Where in the heck was I? Most of what was for sale I could buy in Chinatown in Philadelphia. Probably a good thing. I didn’t spend any money.
The Buddhist temple there was interesting. They were doing a burning ritual I'd never seen before. A supplicant would buy a stack of yellow paper printed with some kind of red design and place it in a doorway to an oven. The draft of the fire would pull the papers in and if the person was lucky … all of the paper in his or her stack would be pulled in without any assistance. It was fun to watch as the papers fanned up and into the flames and the crowd cheered.
By now it was close to 3 and my knee was starting to throb. We looked for a teahouse or coffee shop to sit and relax but seems the only establishment of that kind was a Starbucks. We opted for a sweet shop. Afterwards, I was escorted back to the hotel (couldn't just put me in a cab). It actually was a welcome opportunity for me to literally put my feet up for a couple of hours while Shoko and Mrs. Jiang continued to explore. That evening, Shoko and I had dinner at a tiny sushi bar we found on a tiny street near the hotel. It wasn’t our first choice. Shoko’s plan of the elegant teishoku dinner overlooking Yokohama harbor was foiled because the restaurant wasn’t open on Sunday. Neither was the sushi place the hotel had suggested.
Monday morning, Shoko’s cousin Keiko met us at the hotel to join us for our day in Kamakura. My knee was behaving better but there was still the “are you OK?” concern throughout our travels. Keiko insisted on pushing my luggage for me. When I complained to Shoko, she told me that Keiko, who is a few years younger the Shoko and I, likes helping “old ladies.” … No comment.
On the train to Kamakura, we had fun harassing a group of junior high girls. Shoko likes to encourage them to practice their English with me. So one by one we had them sit next to me and try English. At a stop on the way, a classmate of theirs got on. Shoko told her to practice to English with me too. Much to our surprise, she looked at us and said, in perfect English, “I lived in the United States for 5 years” in Birmingham, Alabama. She didn’t have a southern accent.
We arrived in Kamakura, stashed our luggage in a coin locker then got a cab to Kohokuji temple. One of the up sides of the “bad knee” was the occasional cab ride instead of the "7 minute walk" which was actually 15 or 20 minutes. And once we got there, the knee didn’t matter. I was stopping every second step to take pictures anyway. I’d never seen giant bamboo before. It was magnificent. We had a cup of tea with sweets at the tea house. Hundreds of pictures later we had to leave. Beautiful. Peaceful. Amazing.
Afterward ... a little walking. A little shopping. A little soak in hot water. A little fresh fish at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. Then a long trip home … at least we got seats! It didn’t go exactly how we planned … but Kohokuji was worth every minute and every knee twinge of the trip there.