February 09, 2012

Japanese Inn

The definitive account of an Edo period highway inn is Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler, a narrative history (at times more or less imagined) of the Minaguchi, a family-owned inn near Shizuoka that dates back to the 16th century.

Statler's description of a visit to the inn (where he was a regular guest) in the 20th century could just as well apply four hundred years ago.

A kimono-clad maid comes running, calling back messages to the interior, and sinks to her knees on the straw matting of the entrance hall. Bowing almost to the floor, she says, "You are welcome to the Minaguchi-ya."

Round-faced Yoshi, his bald head gleaming, rushes out to take forcible possession of my bag. "You are welcome! You are welcome!" he cried.

And from the interior appears buoyant, bubbling Isako, the mistress of the inn, tall, slender, and young in heart. She too slips to the floor and bows. "Please come in. Your room is waiting. It is your home."

Isako rises to lead the way.

Choruses of "Irasshai!" (accompanied by bows) can still be heard at most retail establishments in Japan. Big department stores deploy squadrons of attractive young women at every entrance to do the honors.

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