After three long, life-changing years in Japan it was time to say goodbye. Japan will always be there, but how and when I lived cannot be repeated. Its the first time I’ve ever really felt bitter-sweet about my past. The fact that I cannot step back to my Japan life is painful, but only because the memories are so filled with joy. So many people and experiences touched me in ways I’ve yet to fully comprehend.
There is something easy to understand however, and that being the two brothers I was attached to while in Japan. Ezra, James, and I proved to be a solid team. There wasn’t anything we didn’t share: an adventure, a beer, and even a bed were split graciously among ourselves. Often the best times were had sharing stories of what we got into while away from each other. One story we didn’t want to have to tell was our last. Our time had come to fly out of Japan together and have one last adventure together.
This won’t be a retelling of anything in particular. Just a few highlights and some of the better pictures of the first week
WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.
On the second day of a five day tour through Shikoku, James and I wrapped up an excruciatingly long grind up a rainy mountain on a road that has more in common with the Oregon Trail than most roads or paths built in this, the 21st (and a half) century.We made the rare good decision to forego the last 30 km to our planned destination, and instead grabbed a room in a hotel that was to be closing its doors within the hour.Yes, hotels in Japan close early.For all of Japan’s conveniences, finding a place to stay at the last minute can be quite problematic.Our hotel, unappetizing, yet palatable, overlooked a damned lake (I know).
A brief history:Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four major islands and is also the least visited.Sometimes referred to as “the forgotten island,” Shikoku is nestled between tropical Kyushu to the southwest, Hiroshima to the north, and Osaka to the east, and though those three tout tons of tourist traps, Shikoku shouldn’t sit silently sinking into self-pity.No, no.Besides the mountains and rivers you are nearly ready to digest, Shikoku has to its name: a famous 88-temple pilgrimage that circumnavigates the island, the birthplace of Udon noodles, more varieties of orange colored/ flavored fruit than you knew existed, and of course the world renowned Imabari Towels.There are an impressive 1.2 towel factories for every 1,000 of Imabari’s nearly 0.2 million residents.If there is an easier way to explain that, I’d like to (not) know.
Although our journey was considerably under-toweled, we were rank with an abundance of mountain vistas, waterfalls bleeding from within the rocky cliff faces, roadside Japanese mountain goats, and mountain valley lined with Cherry trees bursting forth their pink and white blossoms like gum under a desk.Even with these beautiful distractions, the toll that these rough roads put on our bodies and bikes was worthy of a long soak in the geothermic waters of our hotel’s onsen.
The next day’s forecast called for rain all day long, so, naturally, we rolled out into the sunshine.It became immediately clear that our choice to cut the previous day short was brilliant. Not only had it been raining, but a ride through the night would have kept this gorgeous scenery in the dark and out of view. The lake, albeit damned, was gorgeous.Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the road spooned, bent, and humped around the long lake’s many bays and points.Connecting us along the way were a few red suspension bridges that helped keep things interesting.
Around the bend we came to a road-side shop that had a wood-burning oven, and they were tossing pizza dough.Ten minutes and 500¥ ($5) later we were sitting under a cherry tree eating fresh delicious pizza.We were ready for the road again after complimentary hot tea, a quick chat and a little mutual admiration of their delicious pizza and our bike ride.
Eventually the lake gave way to the big Yoshino river that feeds into the lake, and we climbed the accompanying road upstream.The rivers in Shikoku are famous for their beautiful turquoise water and for good reason.The shallow rocky beds are crystal clear, and the deeper pools are like a shot of wheat grass in color, but without the bitter aftertaste.
From time to time, staring into the river on the left gave way to glimpses of the scores of waterfalls on the valley walls to the right.Each one had its own personality; some were pouring great streams from high above, while others were content to leak slowly from the pores of the wet rock.Roads in Japan are built with these in mind and they are directed below the roads to their eventual integration with the river below.
This would be our last big climb on this trip and the mountains mark the border between Kochi Prefecture to the south and Ehime Prefecture to the north.Having ridden enough for a break, we did just that.We hopped off the bike for some stretching and fueling our legs with salts and sweets.Although we had the impression that we were alone on this un-trafficked mountain road, our presence was noticed quickly and before we knew it we were offered some freshly picked Dekopon (grapefruit size orange-like sweetness) with a woman named Misa.
Misa is a Lumberjack who lives with her husband in this mountain paradise, far away from her big-city upbringing in Osaka.Misa’s choice to leave the city in favor of the “Inaka” (countryside) is the opposite of most young people here in Japan who leave their quiet homes in favor of the excitement of the city.Thanks to her trend-bucking decisions, we found ourselves sharing our time and space with a gentle spirit.Misa, being so kind and inquisitive, stopped whatever she was doing when she looked out her window, and ran across the street with her Dekopon in hand as an offering.She shared her story, and we shared ours… and some chocolate.
Thats how it goes here on the road, and within this life.Sometimes our intersecting lines and lives run parallel briefly, join for miles, or sometimes pass over without much perceived effect.What Misa gave us was more than fruit.She gave us herself for five minutes. It’s these encounters that keep me going, riding, searching for adventure.And yea, the Dekopon was delicious!
James and I took a plane, a train, and a bus to the northern most island of Japan. The kanji for Hokkaido literally means 北 North 海 sea 道 road. The name alone makes you wanna go and explore its cold, bear-infested, wide open roads on bicycle.
We ate lunch on the bank of a rock-bed river under blue skies, but that would soon change, and James and I wound up riding through pouring rain on the 4th day of our cycling trek through Hokkaido in nothing but sandals and bike shorts. Slowly spinning our way up the mountain we earned a few eye popping looks from cautious drivers coming down, and my only regret is not being there when they told the story to their families about the crazy Gaijin.
After a quick cup of hot coffee under a half-covered bridge, we dressed appropriately for the fast and cold descent into Kamikawa, our destination for the night, and let gravity pull us down. We streaked (not literally) away from the mountain and the cold rain and into a quiet town, which was just closing down for the night. We managed to stock up on bread and some savory baked goods minutes before they closed for the night, but we wouldn’t be so lucky at the Onsen (hot spring).
Desperately in need of a deep cleaning we remembered what it is like to ride in a country where public baths aren’t around every corner, and we shuffled into the 7/11 restroom with a pocket full of baby-wipes like many bicycle tourists before us.
On our way out we met the cutest five-year-old girl in the world, and her equally cute and charming mother. We did our best to answer all the questions that the little girl had for us, and she was patient enough with ours. After a good ten minutes, we parted ways only to see them again at the beer festival down the street.
We had just parked our bikes against a building at the one block party, when we began to feel the welcoming party descend on us. What ensued was much great conversation, funny-moments, and free beer and food lavished upon us by the townsfolk.
The most talkative and generous of the bunch was a man who worked at a community garden project up the mountain. As we would find out the next morning, this was no ordinary garden, but more on that later! He introduced us to the full-time gardeners who just so happened to be the three cute girls sitting next to us. We decided, or rather they decided it would be better to continue the party at the karaoke bar next door.
At some point between a John Legend tune, and a rompin’ “Twist and Shout,” someone suggested that we set up camp on the front lawn of the train station. This seemed a bit strange at first, but the man keeping our drinks full was very convincing, and we didn’t argue…nor did we have a better idea, so we made our gracious exit with plans for a morning pick up from the train station.
The train station had a small lawn with a few park benches and some scattered trees, and there was one obvious spot, which was a mixed blessing; it was easy to find, but also easy to be seen by anyone who didn’t want vagrants camped out in town. In hopes of scouting out a less conspicuous spot James went left and I went right. Unfortunately for James, there was a three foot drop off in the middle of the darkened path. After realizing what happened, he picked himself up, reattached his bike bags, and questioned, with some well-earned profanity, the decision to end a sidewalk with a cliff. We ended our search after this near-disaster, and went back to pass out on the train station’s front lawn.
Unbroken and unfettered, we awoke early to a slight headache and James to his bruises. Our man came early to pick us up and drive us to the mountaintop garden project.
This little town, on a sparsely populated island has decided to pour, its heart (and its purse) into an amazing project. The word garden doesn’t do it justice, so maybe Flower Learning, Observation, Research, and Appreciation center is better (The FLORA Center).
They are still under construction, but they’re already growing more than 500 varieties of flowers throughout the meandering garden plots.
We certainly appreciated our free guided tour of the work-in-progress, and spending time with these four friendly faces.
Further up the mountain is the ultra-modern, organic, farm-to-table, make-sure-someone-else-pays restaurant and bar. They were closed, and so were our wallets.
We ended with an overcast view of Mt. Daisestuzan, the highest peak in Hokkaido, from the observation deck (the obscured view perhaps just a fly in the saddle-ointment).
We headed down to buy our hosts some ice cream from the cafe, said our good-byes, James and I mounted our steel wheels, and screamed down the mountain. It sure is comforting to know that you have friendly souls look after you when on the road, and it is even better if they bring you to the top of a mountain, and let gravity do the rest! Video of James enjoying gravity
Our first night of our bike tour on the Izu Peninsula, was restless as the winds threatened to blow our tent into the bay. We made the change to a Japanese ryokan hotel with onsen (hot spring) on our second night. Leaving the tent on the bike was a great idea. We slept on Tatami mats, wore Yukatta, and soaked in our own personal onsen in the cool ocean air breeze.
A short hike, albeit straight uphill, out the Ryokan’s front door led to a rocky beach sunset. The giant sea-stack that stood between us and the burning sunset has gone through a ten thousand-year renovation. The sea-stack has a gaping hole in its center that extends down to the water, leaving a sunset themed Viewmaster in its wake. The final exale of the day’s light, funneled through the massive rock and kaleidoscoped off the blue water, left a lasting mark on my emotional center.
The next morning after our geothermic bath, we rolled up our futons, and gobbled up some miso soup before making an early get away.
Before we could even hit the main road out of town, we were blinded by an imposing Fuji-san. I don’t know if anyone could ever normalize the sight of Fuji over the bay, and I wonder about the productivity of the locals residing in sight of this overwhelming beauty. Fuji would seem to be out of reach from our position so far south on the peninsula, but he stands tall lifting his snow capped dome into the heavens.
Our early-bird start was rewarded with an immediate and steep climb away from the coast. Our route had us leaving the main road (Although I hesitate to call any road with such little traffic such as this “the main road,”), and taking a left up a road that wound up being too steep to ride (photo omitted for over-active imagination purposes). I admit we contemplated changing our route and continuing down the coast, but the lure of the mountains was too strong. After pushing our bikes up the first 200 meters of the climb, the slope relented enough for us to pedal once again as we entered a pine forest and dotted with quaint mountain homes of inland Izu.
Lets get to the good part, eh? The descent was steep and seemed to never end. Luckily, for our brake pads, it relented somewhat into a slopping valley that carried our momentum for what seemed like miles. The valley road was sprinkled with a handful of farms and went along the banks of a spring-fed stream. I gave the Japanese version of howdy to the two youngsters sitting on the side of the road, which seems like a universal countryside thing to do.
As luck would have it, my next breath came through my nose, and the unmistakable perfume of bread sliding out of a hot oven slapped me across my face, and reminded my tummy that the furnace burning within always has room for fuel. Especially when on a long ride. Allow me to clarify that this is a sparsely populated valley without any shops and this evidence pointed toward a grim reality; these leavened loaves living in my nose were perhaps just a good idea without a happy ending. Nevertheless, I investigated with a man further down the road. Using all the Japanese I could muster, I asked him about the mysterious bread. At first he confirmed my doubts, but my persistence, fact-checking, and citing my underdeveloped olfactory bulb, he remembered that the lady down the road bakes her bread at home and brings it to market. We thanked him, and were quickly on our way.
The two boys from earlier were now on the front porch of their home studying Kanji. Their mother Hiroe, was surprised and delighted at our arrival. She was pulling out a tray of hot bread as we inquired about the our recently solved mystery.
Her English was good enough and our Japanese was bad enough to make friends while the next batch took their turn in the van-mounted traveling bakery. Her husband, San-chan, gave us a tour of the garden out back where they grow half the wheat they use. The other half comes from Hokkaido.
Hiroe, San-chan, and their two boys moved from the “standing room only” lifestyle of Tokyo to a simple cottage under the shadow of these coastal mountains 8 years ago. As luck would have it, they frequented a live house/ bar in Kunitachi, called Kakekome, where I have spent a few quality nights of sleep! It’s a small world.
As the last round rose, James and I made a pot of tea to share with our gracious hosts, much to their delight. We bought what seemed to be a wasteful amount of the warm bread, biscuts, rolls, and buns, but it wouldn’t last even 50 kilometers before being scarfed down by our hungry heroes! Chocolate banana, date walnut, and some buttery vegan (I’m aware!) rosemary rolls were shared much like how a male lion shares first bites with the hard working lionesses. Unfortunately, bakeries like that aren’t on every corner. We thanked them graciously, and hit the road.
Our next stop, on a day of many, was a farmer’s market that had a luxurious and piping hot foot bath. Arizono-san joined us, and continued making the magic that makes Japan so special.
So, I’m new to these social matching websites, and I feel somewhat ashamed that it has come to this. All my friends tell me that I’m smart and cute and fun to hold, but its been hard to find someone who won’t put me down after an afternoon of cuddling. I’ve felt distant from everyone since “it” happened. I know that it wasn’t my fault, and I try to remind myself that she loved me, and never would’ve meant to hurt me on purpose. But it still hurts to be left like that. I’m telling you(whoever you are) this now so you know what you’re getting into.
I was left here by Momochan last year, and I’ve been waiting for her to come back ever since. I know she is young, easily distracted and maybe she doesn’t know what she wants, but nevertheless being dumped by a six year old stinks. Maybe I’m wiser and more mature because of it, but then again maybe I’m just damaged goods. I wonder if she ever misses me, thinks about my big ears and fuzzy nose, or all of our hugs and cuddles – I haven’t forgotten any of them. Once a heart is broken, the easier it is to fall apart all over again. That being said, I’ve put the pieces back together and I’m ready to start being with someone again.
If you’re still reading… hello! My name is Kato, and I love cuddling! I hope you know I have the purest intentions when I say that. Cuddling is my most favorite thing to do, and it’s my calling. So, if you want a hug-a-buck, cuddle-bunny, or an easy-squeezey I’m your man! If it’s a long car ride home, during a time-out, or when your folks are entertaining new people I’m always around with a soft embrace at the ready.
So, “describe yourself?” This feels so awkward talking about my body, but here goes nothing! I’m nearly 12” tall and I’ve slimed down to 14oz. in the past month which is a big accomplishment for someone with my diet, metabolism, and daily exercise routine. I have big feet, and long floppy ears, and they are proportional. My coat is a lush silver pile with hidden stitching. Allow me to quote Mr. Willie Dixon when I say, “I’m built for comfort, I ain’t built for speed.” If a svelte, athletic body type is a quality you look for, maybe my cousin, Jack, would be more to your liking. I myself am all about cute, so don’t come at me with your wild childish fantasies of turtle racing, and cartoon-like tomfoolery, or trying to rub my feet for good luck. Although I am always tempted by that last one, the answer is still no. I’m a cuddle bunny and that’s that.
Now what about you? Looks aren’t that important to me for a couple of reasons. The first being that I understand that we all change over the years, and I don’t expect you to be forever young. Another, and perhaps more salient reason is that my eyes are spaced so wide on my head that I rarely get a good look of what’s in front of me. I would prefer it, if you have decent hygiene. I’m a proprietary blend of cotton and synthetic, so I’m washable (tumble dry on low heat please), but that doesn’t mean I enjoy being drooled on, being fed your unwanted “yucky” yogurt (Hello! My mouth doesn’t open), being buried in the sand, or being handled immediately following your left nostril expedition. Furthermore, I know that accidents happen, but you must be willing to show every effort to relieve yourself before climbing into bed for the night. I could tell you horror stories about waking up in a child’s warm, fresh, salty urine, but horror stories are against my nature. What we do in bed together should be safe and enjoyable for everyone. The bedroom is where most of my talents are put to use, so lets not soil it.
I want a commitment, but I’ve been around the block long enough to know that I’m not the only one you’ll be sleeping with. I’m not naive, but I am realistic about my own personal goals. I want to be your “main squeeze.” I want to be the one you bring to the dentist, to Nana’s house, to the dinner table even though you’re not allowed to, and the one you bring on your first day of school. I want a 5-10 year commitment with the possibility of more. If you have a younger brother or sister, I don’t mind being passed around…
I hope you like what you’ve read, but if not thats ok too. I’m not for everyone, and that’s ok because I’m a one kid bunny. I thought thats what I had with Momocha but I guess she has moved on, and I’m ready to do the same. Lets start making some new bedtime memories today. Just you. Just me. Bunny and baby. Lost and found.
1 egg (hard-boiled); 1 tiny saucer of pickled and sliced carrot, radish, cucumber, and others; 2 quarter-sized oatmeal raisin cookies within 1 tiny handmade basket; 1 scoop of homemade jam (apple is “in” this season); 2 thick slices of fresh, lightly toasted white bread all served atop a hand-carved tray. These, along with one cup of syphon coffee, are the ingredients of a simple happiness at Nuku Mori ぬく森 (the local kissaten and carpenter house. Thats right – both). Filling my belly weekly it serves it’s purpose, but my smiles are served from the lady behind the baskets and the counter.
Reiko-san (“Lake-o-san”) was a shot of laughter and sunshine in an otherwise cold and walled-in time for me. Because, well… Yachimata may have ~70,000 people amongst its countless peanut fields, but it doesn’t boast many places to interact with people during the work week. So, when Wada-sensei, my 70 year-old Japanese teacher and retired “salaryman” friend, took me to the red cedar A-framed ぬく森 for a Japanese lesson my world, the open road, my front door, and my mouth (gasp!) opened up. ぬく森 and Reiko-san have given me a place to write, snack, practice Japanese, and meet wonderful people. If you measure success not by how much you serve, but rather how well you serve, owners, Satoru and Shouko, have deep reserves.
In the weeks and months after my hajimete (first time) I’ve yet to meet someone who hans’t heard about me through the grapevine. It seems the community at ぬく森 is small and well-connected – just like the baskets – and when a foreigner makes a local hole-in-the-wall his hangout, people talk.
And since my introduction, every person I’ve met has mentioned one invitation or another. It would appear that I’ll be taken fishing, hiking, cycling, sake tasting, and mochi yanking/ pounding/ stretching this year. I’ll be exploring other cafes as well.
ぬく森 has been featured in a few books on unique cafes in Chiba Prefecture. They have one of the books on display, and it has become a weekly exercise of my Japanese reading ability to locate the cool cafes on my phone’s map. It serves as a destination guide for our long bicycle adventures throughout the peninsula. The cafe map has already come in handy when Ezra and I, after 4 hours of riding through the countryside, found ourselves enjoying the lunch special at a cafe far from the beaten path. These cafes will be revisited in the coming months, but Nuku Mori remains my favorite place to ride to during the week.
ぬく森 is a 15 minute bike ride from my front steps. Leaving the barking dogs behind, I breeze past the station (and hear any number of students gasp “Benjameen!” No, not out of admiration mind you, but merely from the shock that I continue to exist), cross the train tracks, fly down into a shallow rice field valley, up another steep bamboo forrest walled hill passing kids who’ve chosen to walk their bike up, and onto a road barely wide enough for one car, and surrounded by small farms. Bust a left on 409 for a quarter mile, and turn みぎ on 77. At the next intersection you’ll find the ぬく森 and not much else on the street. Inside you’ll find coffee tea, and a whole lot more.