Japan Update #19 - From the Stoker

Wednesday, November 6, 1996

The following is being posted at the behest of "she who must be obeyed", my Stoker and fellow adventurer, Lindy.

Sometimes, when we are out roaming with friends in Japan, I realize they "see" entirely different things than Rich and I see. I love the roofs, the buildings, the people, and the beauty. Rich writes of adventures, encounters with fellow travelers, the terrain, and the beauty. Yet our friend John liked the Japanese bugs! Yes, the bugs. John is a friend of 20 years, wonderfully talented and humorous. He hates snakes, so his fascination with the bugs came as a total surprise.

So, here are some glimpses of Japan's flora and fauna, from the stoker's seat for those who are like John.

One of our favorite local rides is to Hamamatsu, along a winding ocean path; deep in wind tortured pines, running between sand dunes. Hanging across the path, spiders have been weaving six-foot wide webs. The spiders are industrious, hanging webs every two bike lengths or so. Rich is very busy captaining and never seems to see them. Unfortunately, the stoker is not so lucky. I see these webs zooming up on us. Instinctively, I duck (quite a lot) yet never really need to. The webs and their spiders seem to know how high to set themselves, just above the heads of tandem pairs, and above every other wanderer along the path.

So here I am, bobbing up and down like a Jack in the Box, with Rich biking along blithely unaware. (Captain's note: I always wondered what the bouncing was in the back!)

And then came the "tombo" (dragonflies). Beautiful, darting dragonflies. During this same ride, with me bobbing up and down, a great swarm of tombo came swooping past Rich's head. Perhaps fifteen at once: they swooped left, right, and above us. I would watch Rich's head as it bounced right, left, down, trying to avoid intimate contact with these flying fortresses.

These dragonflies have deep red bodies. Other times, we have seen tombo with bodies of green or bronze, with lacy wings. Beautiful to see, but as the captain says, large enough to hurt when run into. To paraphrase (from Man of La Mancha), whether you hit the dragonfly or the dragonfly hits you, it's going to be bad for both of you.

Rides along the paddy fields and rivers have us passing birds of all sorts. If only we could learn their names! The best I can do is word pictures. There are the water fowl - long necked, black birds, the size and shape of loons; ducks just like those in the states, and those that I've known by the name of Mandarin Ducks, with feathers sweeping backwards across their heads. Smaller, white cranes wade through rice paddies. Taller, gray capped cranes wade through ponds, stealing baby koi (carp) from our local pond.

Oh, the Koi. Araki-san, the Japanese engineer who breeds them, thinks of them like swimming jewels. Some are pure gold in color. Others are white and red/orange, while still others are shining reds or blacks or a mixture of speckled colors. (Editor's note: The Koi at work are raised in our wastewater discharge pond to show how clean the wastewater is!)

Hawks sweep down and grab eels from the seaside lakes. Or soar high above the inland rivers.

Pheasants run across fields. And small crabs scoot across the bike paths, dashing away from the tandem, to leap back into the river and safety. Snakes are seen infrequently, sunning themselves on the roads. Small multi-colored lizards dash over the rock embankments as we pass, so quick that I only get a glimpse of sparkling colors, and then they disappear.

And there are the plants. Flowers bloom throughout the year - pink flowered vines growing up through old, tile roofed sheds; red and yellow cana growing wild along mountain roads; tea bushes with small delicate white blossoms tucked low down where the harvesting process hasn't reached them. Palm trees are sometimes seen growing amongst the forests of cedars. And spiky yucca type plants with four-foot tall stalks bearing creamy white flowers. Along the Izu Peninsula ride we even saw aloe grown as a farm plant for skin care products!

And still other bugs. The praying mantis who wanted to take a ride home with us one night, and was reluctant to let go of the stokers seat - or the stokers finger while I was trying to pluck it off! A grasshopper literally six inches long and colored / textured a mottled brown / green - it looked like a walking stick. Or the four-inch long green insect that looks like a fallen leaf. The only way to tell it from true leaves is when it moves - as if it is blowing in the wind, but in the wrong direction!

Other than the mosquitoes (which our Solar Mosquito Guards keep way very effectively, thank goodness), the flora and fauna add excitement (Rich having to dodge dragonflies), beauty and surprise to Japan. I'm never quite sure what we'll ride past next! For those of you who enjoy the wildlife (even the small buggy types), we will keep on riding and looking.

Captain's addendum: Lindy does not mention the rides at dusk through the rice paddies, where I can not open my mouth for fear of flying protein sources; or of me ducking the bugs that are illuminated in our headlights during the night rides home from work. Bugs, quit bugging me!

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