Chapter 1. Autumn: Autumn in Hot Spring

Ryoko 2

Ryoko took Tsubasa and his grandparents on a short tour of the town. She handed them small devices that the town's tourist association lent to visitors. These were simple machines just like a combination of mobile phone and personal digital assistance (PDA) equipped with global positioning system (GPS) and camera. "They are called Rural Information Communicator Assistance, RUICA for short. It means a bridge in Ainu language. It is fun to walk with RUICA."

When they got to the old street, their RUICAs flashed in yellow. "You got information. Would you like to read it?" When grandmother checked her RUICA, it displayed clear images and easy to read text messages with large font sizes and colors best suited for her eyesight, and then those images were displayed in mid-air as holgrams. The text was also available in English or Chinese. If a person's physical ability or cultural background had been input into the system, the displayed information would have been adjusted to that person's needs. This versatile device needed the help of a trained service provider like Ryoko. Tsubasa wondered if there were any other places where this kind of service was available.

Tsubasa's grandfather said "Hmm, this town has houses and streets preserved since the Kanei era (1624-1643)." "Oh, yes, the system can also superimpose the streets of the Meiji ear (1868-1912) over the current ones," said Grandmother. "Shall I try it?" She input the command and then the old streets of the Meiji era were superimposed on the present-day streets. The old days were displayed in sepia color, pleasantly evoking an atmosphere of the past. Tsubasa thought it was a very clever way to use virtual-reality technology. "You can also reproduce the sounds and images of the old days," Ryoko explained. Many people were addicted to the device. Some senior citizens walked down the street with the time set to their childhood. Tsubasa couldn't see the point of doing so, but realized it might be meaningful for older people. He thought that Ryoko believed it was important to recall old days in order to know more about the locality. She spent much time showing his grandparents how to use RUICA to evoke the past. How patient she was. Even though Ryoko and Tsubasa were almost the same age, Tsubasa thought Ryoko was much more mature. He remembered how annoyed he had gotten showing them over and over how to use a mobile phone.

When they reached a certain point, RUICA flashed again in pink. "Somebody left a message here. Would you like to see it?" Ryoko asked. She showed them how to view the message. A visitor who had come here yesterday had left it. It read, "There are cluster of lespedezas just around the corner." The visitor had attached a picture with a GPS location coordinate attached to it. RUICA functioned like similar devices used by young people in cities, but was much easier for old people to use. At this intersection, pink light flashed when RUICA was turned in any direction. There were messages and some lines of haiku left by visitors. "Information collected on RUICA can be shared by many users. When a user agrees with what a writer has written, or shares the same ideas, the user presses the gold button," Ryoko told Tsubasa. "This is called the agreement button." Tsubasa's grandmother, who was poor at using IT, did not hesitate to use RUICA.

Later that night, before he went to sleep, Tsubasa took bath of hot spring which had been piped into the log house. It was white bubbling milky water. His grandmother also had a long bath. His grandfather commented that the hot spring water was good for beautiful skin, and calmly drank Japanese sake. His grandmother was 72 years old; Tsubasa wondered why a woman of that age was still interested in beautiful skin. But he refrained from saying anything because he knew he did not understand feminine psychology.

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