Phantom Phone Booth

After about 2 weeks in Matsumoto, it was finally time to move on. My next destination was the Nakagomi Orchard in Minami Alps City, just two hours to the south. I entered another world when I got on the train that morning, joining the students and adults commuting to their daily routine. Once I passed the next big city, it was just me and those outside of the daily scheme; foreign travelers, grandparents with their grandchildren, and little old ladies going on daytrips together.

I arrived and exited the station. It was under construction, so there were no benches to sit on. Instead I sat on a fence near the bicycle parking lot and waited. When exchanging messages with my host a couple days before, he explained that he had an appointment in town that could make him late. That was no problem. What else did I have to do? I cracked open The Girl Who Came Home and was immersed in the lives of those on the Titanic. There were occasional waves of people rushing to catch a train, but mostly it was quiet, with just the sounds of heavy machinery and construction workers talking over their radios. At one point I stopped to apply some sunscreen. At another point I stopped to break into one of the chocolate bars I’d brought from the US as souvenirs (quick note: chocolate is a bad souvenir choice! None of them made it to their recipients…)

Hmm, hadn’t it been a while? I checked the time and found that two hours had already passed. No sign of my host yet. Maybe he was running late. I had no wifi and no phone, and there were no shops around. I didn’t even know where the orchard was in relation to the station. The only thing I did have was a phone number. So I gathered up my courage and rehearsed a phrase in Japanese. I approached the construction lady who was guarding the entrance to the construction site. “I’ve been waiting for a friend for two hours but have no phone to call them.. Would you kindly allow me the use of your own?” I was taken aback when she refused. Luckily, she did suggest an alternative. “There’s a payphone on the other side of the station.” The other side? All this time I had been waiting and didn’t realize there was another side?? I trudged under the tunnel and found that this was the main entrance with toilets, benches, a car pickup, and yes, even a payphone. Maybe I had just missed my host after all.

The payphone was indeed active. It required 100yen (~$1) to start, and 10yen after that. I pulled out all my coins and placed them on top, then dialed the number. It didn’t work. The phone was in operation, but it required a certain order of steps. I tried again, but that didn’t work either. I tried another method, and finally the phone went through. The glass walls of the phonebooth shut out all other sounds, leaving me with only an expectant ring in my ears.

He answered! His appointment had only just finished, and he was on his way now to pick me up. He gave instructions on where to meet (across from the station), and I set out with joy. It had worked! In a few minutes I would meet my next host.

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