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I started my second training placement this week, which has been busy, with lots of new people, new workplace and new responsibilities, so I’m not really in the right state of mind to write a finely honed blog post. Instead, here’s a set of pictures from another ride I went on using my sister in law’s borrowed bike.

Corner shop.

 


Back street.

 


Local shop seen from under a small arcade.

 


Railway station, so small it doesn’t have a ticket barrier, but not so isolated that it lacks a drinks machine.

 


Old house, still inhabited despite appearances.

 


Railway crossing the Miyagawa river

 


Roadside business, Miyagawa village.

 


Rice harvester unloading in the countryside. Passing rice harvesters on the narrow roads was a minor hazard.

 

“Wind Clan”, apparently the place Cadillacs go to die.

 


Tamaru (“Tama-Loo”)  Station complete with hand painted sign over the door.

 


Very optimistic taxi waiting for the next train at Tamaru.

 

Cycle lane. In the manner of cycle lanes the world over it lasted for all of half a kilometre and vanished into a road Island.

Grateful as I was for the use of this bike, it lacked certain things I’m used to, like 25 other gears. I’d cycled about 9km in an hour and it felt like a lot further, so this is as far as I got.

I am not working out schemes with Eldest Son to take bikes with us next time and go on a tour. Not at all.

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Last week I was left to my own devices for an afternoon, so I went exploring up into the hills, an interesting experience on a three speed heavyweight like this which is built to go trundling a couple of kilometres to the shops and back.

After following a couple of promising routes which turned out like this:

 

I managed to get out of the city and into the hills, where the rice harvest hadn’t quite started.

I could have gone further but that meant going downhill, which would have meant coming back uphill, so I turned around and headed back towards the coast.

I passed a couple of these on the way. I thought they were just unfinished buildings, but seen close up they are Tsunami Shelters, built after the massive wave that hit Japan in 2001. This one is 9.5m (31ft) tall. You could fit all the surrounding buildings underneath it. This region wasn’t affected so badly by the Tsunami but they seem to have taken the attitude there’s no point taking chances.

A bit awkward for wheelchair users though.

Writing signs on Japanese roads must be quite a skilled job.

Eventually I found a way to the sea. I don’t speak Japanese so for all I know the sign could say “No bikes beyond this point” but nobody scowled at me when I cycled past it.

There was a school directly behind me when I took this picture which is an example of the basic unfairness of the Universe: all you could see from my school was a slag heap.

The two rocks of Meoto-Iwa which are considered to be ‘Married’ symbolised by he rice rope hanging between them. It occurred to me afterwards that I was probably not supposed to take a bicycle here at all, but no-one seemed to mind. Probably they just assumed that as a stupid foreigner I didn’t know any better.

Honestly, they build half a cycleway and then just stop…

By this time it was getting a bit dark so I headed back, got lost, found the coast road and managed to ride about three times further than I needed to in order to get to my in-laws home, narrowly missing a barrier across the road in the way.

I since discovered that on several occasions I was  just a few kilometres from something interesting. Am dreaming up schemes to take a proper bike with me next time.

 

We’re in Japan again, visiting Beautiful Wife’s family and getting slowly oven baked. Hence the seaside picture, taken while pootling about on a borrowed bike.

Elder Son says it’s a “girl’s bike” but I don’t care.

 

007 Boat 03

Beautiful Wife has been sending photos of the family in Japan. Here we see them on the ferry from the airport to Beautiful Wife’s home town.

Beautiful Daughter has just realised that her Brothers are distracted and she is within grabbing distance of Middle Son’s bag. Such opportunities don’t come often.

I have never understood this idea of getting a souvenir on holiday, at least, not why it has to be a badly printed t-shirt or snow-globe paperweight. So when Beautiful Wife asked if I wanted to get something in Japan, I suggested a Japanese wood working plane.

A Japanese plane is different to a Western plane. A Japanese plane is pulled towards the user, and gives a finish so smooth that in theory you don’t need to use sandpaper. And I am a geek.

This is why your correspondent spent one morning in Japan racing about the back streets of Hamamatsu in the company of my brother-in-law The Fireman, who comes from a family of traditional craftsmen, and very kindly gave up half of his day off to go looking for woodworking tools.

He’d suggested an old hardware store full of pulleys, pipes and tools of various descriptions. It was the sort of traditional Aladdin’s cave where the owner, by rights should recognise what you want, and instantly find it in the dusty shelves.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen.

The Fireman, possessing the sort of determination needed to go into burning buildings for a living, had another plan and drove off down a back road as only a fireman can, cut through some nondescript suburban subdivisions and pulled up outside another shop.

Inside were display cabinets of planes, wrapped in brown paper packages*, hand-made in Japan from blocks of oak. Success.

When I took my new souvenir to the manager, he seemed pleased that the plane was going to Germany, “German carpenters have a good reputation in Japan” he told me. “Very competent, “ He tapped his forehead “Very intelligent”.

Hopefully I won’t damage this impression.

Still, it is  better than a snow globe.

*Not tied up with string, There was also a merciful absence of kittens, mittens, copper kettles or singing children.

I’ve still got a couple of posts about Japan to go, despite being back in Germany. This should keep me posting regularly until I get back into college/cycling/very smallholding/carpentry and have something to write about that…

Beautiful Wife found there are daily Taiko Drum Recitals nearby in the ‘old’ town. This is a great way to show the boys some of their cultural heritage, and better still, it was in the shade and free.

The presentation was scheduled for three, and exactly ten minutes before a trio of very serious drummers came along and moved the various drums into position. Once they were satisfied everything was exactly in the right place, one of them made a brief introduction while the others took up very exact and possibly quite uncomfortable positions by the drums.

When the introduction finished, someone on the front row decided it was a good time to clap. This seemed to irritate the drummers, and they made a perfectly synchronised wallop on all the big drums at once which made us all jump, and stopped any further clapping.

Satisfied that we were going to behave, the drummers got down to the very serious business of making as much sound as possible. Taiko drums, especially the big ones, make a deep bass sound that doesn’t as much barrage your ears as ignore them and crash directly into your brain. In a small space like this, it also comes up through the floor and rattles your ears from the insides as well.

Creating this wall of sound built up levels of energy in the drummers that could only be released by screaming their head off, and why not?

After being bombarding us with this rhythm for fifteen minutes the drummers reached a crescendo, then stopped abruptly and bowed. There was a polite round of applause and the audience wandered off leaving them to tidy up. Very seriously.

As mentioned earlier, it’s festival time and Beautiful Wife’s home town is caught right up in it. This week the local part of town was supposed to deliver a load of white stones to the local shrine, on a cart. The cart was a wooden affair with two wheels and a wooden tail that dragged on the road and was used for steering. In front were two ropes I reckon are at least half a kilometre long. The load on the cart consisted of about ten smallish wicker baskets full of white stones.
I don’t see this catching on as a transport solution.
Moving this involved what looked like half of the local population including -somewhere- my sister-in-law, her husband The Fireman and their children. They and a couple of hundred other people hauled the cart for perhaps fifty metres, chanting, then one of the leaders running between the two lines changed the rhythm and walloped the road surface with something that looked like a cross between a Pom-Pom and a broom. Everyone then ran from side to side holding the ropes. After doing this for a few minutes they carried on.
It had taken several hours by the time we saw them, and they still had a couple of kilometres to go.
At the end of the procession we got a call that one of our nieces had sunstroke. As the entire family apart from Beautiful Wife are nurses, doctors or paramedics, and she was in a mobile medical station there was no immediate danger, but she did need to get home, pronto.
The question was, how to get her there.
There was a massive line for a taxi, so bearing in mind this is an emergency, Beautiful Wife went to ask if we could get the next available one. The answer: The Rules say everyone must wait in line. No Exceptions.
But, we pointed out, this is a little girl with heatstroke and we needed to get her home and cooled down.
The Rules say all must wait in line. No Exceptions.
Could her Daddy the Fireman come and get her then?
The Rules say Private Vehicles Are Not Permitted.
We pointedly watched several private cars pulling up and collecting people.
Well, you could go and fill in a form requesting an audience with the person in charge of the festival, who would require full vehicle details, registration number, drivers insurance details and safety record, and if satisfied will issue another form requesting Special Permission for a private vehicle to enter the festival area. We would have to take this to the traffic management office. If they were satisfied this was a genuine emergency, we would be issued with a form giving Special Permission for one vehicle to come and collect us*. It would be quicker to just wait for a Taxi. Hopefully it would be a ‘big’ one that The Rules say can carry seven people.
As all the taxis are the same type and they all apparently have four seats, this last bit was a mystery, but rather argue with someone wielding a Bt43z6 form and willing to use it, we went to join the queue.
Beautiful Wife worked out a relay system to get Niece to the Taxi stand at the right time which swung into action as we got to the front. A normal looking taxi turned up and the driver waved all seven of us on board. Eldest Son and I ended up sharing the front seat. Asked if there is an extra seatbelt.
No, just the one.
Sorry, isn’t this a bigger taxi? I asked.
No, answered the driver as the meter shot past a thousand yen and continued upwards, it was a standard four seat taxi like all the others, but as it was an emergency, he’d made an exception…

*This was mostly guesswork as there was no time to translate it. It may not have been quite this complex.

We’re all being tourists for the day. In the morning we visit Inuyama Castle, The castle, like most in Japan was made almost entirely of wood, long before nasty things like cannon came on the scene. It is built in layers like a giant wedding cake, although a wedding cake doesn’t have specially built towers for ‘The dropping of rocks on people’.

I was rather taken by this idea. I wonder how you arrange for the people who really need a rock dropped on them to walk past at the right moment?*

On the way back we meet a licensed Ninja walking up the road, with full uniform, sword, throwing stars, and a nice paper umbrella to keep the sun off. He’s more than happy for the boys to have their photograph taken with him and demonstrates the best way to kill someone with a throwing star. Then, this being Japan, we are all piled back into a taxi to go to the next place of enlightenment.

*And are they taking nominations?

Every time we come to Japan we have The Gathering of the Clan and most of Beautiful Wife’s immediate family all turn up in one pace at the same time. Social gatherings with people I don’t know well have a habit of going wrong: I don’t know what to say or what to do and I feel I should somehow ‘start conversations’ or keep them going. This never works, and I end up either with an ever lengthening silence between myself and other person in the dying conversation as I try to figure out what to say next.

I am not, you will gather, an extrovert.

The first event on this occasion is the Happy Family Photo. This is to be taken in the hotel lobby, a gloomy place designed by someone who thought gold plate and moulded glass chandeliers were the height of good taste. Two syrupy blonde children with floaty nightshirts and disturbingly blue eyes gaze out of an oversized oil painting as the hotel staff and several family members reorganise the lobby to make it possible to photograph almost 20 people at once.

Once the entire lobby is rearranged to taste, the various members of the family have to be herded into position. Much discussion. Everyone talking at once and pulling your correspondent (whose Japanese gets as far as “Hello”, “Yes”, “Welcome Home” et c). Into place. Then someone changes their mind. More discussion and more pulling of uncomprehending Brit. Camera in place, everyone grins inanely, and then the photographer notices someone’s foot isn’t in quite the right place prompting another round of discussion and pulling back and forth. Just as I’m about to suggest they replace me with a cardboard cut-out (Easier to move and less likely to kick off in the next 30 seconds) a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and everything is perfect. Photos taken and we’re released to go to dinner.

It’s going to be a long weekend.

The two biggest and most important shrines in Japan are both in Beautiful Wife’s home town, and this year one of them is due for a complete rebuild. This isn’t as monumental as it sounds as they rebuild them in cycle about every twenty years or so. No-one knows why, but as with many things in Japan that’s “just the way it is.” This is also the reason why one of the main stations has a waiting room for the exclusive use of the Emperor. That’s how things are.

Because of the rebuild the town is expecting a mass of tourists and pilgrims so they’ve tidied the place up a bit. The rusting taxi rank, disused Pachinko parlour and waste ground formerly greeting travellers leaving the station have been swept away, along with the placards for right-wing politicians, and tourists will now be greeted with a smart interchange using natural wood and stone, which will give a much better first impression than the shabby down-at-heel town I remember.

Unfortunately this impression only lasts until tourists go off the prescribed route where the back streets are generally as shabby as ever, as we found on the way to Beautiful Wife’s family. Mind you, it may be me: I was walking in 30 degree heat with humidity in the region of sweltering and a large and heavy backpack, so I was probably looking pretty shabby myself by the time we arrived.

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