Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Miyako, Japan

Friends: I stopped at the police station here in this coastal city, 150 miles from the northern tip of Honshu, thinking it was a bike shop, as there was a neat row of half a dozen identical shiny new yellow bikes parked in front of it. With virtually all signs in Japanese other than the mega brands Toyota, Coca-Cola, Yamaha and so on, I must search for clues to find the type of store I'm looking for. I must peer in windows or look for other indicators. So far the only two types of shops I can readily identify are barber shops, with their spinning red and white poles just like in the U.S., and bowling alleys, often marked by a giant bowling pin atop their buildings. I thought I had found a bike store when I saw the word Shimano, the world's largest manufacturer of bike components, on a store. But Shimano is first and foremost a manufacturer of fishing gear in Japan, and it was a fishing store.

Neither of the two officers sitting in the small neighborhood police station spoke English. So far I have only encountered one person who spoke even a smidgen of English since I left the airport a week ago. That was in Sendai at the Mediatech that offered free Internet. I brought in a bike tube to the officers to indicate what I was looking for. They spent several minutes making phone calls before they found someone who spoke some English who could act as a translator. After he discovered what I wanted, he asked me to return the phone to one of the officers. After a minute or so the officer hung up the phone, and then showed me on a detailed map where a bike shop was. I had passed it about half a mile back. It was near a store I had noticed called Bookmart. I almost stopped at it, thinking I might find an English speaker there.

I was in need of a bike shop as I have been plagued by extreme bad luck with flat tires, ruining two of my three spare tubes with punctures at the valve. I can go thousands of miles without a flat, and with brand new, heavy-duty Continental touring tires, I wasn't expecting any flats at all. Unfortunately, the bike shop had neither Presta nor Shraeder valve tubes, only a version that was slighter wider than a Presta valve. I was desperate enough to take this version of Presta even though it required reaming out the valve hole on my rims so it would slip through. The gray-haired proprietor easily performed the operation by hand. It was ten dollars for the tube, expensive like everything else in Japan.

I went over to the nearby bookstore in search of an English-speaker who could direct me to an Internet outlet. The extent of the English of the two people who worked there was the word Internet. They drew me a map and various landmarks--a tunnel and a bridge and a shoe store--and indicated it was about five kilometers away. After asking three or four more people along the way, I discovered the Internet outlet was in a large electronics store back from the road just beyond the shoe store. Since I am in no rush at this point to be anywhere, I wasn't concerned about the time consumed in this hunt. It was just another chapter in my Japanese experience and something to be savored. I have long ago learned that asking directions is a cultural experience. I welcome it as an excuse to approach strangers.

Yesterday was a day of tunnels, at least two dozen, some as long as a mile. I was wishing the day before had been my tunnel day, as I had a day-long drenching from a warm monsoon-like rain blowing in off the ocean. It was an extreme test for my new Gore Tex jacket. It passed the test brilliantly, keeping my torso perfectly dry. I was lucky the temperature was warm, as my tent took on a fair amount of moisture before I could put on the rain fly as I set it up in a heavy rain on fairly saturated ground above a tiered garden. If the temperature had plunged much below 70 that night, I could have been in trouble. Luckily, yesterday was sunny so I could lay out all my wet gear to dry. It was so humid though it took a while before even the road surface dried. My Ortlieb panniers performed as brilliantly as my rain jacket.  They didn't let in a drop.  One can't put a price on top-notch equipment that lives up to its billing.

So far both places I have tried sending off email reports have denied me, as I had too many recipients. And this computer has frustrated me by not allowing me to leave spaces between my words. I am still figuring out many things here, including what to eat and how. Last night was my first night of not camping in an overgrown patch of weeds, as I have at last gotten to forested, unsettled, undeveloped countryside.

Later...maybe, George

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