The day of my trip to Shiga Heights arrived,
and I packed a small bag and went to Tokyo. I took a local
train to the station, where I had arranged to meet Mr. Hirata.
Somehow I was able to find the right train and get off at
the right station, but it was a matter of sheer luck for,
with no English language signs to steer me, I had to find
someone to direct me to a place whose name I could not pronounce.
But I came to the right place and found Hirata waiting for
me. We boarded another train and took the long ride to another
nameless place, a distance of several hours.
On the way we made a number of stops, and the train was
greeted at some of these by groups of women, dressed like
nurses (Hirata explained that they were members of patriotic
organizations), carrying flowers and packages. The train
was carrying soldiers returning from Manchuria, some of
them wounded, and these women, after making short speeches
welcoming the men home, handed out these gifts. Then, as
the train pulled out, they waved little Rising Sun flags
Hirata was an interesting companion: he was educated at
Princeton, was an engineer, and, of course, was fluent in
English. At first he was a little diffident about discussing
the international situation, but after a while he warmed
up, and he gave me the Japanese viewpoint on many matters.
I found him very interesting, for this was my first exposure
to the Japanese outlook. Hirata was quite sure his country
would be at war with the United States and Britain. It was
not a matter of imperialism, he told me. His country's adventure
in Manchuria had demonstrated that the Japanese were not
good colonizers, being much too bound to home and family.
It was a matter of survival: this tiny island could not
live without access to outside sources and markets, yet
it was being frustrated by the two powers that had their
own plans for expansion. I was surprised that this young
man should express his opinions so openly, but he was clearly
quite sincere and repeated that, sorry as he was to say
it, our countries would be at war, and before long.
We came to the end of the train journey and got into the
car that Hirata had ordered. This took us through some hilly
country for about an hour to a village called, if I can
remember the name correctly, Kambashi. At a small hotel
there, a man waited with a horse-drawn sled. It had seats
for four, two fore and two aft, facing each other, with
a charcoal urn between. Over the urn, after we had seated
ourselves, one on each side, the man draped a heavy blanket
over our knees, forming a tent over the urn. This arrangement
kept our legs and feet warm during the long climb to Shiga
Heights. The man walked beside the horse all the way as
we wound up the mountain. It was dark, but in the half-light,
enhanced by the white of the snow, it looked beautiful.
Our way was otherwise lit by an oil lamp hung on the side
of the sled.
We came at last to the hotel at the summit. A Swiss chalet
style building, though quite large. Built of logs and stone,
with the overhanging roofs and balconies characteristic
of alpine buildings, it looked a little out of place here,
though I had no difficulty in imagining myself back in Europe.
Inside was a big lounge, with an enormous stone fireplace
in which a roaring fire was blazing, making a most welcoming
sight indeed. We checked in and went up to our rooms. I
was soon back, sitting beside that fire, warming my chilled
At the far end of the room, I saw other guests sitting around
a table having their aperitifs. They were a jolly group,
laughing and teasing each other-in German. As far as I could
tell, there were no Japanese guests, apart from Hirata,
and these people, ten in all, were the rest of the guest
list. As I sat there pondering this piquant situation, a
big, blond, tanned Aryan came up to me. He bowed and clicked
his heels and introduced himself. He was, he said, Otto
Santner, the ski trainer here. "I should like to present
you to zer uzzer guests!" When I hesitated,
he said, "Come, Mister Baldwin! Ve are all here for
ze same purpose-to forget ze vor, no?"
So I followed him over to the group, keeping an eye open
for a British consul that might be lurking under the furniture,
watching for defectors. The Germans all stood and greeted
me, clicking their heels and bowing, shaking hands. They
all spoke excellent English, and they never again spoke
German while I was in their presence. They were all on vacation
from the German consulate in Shanghai, I gathered. Invited
to join them for a drink, I sat down with them and, joined
by Hirata, spent a pleasant half hour.
Next morning, at the invitation of the trainer, Hirata and
I went out on the slopes. We hired equipment from the hotel,
not usually recommended practice, but my skis were back
in Oslo, while Hirata, who had never skied before, didn't
possess any. This was my first formal lesson. My instruction
up to now had consisted entirely of admonitions from my
Norwegian friends to "just follow us, lean forward,
and keep your knees bent!" So I didn't do very well.
Hirata, with that extraordinary adaptability and resilience
so typical of the Japanese, quickly mastered the rudiments
and became Santner's star pupil.
The German guests were all expert skiers. They were quite
helpful, offering much advice to us both. "Remember
to keep the knees bent and lean forward!" they would
shout as we climbed clumsily back from our latest sitzmark.
We spent a couple of days this way, skiing for an hour or
two, then taking a dip in the hot spring over which the
bathhouse had been built. That water was almost too hot
to get into, springing as a constant steaming stream from
a crack in a huge rock. But it was most relaxing and helped
soothe our aches and pains (mine anyway-Hirata didn't seem
to have such problems). In the evening, after dinner, there
was billiards in the games room or nodding beside the fireplace,
a glass of toddy in hand.
Two days later a fresh group of guests arrived:
three Germans, a Danish-Chinese girl and, to
my surprise, two of the Norwegians from the
trans-Siberian trip. At afternoon tea that day,
we had a happy reunion. Ulrik, the older of
the two, would have nothing to do with the Germans.
In fact, he told me, reproachfully, that I ought
not to be so friendly with them at every encounter,
and I half expected the long-awaited second
front to be opened at Shiga Heights.
The Danish-Chinese girl was a real beauty, and
the younger Norwegian was badly smitten. The
feeling was clearly reciprocated, and we others
quickly ruled the couple out of our plans from
then on. Hirata suggested, after a few days,
that we should head back to Tokyo, since I would
not have much more time before my boat for Canada
sailed. Ulrik, who seemed to have appointed
himself my guardian, said that I could return
to Tokyo with him and Hirata didn't have to
stay if he wanted to get back to work. So Hirata
left the next day, somewhat uneasy about leaving
me up there. I reassured him that I could easily
make my way back to Tokyo in time for my boat,
and Ulrik chimed in with similar reassurances.
So I had one more day at Shiga, skiing with
Ulrik. We had one unpleasant encounter with
one of the Germans. He called out to me as I
performed on the slopes, "Remember! Keep
the knees bent!" Ulrik turned on him. "He
doesn't need any help from Germans!" he
snarled at the poor man. I thought there might
be an incident, but the German shrugged his
shoulders and left the scene.
I began to get rather restive as the afternoon
wore on, for our train to Tokyo was the last
one that day and we had to make our way down
the mountain to meet our car to the station.
Ulrik was in no hurry, insisting we had time
for afternoon tea before leaving. Consequently,
it was already dusk before we started out-on
How we got down to that hotel I will never know.
It was rapidly darkening, we had never been
on that terrain before, the sign posts were
all in Japanese, and my skiing was not really
up to this kind of trip. The younger Norwegian
had elected to stay for another day with his
new girlfriend, so Ulrik and I had started off
alone, the plan being to drop off our rented
skis at the hotel in the valley and meet our
car there for the journey to the station.
That trip was quite an experience: the trails
seemed to wander all over the landscape, the
signs at the intersections were quite uninformative,
being in Japanese, and I kept falling at every
turn, as the snow, melted by the day's sun,
froze over, making the surface quite treacherous.
Poor Ulrik. Not only did he have to find our
way down, but at each tricky turn he had to
stop and tell me whether it was safe to proceed
or, perhaps, safer to sit down. When we came
to a sign, he would study it for a moment, then
say, "I think it is this way;" then
he would take off in a new direction. A group
of Japanese skiers came along at one point,
and Ulrik pointed down the trail, asking very
loudly, "Kambashi? Kambashi?" They
giggled at us and rattled off a few words, nodding
vigorously, then vanished.
We arrived at last at the hotel, where we handed
in our skis and went inside. This was no tourist
hotel, strictly local trade. It was run, we
gathered, by the owner, who lived in quarters
off the main room of the hotel. We found that
we had almost two hours to wait (another paranoid
miscalculation on my part), so we took a room,
where we could change out of our ski clothes
into our city togs. After changing, we had a
meal in the small dining room. We were the only
guests, so we received most attentive treatment.
After the meal, the owner, a very small elderly
man, invited us into his quarters.
Following his example, we removed our shoes
as we entered (no holes in my socks this time!)
and found his family and the servants squatting
around a square charcoal pit in the center of
the room playing "go," a checkers-like
game (only much more complicated than checkers).
They seemed to be having a contest, for there
were three games going on, and at the end there
was an award from the owner, a small gift that
was received by the winner with much bowing
When our car called for us, the whole retinue
came out onto the porch to bow and wave. The
only English-speaking member of the family wished
us a safe trip and begged us to return someday.
A heartwarming little episode canceling out
the less pleasant encounters with Japanese people.
Our journey back to Tokyo was uneventful; in
fact, it was boring. It was dark, so one could
not even watch the scenery go by. There was
no dining car, so we had to sit in our seats
the whole distance except for an occasional
stroll along the corridor. Back in town I said
goodbye to Ulrik (he was taking a boat a week
later) and went back to the New Grand. There
I had a meal with Glwadys, and we compared notes
on our respective trips. While I thought her
tour of the Shinto shrines sounded like a bore,
she said that I must be a nut to head for the
nearest snow after cursing the stuff all the
way through Siberia.