The couple turned round, but they didn't move.
They were both dressed in full pilgrim garb: long white clothes, their heads protected by conical hats.
("You dropped this!")
They stared at me blankly. I waved the little grey bag with its digital camera inside. "
I still couldn't make out their faces, but I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition. One of the pair walked towards me, and it was only then that I saw her face.
"I thought you were Japanese," she said, and I heard a European accent I couldn't place.
were Japanese," I said.
"We're French," she offered.
"Ah." I paused. "Um, bonjour?"
We walked together a little bit, and then I left them at a rest stop.
I bumped into them again later in the week, at breakfast in the inn we were staying at. The women was showing the owner a piece of paper, and he was squinting at it.
They seemed to be having some difficulty, so I offered to help.
I squinted at the piece of paper too, and was suddenly transported back to year 6, learning about French cursive in class.
There was the name of a youth hostel in the next town over, and a short message underneath. It was all in romaji (Japanese written in the roman alphabet), but in looping, cursive letters:
futari desu. kyou, yoyaku onegai shimasu.
"For two people. A reservation for tonight, please."
I read it aloud to the owner, who promptly got on the phone and made a reservation for them.
"Your note was fine," I told them. "I think he just didn't have his glasses."
Or perhaps he couldn't read their cursive? I didn't say that though.
I wondered later how the rest of their trip went. They seemed to be having a great time.
There's no right or wrong way to walk the Shikoku pilgrimage. And it's possible to travel in Japan without any Japanese language at all. But if you can learn even a bit of the language, you'll have a richer experience, I think.
And you'll understand when someone's trying to tell you you've dropped your camera.