Postcard from Japan: Finding a foreign gem and sending a message to Greta

It’s often the case on trips like this that you find the best gems just before you’re about to leave the latest stop on the road.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations. Picture: Jason DeCrow/AP

In Tokyo it was the discovery just before the move west of an authentic local diner that does an incredible lagoon of noodle soup/spicy chicken and rice main dish combo for about six quid. And now here in Kobe it’s a sublime spot called Cafe de Paris in the beautiful Kitano district of Japan’s Pearl City.

It’s owned by a Parisian called Emmanuel, who is quite a character. He’s been in Kobe since 1991 and, from his terraced throne, appears to know everyone in the vicinity and, in return, everyone passing seems to want to stop and have a chat with the dapper, trilby sporting Japanised Frenchman.

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He told me he came to teach French and stayed on when “all the foreign people ran away, never to return” after the devastating earthquake of 1995, which he describes as “20 seconds that seemed like the end of the world”. Rather embarrassingly, he has taken to informing all his clientele that I’m a “famous journalist from Scotland, here for the rugby”. A Japanese lady even asked to have her picture taken with me. I don’t get that in Leith!

Another denizen of the cafe was a gentleman who Emmanuel informed me was a writer, too, and was almost 80, although he looked 20 years younger. On hearing my profession he told me he had written something in English that he was keen to get out and produced a handwritten note and thrust it upon me, saying it was for the young girl who had spoken to the UN about climate change.

“Oh aye, the Swedish lassie?” I replied, realising immediately that by the blank stare that was testing his excellent English a bit too far. “Greta?”

“Yes, Greta, she’s wonderful, I want her to read this.”

Here’s a snippet and I suppose I should tweet it and hope the power of social media helps it find its way to her.

“Beloved Greta, Congratulations you have spoken the hearts of people young and old who are loving our home planet Earth. Surely few people who are holding power have listened… God’s blessings are always with you now and forever more. MESSAGE FROM THE UNIVERSE”.

The reason I stumbled across the strangely beguiling universe that is this cafe was on a morning visit to the Kitano-cho neighbourhood up near the Scotland squad hotel. It is where European and other foreigners settled after Japan’s opening-up period in the 19th century. The selling point is that the houses all bear the architectural styles of the ex-pats’ homelands at the time, contrasting starkly with the Japanese, both modern and traditional, all around.

There’s German, French and Dutch. In true Eurovision style it is with sadness I must report that the British entry is the weakest. A lovely house, for sure, but it has now been festooned in union flags, has a red postbox outside and an unseemly amount of incongruous Sherlock Holmes memorabilia everywhere. Oh and a mock up of Baker Street tube station in the “Queen’s Garden” and (natch) a black cab in the drive.

“Nul points,” as Emmanuel might say.