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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.

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.

Angelroadpan_02

Woken up by a massive thunderclap. Once the weather is satisfied that the entire population of the island is awake, it settles down to some serious raining.
Open curtains. The view is slightly different: the ‘Angel Road’ is above water, with a few people wandering across, complete with umbrellas. In the port in the distance, a gravel ship is being unloaded. The crane is swinging the bucket like a fairground ride, and dumping the contents in an extravagant arc as it goes. It looks like they are burying the entire quayside.
We have a ‘biking’ breakfast. ‘Biking’ in this context is the Japanese pronunciation of ‘Viking’. We know the Vikings as remorseless warriors* but apparently to the Japanese they are the inventors of the buffet meal. Last night we had ‘entertainment’ from a Power Ranger and fluffy mascot, but probably the management took one look at the bleary-eyed guests this morning and went for the safer option of leaving us in peace.
Back on the hotel bus to the ferry. This causes some problems as we have big bags and it is a small bus. Block door with bags and then have to climb over them to get to seat. Land next to Japanese teenager. Say good morning. He looks terrified.
Arrive at port. Ferry leaving. Catch the next one, which is even smaller than yesterdays. The control room is behind a curtain.
The plan had been to catch another ferry to Osaka and then a train through the mountains to Beautiful Wife’s family, but we reluctantly decide time is against us and head back to the Shinkansen. Race through miles of dreary, ugly floodplains covered with jumbled grey houses under tangled power cables, interspersed with equally ugly factories and industrial units.
At Nagoya we finally change to a local train for Ise. After going on a tour of the local oil refineries, where the local pollution is so bad that the doctors have now talk about “Yokkaichi Asthma”, we finally break through to a vaguely rural area and the mountains come a bit closer before arriving, finally, at Beautiful Wife’s home town.

*And makers of furniture.

super

Catching the ‘super’ ferry to Shozu Island.

Your correspondent on the right, jet-lagged, ill shaven, and in need of a shower. Pretty well normal, in other words.

Luxury

Inside the Shinkansen (“Bullet train”). Notice vast amount of legroom between seats.

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