Japan Update #4 - Ohayogozaimasu!

November 6, 1995

Ohayogozaimasu fellow tandem riders. We are still alive and tandeming in Japan. We did some interesting biking and touristing during the past two weeks.

Last Saturday we went further up the hill route which we had explored earlier in October. We definitely used the 20x32 on several short steep sections. When we got to the top of the hill there were a few cars parked slightly off the road so we stopped assuming there was a good view from the knoll at the corner (switchback) heading toward the downhill. We noticed two people taking "washcloth and bucket" showers and climbed up the knoll. The view was of more trees in front of us! There was nothing to see, however there was a running path which people were using to run down and up the mountain! We thought we were "genki" (strong) for riding up this hill, and here were people running up it! We climbed back down to the tandem and had some of our energy drink. One of the runners came over and gave us some mandarin orange to eat and also offered some persimmon, which we didn't take. They appeared to accept us a part of the small group of people in the area who do some form of crazy exercise.

We proceeded down along the road looking for a right turn, which would take us to the town we were heading toward. If we missed the turn we would end up going through a tunnel and going north instead of south. The first turn we came to (our map only showed one) just didn't "look right" so we passed it up. Good move. About a kilometer later was the real turn. It took us on a continual, relatively straight shot down the hill. We did about 40kph the whole way without pedaling. About halfway down we passed the town reservoir. There were dozens of people fishing on large floating piers, which were built out into the water. We continued down into town and then headed home.

This past Friday we biked to Mori-Matsuri, a festival in the booming metropolis (just kidding) of Mori-Machi. Somehow this little town managed to have thousands of people participating in the festivities. They pull around these large carts with drummers and flautist inside, and people and statues on top. At sundown they all converge at the base of a shrine. We had strategically placed ourselves on the steps of the shrine to watch. Once they all converge, amidst the singing and yelling and massive Sake consumption they get ready to go out again. For the outbound they take as a passenger a female virgin from their town. The girl is carried into the square and put on the front of the cart. Then with much hoopla the drunken men pull the cart away. There seems to be something odd about the idea of a bunch of drunken guys making off with the virgin maiden! There were about 15 of the carts, with the same type of procedure used for them all. Only on girl got dropped while being placed in the cart, but she was OK. We rode home from there having to bypass one of the carts which was being pulled back to it's town.

Sunday we rode to Hammamatsu, population >500,000. We went to see the castle (a reproduction) and to see what it would be like riding in a more populous area. We were able to take small back roads until about the last kilometer. It was actually a good ride. I had wanted to go into the downtown area but was overruled by the rear admiral. She is concerned about being "seen" on the tandem and then being prevented from using it. Unbeknownst to us, at the same time, one of our friends was in the bike shop downtown and was asking about tandems. He was told they are much fun but illegal in Japan. I think it would have been fun to pull up on our Santana while this conversation was going on! This ride was our longest since we've been in Japan, 40 miles. The ride distances seem short when compared to what we ride in the US, but as I've said previously, the fact that there are many stops, slow downs, turns, etc. really takes a toll on average speed and fatigue factors.

Also, this time of year, we travel with a lot of extra clothes. We take jackets, walking shoes, shoe covers (in case of rain), tights, arm warmers, etc. When in the sun, it can be quite comfortable at 65 degrees F, but as the sun goes down, it gets cold! This morning it was 42F when we left for work at 7AM. It will warm up to 65-70, and then be down around 50 when we head home in the dark.

One oddity about biking here, the kids on their bikes do not necessarily ride on either the right or the left. It drives me nuts as I have to play chicken with them to see who moves. My natural inclination is to ride on the left on these small roads, since driving is on the left. But, the other bikers (except for the few (rare) other serious cyclist we see) will ride anywhere. (Ken I. why is that?) They will also pull out of streets without a care assuming all traffic will stop for them. It seems like a strange form of population control!

Well, time to get back to work, after all that is why we are here. Although I think the biking is more important, at least a lot more fun!

Rich Shapiro

Currently in Asaba, Shizuoka Japan

Usually in Elmira, NY USA

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