The blurb on the machine said: 'There's a gallon of deliciousness in every drop. Dyodo is your ticket to drink paradise.'

I dropped a 100-yen coin into the slot and a can of iced coffee was delivered like a ship discharging a depth charge.

Wondering why paradise needed so many preservatives, I sipped and waited for the Kyoto train. My friend Max sanctimoniously pointed his new camcorder at every drunken salaryman on the Yodoyabashi platform. 'There is more to Japan than geisha and kimono,' he said. 'To the right is my friend Philip who has a new white bag.'

A Japanese man positioned himself in front of Max's roving eye. He sang: 'You are sunshine, my ronery sunshine, you make me happy when skies are brue and please save all my sunshine for you.'

His wife, as if to reassure me, said, 'I don't think he got the ending quite right. Anyway he's crazy,' she reflected, gulping down a can of paradise.

He was Mr Anabuki and she was Mrs Anabuki and this was their son Takashi and were we going to Kyoto for the new year celebrations? Mr Anabuki had been to England - yes he had, he had been to Stratford-upon-Avon and London but had been shocked because none of the hotels seemed to have a sufficient number of coat hangers. Was this a common problem or just limited to Stratford-upon-Avon hotels?

'Stop talking about the stupid coat hangers,' snapped Mrs Anabuki. 'I've told you before it didn't matter.'

'Philip has this far-away look. I've seen it before,' said Max.

'And are you from England, too?' inquired Mrs Anabuki politely.

'Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,' Max said, Japanising the pronunciation

futilely.

The manoeuvrings required to get on the train would have tested the patience of the finest cave-diver. We groped our way into the night and the neon world of Osaka became available.

'It has a bigger electricity bill than Las Vegas,' said Max, to no one in particular. He pointed the camera at an aggressive-looking Japanese punk. 'The T-shirt you are wearing reads Buttman instead of Batman,' he added.

Through the windows I saw a sushi man pedalling his bicycle, his white Wellingtons a disappearing rabbit's scut bump-bumping the horizon; a woman pulling at mosquito mesh; a man sitting silently thinking. 'I don't know what it means,' said Max, 'but he always says 'Scooby dooby doo' at this station. Do you have Scooby in England?'

'We do in Japan,' interrupted Mr Anabuki eagerly, 'and Shaggy as well.'

At Kyoto Eki the Anabukis were tragically swept away. 'I would have liked their address,' I said sadly.

'You have to be philosophical about these things,' warned Max. 'We're in Kyoto now, not Tokyo. The gaijin here live in temples and breathe Zen so I made up a few koans for when we arrive. Ready? 'The smoke that curls towards the ceiling tastes of pepper.' '

'Really?' I said and started to follow his disappearing tracks in the snow.

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