Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tazawa-ko, Japan

Friends: For the first time in nearly 2,000 miles hunger began nagging at me as I was bicycling along, giving me concern as to when the next grocery store would turn up. They had been so plentiful, even in the so-called wilds of Hokkaido, I finished off my reserves of peanut butter a couple of days ago to lighten my load, never really having needed it. I still had an emergency can of baked beans and a bunch of mini-energy bars, but I didn't care to make a meal of them.

No stores meant I was at last on a road with little traffic and no significant towns--route 105 south of Odate to the Lake Tazawa-ko, the deepest in Japan at over 1,300 feet. As with much of the interior of Japan, the terrain was mountainous. The valleys were a rich rice-growing region, with the harvest going on.

At last, after 35 miles I came upon a small non-chain grocery store in the village of Ani just before a long climb. Its prices were a little more than elsewhere, but not exorbitantly. It was equipped with a hot-water dispenser, so I didn't have to wait a few extra minutes for the noodles to soften in cold water. While I waited for the water to cool, I had a rice ball. I sat on a bench in front of the store. Moments later the store owner brought out a small table for me.

It was another 20 miles to Lake Tazawa-ko. At a Shinto shrine along the lake I encountered a tall Japanese tourist who had rented a bike to ride its 12-mile circumference. His English was good enough that I could ask him what the suffix "date" (pronounced da-tay) meant, that is attached to many of the towns in this region. He apologized for not knowing as he was Taiwanese and didn't speak Japanese. This was his sixth visit to Japan, traveling always by train. He said he loved coming to Japan because it was so clean.

After having been here nearly a month, I ought to have recognized he wasn't Japanese, if only by his size. Though I don't tower over the people here, except for the elderly, I am made aware that at six feet I am well above the norm whenever I glance at a mirror and have to stoop to get a look at myself, or on those rare occasions when I find a picnic table and feel as if I'm at the child's table. On the ferry, I only had a few inches clearance in the staterooms. At the Rider House, in an older Japanese house that didn't even have a flush toilet, I had to duck when going through doorways. I knew my perception had become conditioned to the smaller size of everyone else when I saw three Westerners tossing a Frisbee in a park and was astounded how gargantuan they looked, almost grotesquely so.

I was pushing it last night to reach the train station in this town, as I'd read it had free Internet. I took a wrong turn and ended up on a long climb to one of Japan's many ski areas, more than in the US, though few on the scale of ours. Most have no more than a couple of chair lifts and a half dozen runs. When I finally realized that I wasn't on the correct road, it was nearly dark. I was able to descend several miles, but still ended up camping higher than I have anywhere so far. I feared I'd have to wear all my clothes to stay warm. But the temperature didn't dip below 45 in
my tent. I didn't even have to put on the wool cap that I had in reserve.

It was another couple mile descent to start the day and then another six miles to the train station with the free Internet. It is in such a small town, however, that there was not the usual signage to the train station, so it became the usual challenge to find the Internet. Rather than signs to the "Town Center," most cities provide signs to the train station, as it is in essence the town center. Even on the main highway, the sign for the turn off to a town is generally followed by "Sta." for "Station."

Later, George

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