"Japan is an impossibly expensive destination for British visitors".

False. Just as prices acquire hitherto-unknown heights when you arrive in Japan so, too, does the concept of generosity.

I was in Japan one Sunday evening, I had no negotiable currency, and there was no way to get from a small provincial airport into town. The distance of four miles was walkable, but in the growing dark only just. Furthermore, the direction signs were (understandably) written entirely in Japanese - a language with which I am not familiar. So I asked for advice in the still-open (but only just) car rental office.

Namizato, the manager, did not hesitate. He grabbed some keys, barked at the office junior and invited me to join him in a top-of-the-range Nissan for the ride into town.

I know his name is Namizato because at the end of the ride he handed me his card with a smile. "Call me if you need any help," he said.

You can easily spend pounds 500 a night for a hotel room in Japan, but a ryokan or minshuki (modest bed-and-breakfasts) cuts this to only pounds 20 or so. Bed was a futon, breakfast was simply rice with a raw egg.

For lunch, I tried a "greasy chop-stick" sort of cafe. Lots of locals were slurping at soup (considered polite) and attacking bowls over-full with food: it was one stab with the chopsticks at the stir-fried noodles, then another at the rice. Sparring with a bowl of each filled me for the rest of the day and most of the evening, and cost a modest pounds 2.50.

The most effective antidote to the humidity of a summer afternoon in Japan is tea. Cafes in markets tend to be the cheapest places to eat and drink, so I subsided into a pokey little place which was situated opposite the fruit vendors and ordered some tea.

The man looked troubled, and said it would take him a few minutes to boil the kettle. The wait was rewarded with a hot, delicately flavoured brew, which I savoured for at least half-an-hour. Only when I came to pay did it become clear that this modest establishment was actually the man's home. It was with immense grace that he declined my offer of few precious yen.

Simon Calder

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