Our time in Nagaizumi seems scripted and timed to the second. We are uplifted from the railway station and then squired into a board room to prepare for the welcoming ceremony. Our speeches are 'checked', the seating plan emphasised, even how we walk into the room has been organised. Breaks are enforced so we can 'rest' even when we are champing at the bit to do things. At other times no variation to the timetable, however small, is accommodated.
While this over-organisation restricts the natural Kiwi instinct to get out and do stuff, I can understand that their concern is only for us. The weather is extreme. Twenty minutes at the ancient and impressive wooden Mishima Shrine is so hot that two or three of our party overheat and end up recovering in an air-conditioned shop, rehydrating and eating ice cream.
The formalities are a tad stilted but every sentence has to be translated and both me and Mayor Ikeda are new. But everyone relaxes as we adjourn for lunch. A group come out and perform martial arts routines with samurai swords. While the choreography is quite engaging, it is only afterwards that I am shown one of the blades with a beautifully wrought quillon representing birds flying. I am told the sword is 500 years old, an original samurai weapon made of tempered steel. These blades were so strong that when Dutch sailors arrived in Japan in the 17th century with ill-intent, their European swords snapped when they clashed with the Japanese. The sword is a piece of art but I decide not to think of any 'use' it may have had in the past!
Nagaizumi is a similar size to Whanganui. It rises up a ridge that leads to a parasitic cone of Mt Fuji (which is always referred to as Fuji-san so revered is this volcano) about 50 kilometres away. It may as well be 250 kilometres away as it is never once visible through the heat haze. Nagaizumi is not an innately attractive city like Kobe or Kyoto but as we rise up the ridge the views of the Izu peninsula and Suruga Bay are stunning.
At the edge of the city, where the foothills are girded with forest full of monkeys and boars, several philanthropists have built galleries and museums - the Izu Photo museum, the Vangi Sculpture Park, the Buffet Gallery and the Hisashige Doll museum - collections of art that inspired these wealthy individuals.
I am staying at the latter which is located in a traditional Japanese guest house that was the dream of Tom Nakamura to have built on his property. I'll be sleeping on a futon and walking over tatami mats wearing tabi socks. The walls of the bedroom can be shifted to catch any breeze and I'm finally able to relax in these beautiful surroundings. It is contemplative and peaceful and zen.... And then the buzzer goes and we have five minutes to get ready for the next event.
Hamish McDouall is with a Whanganui delegation visiting Nagaizumi Cho for the 30th anniversary of their sister city relationship.