Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Japanese Pensions

A "pension" is a type of small, Western-style hotel in Japan, almost always with the breakfast and evening meal included in the price. Probably the best way to give a feel for the pension world is to list a few of the names of pensions from my accommodation guide: Resort Pension in Limelight, Pension Star Party, Pension Yodel, Pension YesNo, Pension Hakuba Symphony, Pension Tent Keeper, Funny Inn, Country Inn Camp, Pension Good Chat, Farm Inn Pension Fruity, Pension Planetarium, Pension Boo, Pension Despatch, Pension Marine Mates, Pension Sunny Salad... oh, and, of course, the incomparably named Pension Old Age.

Starting to get the idea? The thing about pensions is that they are expected to be very individual and very expressive of their owners' personalities. This, of course, can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the personality.

A. tried to warn me, on our way to the "Costa del Sol" pension in Izu, that this was the very highest risk type of accommodation in Japan. A "hotel" is a clinical place. A "ryokan" is a fairly predictable traditional Japanese experience. A "minshuku" is basically analogous to a small English B and B. A "love hotel" is a flight of fancy, but it is a kitsch, postmodern, impersonal, tongue-very-firmly-in-cheek sort of fancy.

A "pension" is also a flight of fancy but it is the real thing. This is someone's dream. You hold their heart in your hand as you check in. The tongue is often nowhere near the cheek.

"Your stereotype of the pension owner is someone who worked as a salaryman and got very into something. There is always some individual enthusiasm that they are sharing with you. The story is always so and so got into such and such in a REALLY BIG WAY and decided to live his dream and start a pension devoted to his passion," Aya said.

So, for instance, at Country Inn Camp, the owner got into making things out of wood in A REALLY BIG WAY and now shares with his visitors the wonder of making robots out of wood. Over at Pension Star Party, the owner got into viewing the stars in A REALLY BIG WAY and now you can - no, probably you have to - use the pension's telescope and share the beauty of the heavens. At Pension Sunny Salad, the owner got into fortune telling in A REALLY BIG WAY and ...

"The nightmare is of some pension where the owner is into playing his guitar and everyone has to sing in the bar with him after the food," Aya warned.

Obviously, if you are lucky, it can be a wonderful experience but I think my trepidation as we descended the hill to the "Costa Del Sol" pension was understandable. Read on for more on our experiences at the "Costa Del Sol".

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