Aspects of bicycle touring in Japan By Bill Macher

And what about the people?

japanese kidsHmmmm, yes, about the people...another aspect of Japan that makes the country special. We all will have our own experiences interacting with the people as we travel in Japan. One thing for sure, they will almost always be positive. Words that come to mind when I think of past experiences with strangers in Japan are helpful, honest and kind.

While in Hokkaido, in the small town of Rubeshibe, I was hanging out in a small park, deciding if I should camp on the river bank nearby, or just set up the tent in the park. As dusk fell, some kids came into the park on their bicycles. Others came on foot. I caught their attention and they did the "Hello, how are you?" thing...and were surprised when I answered in English first, and Japanese soon after. Talk about attracting a crowd! A few of the kids wanted to show me around the town... we walked and they gave me the tour..."This is the electric shop...You want to go inside and look around? Here's the drug store...that's the..." and so on. One boy brought me a stick of yakitori (kind of chicken shish-ka-bob ). We talked "kids talk" for a while. I was given some advice, to "be careful of night time thieves" (rare...probably because everyone worries about them...) and that "In Aomori, the apples are very delicious..."

They were quick to pick up that I had five chain rings on the front of the bike (after all, the bicycle is a big part of a boy's life at that age...), and I soon sensed that they were not going to fade away until I had set up my tent and went inside. After retiring to the tent I was offered a series of "Oyasami ojichan" (Good night, uncle) through the tent walls as in one's and two's the kids went their own ways.

take a truckThen there were the guys walking down the street in Honjo, on the Sea of Japan coast. I had asked about a sento (public bath) and was directed to a certain area. But when I got there I did not find it, and asked a couple of guys walking down the street if there was one nearby. First they told me that the sento had closed. Then they tried to explain where another one was, an onsen (hot spring). "Come with us...." I followed them down the road a bit and behind a building, thinking they would point a landmark out in the distance, and send me on my way..."We'll put your bike in our van and take you. It is too hard to give directions...." The bike would not fit in the small in the back of their larger truck it went. One drove, and myself and the other guy rode in the back holding up the bike.

They dropped me off, went in to check price and closing time for me, and were soon on their way. I searched out a good camping spot, beside a lake nearby, bought beer and sushii for dinner in a super market, and went back to the onsen for a long bath. As I am about finished with my wash, soak, wash again, soak again, final wash routine...who appears but one of these nice guys and a friend. They want to have a beer and talk in the small restaurant that is part of the onsen. In my touring mode I have all the time in the world, so I told them to take their time and I would wait till they came out...I had my food and beer waiting anyway, and knew where I would pitch my tent.

Surprise! They were dressed and waiting when I came out, and off we went to the restaurant for many pints of beer and good unexpected, fun evening. To top it off, the next morning I had packed up most of my staff and was sitting on a park bench enjoying the view of the lake, when one of the guys appears with a lunch that his wife had made for me!

japanese hospitalityThen there were the road workers who were having lunch in a small restaurant and had to keep filling my glass with beer...a couple drunk guys that were drinking beer in an outdoor bath (as my mouth was watering...) and one ran out to the lobby to get one for me, which I sipped in the outdoor tub as we talked a bit...the hand that came out the window of a van, that had overtaken me with its horn sounding, and handed me my favorite lime green shirt that had fallen off the bike a ways back...The little uniformed kindergarten boy who was looking passively out the back window of a small bus until I waved to him, and who suddenly became a smiling, animated "waving machine" as the bus and I played tag along a small road...the truck driver that for some reason stopped, got out of his truck, and gave me 1,000 yen (about US $10)... and the list goes on...all good memories of kind treatment and positive vibes I received from strangers while touring in Japan.

And I must not forget my good friends Haruo san and Momo chan...let the image above tell the story of my warm welcome back to thier home in Narita, a welcome complete with a large German beer glass filled, and soon refilled time and again, with "what else?" Sorry Haruo san... you were behind the camera!

uploaded:08, 11, 2005

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