Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

No Excuse

2011年 9月 30日

I was almost four minutes late to school today: considering it is a one or two minute bike ride, I guess I have no excuse for my tardiness. My main reason for moving from Ise back to Tsu was to place myself close to my workplaces. My farthest location is now 20 minutes away by car (and about the same by bike), but my Friday school is the closest at about one minute.

Last night I was up late working on my speech for Kyoto this weekend so I slept in until about 25 minutes before work. I took care of my morning routine, got dressed, had a little breakfast and was heading for the door when I noticed the kairanban (回覧板) in our mailbox. Kairanban is a clipboard containing “important” information about our neighborhood and city to be circulated. There is a place for us to stamp our name and pass it on. There is a decided order as well. Levels of stress associated with the kairanban deserve a little historical perspective.

When I lived in Sakurada-cho (quite near my current residence) there were a couple neighbors who visited me to share their displeasure with the amount of time it took me to pass the clipboard to the next neighbor. Naturally all of the documents are in polite (i.e., hard to read) Japanese and they all look very officious. I constantly felt torn between not giving due respect to the valuable information and not serving my neighbors’ needs to receive the information swiftly. Although, I did ultimately get a chance to express my power as well.

So, in this new neighborhood, I don’t want to get a reputation as “the difficult foreigner” – I set about reading all the documents carefully and stamping my mark before I left the house. Hopefully, my wife has already passed it to the next party. Oh, almost forgot, my wife is still too lazy to walk to the garbage drop and today was plastic recycle day, so I had to take a detour on the way to school as well.

When I rode by train from Ise, I almost always arrived at this school 10 or 15 minutes early, so everyone was asking me if I was late today. I guess I have two reputations to juggle now. Hopefully this school will adjust to me coming at my proper start time from here on out instead of arriving before the full-time workers.

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Cycling Safely in Japan

2011年 9月 29日

Just over two years ago, I was taken off my bike by a car on a safe little back road. In my Mie prefecture, safety for bikes and pedestrians is not a given, we must be very alert and responsible for our own safety. Not only drivers’ habits, but also physical conditions here are different: awareness of those differences is critical.

On my morning commute, one of these came to the forefront as an Audi pilot repeatedly did her best to scrape me off on a stone wall. Fortunately, I foiled her efforts so I can bring my tale to you.

We were on a road with a clearly marked centerline and lines demarking a shoulder area. By American standards this road is narrow; however, there is plenty of width for a car to easily travel between the lines. The shoulder area is also wide enough for even an amateur cyclist to ride without trouble (although there are a few sign posts and power poles obstructing the shoulder, requiring forays into the roadway). Traffic was heavy and halting, so with little effort a bicycle is swifter than the cars which creates interaction and hence risk. I always enjoy roads where bikes and cars are moving at the same rate, minimizing reaction, but we all know that is the rare case: congested areas favor the bike; and open areas favor the power of the engine.

As I was passing by crawling cars, one driver repeatedly swerved into the shoulder as I was attempting pass, with her final move to the edge as she braked for the red light. Eliminating the suggestion that the driver was maliciously seeking revenge (an extremely rare occurrence here) my assumption is that the driver was not looking at her passenger side mirror nor making head checks. I protected myself by braking each time, which a cyclist should always be prepared to do (the car always wins in an accident).

Understanding why this happens helps to alleviate some of the frustration, if not the fear. Many Japanese roads – especially in the more countryside areas – are very narrow. Many times in our city, there are roads on which opposing traffic can’t pass without someone leaving the roadway. As a result, people are taught to pull to the outside edge of the road whenever possible. This practice becomes habit, with many drivers continuously using the shoulder as part of their lane regardless of how much free space there is on the road. These drivers are obvious, but this morning’s driver is the more cautionary situation. Something – perhaps brake lights on the car ahead – were, I assume, triggering her response of pulling to the side of the road when stopping.

While looking for drivers suddenly entering the roadway from the left, don’t forget to watch for drivers suddenly veering left from the roadway.

Japanese Beyond Words

2011年 9月 27日

Recently my reading has spiked, but I am still busy so write-ups are slowly forthcoming. Japanese Beyond Words by Horvat was recommended to me a handful of years ago as a source of good information about the connection between culture and language. When it was loaned to me I read a couple brief excerpts marked by the lender, but otherwise it sat on my shelf. Before my move I noticed a couple books seemed to be on permanent loan to my collection and guilt prompted me to quickly read them so they could be restored to their proper homes.

Horvat worked in Japan for many years and often wrote short articles for periodicals. I believe most of the chapters were developed from his articles. Each section covers some aspect of language, but more so the culture behind the language. I found the articles generally easy to read and mostly helpful; however, two regrets came up. One is simply that I already know the content of several chapters, having lived in Japan more than seven years and ostensibly beginning my interactions here about 23 years ago. The other regret was not having read the book sooner, as it could have helped me more easily deal with a difficult situation regarding my work contract. There were only a few small points where I disagreed with the author or felt he was covering an unimportant point; otherwise I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about Japanese culture and language.

Confucian thinking comes up more than once; which is interesting since most people think about Buddhist and Shinto influence on Japan. Every Japanese person seems to know a little about Confucius and there are some deeply rooted connections in society here. One is the concept that specific relationships should be valued and others should not; which results in the often befuddling “private politeness” versus “public nonchalance”.

…The visitor who has just been bowed to very deeply by a company president finds himself jostled by silent strangers as he heads back to his hotel, where, the moment he enters, he resumes the role of visiting dignitary. Everyone from bell-boy to manager greets him with the deference accorded to a recent recipient of a Nobel Prize.

Living here, I am routinely exposed to extreme politeness followed by ambivalence – or even grossly discourteous treatment – which is perplexing. Understanding the culture that drives this makes it a little easier to adapt.

Another Confucian teaching is that “outward forms produce inward attitudes” making appearance extremely important here. Occasionally I participate in cycling events here. I purchased a bicycle in line with my budget and occasionally make improvements to it; however, I will encounter rank amateurs at these events who have dropped many thousands of dollars on bikes, accessories, clothing and the like. The practice is attached to the ancient belief that to be a cyclist they must have proper cycling gear. In some cases I find them as decorations at business covered in dust from lack of use, showing perhaps that internal change is also necessary.

Simple but powerful is learning how Japanese view proverbs, and seeing how they can grease the skids, relieving the initial tension of meeting a foreigner. “Unlike in the West where the proverb is often seen as a poor relative of serious thought, old sayings are revered as gems of wisdom handed down through the ages.” A topic deserving of more detailed approach later.

Horvat writes about the importance of ‘order’ in Japan, referencing the humorous anecdote about police responding to a burglary call to find the culprit putting on his shoes in the entry hall. He was willing to break into a home to steal, but would never think of stepping up into the home without removing his shoes. Conversely the photo of GIs standing on tatami mat floors in combat boots is used as a symbol of the breakdown of order after the Battle of Okinawa. Learning which defined rules are important to the ‘order’ aid foreign residents immensely in their acceptance here.

Our author got shocked reactions at the mahjongg parlor as he was laughing at the comics in his newspaper. Newspapers are serious in Japan and rarely have more than a single comic. More importantly the mixing of worlds is considered inappropriate. I have personally been bitten by this repeatedly as I like to send teachers off to conferences with a friendly, “enjoy yourself!” Mistakenly, I thought their sharp retort of, “It’s not FUN, it’s WORK.”, was a sign of being a little too tightly wound. Reading Horvat and rethinking my encounters, I think I was ‘laughing at the newspaper’ as it were.

Two important language study points came up as well, and I hope there are still readers interested this far down the page. First, Japanese pronouns are NOT pronouns. They are used as nouns and should be treated as nouns.  Thinking of them as pronouns will inhibit learning the language. Second, he recommends not trusting the written word, but trusting our ears because language is “an interrupted flow of air”. The way things are pronounced and the way they are written may vary in any language: focusing too much on the reading will lead us into ruts from which it is hard to extricate oneself.

Again, I found his work useful and approachable. I will most likely write a bit more about proverbs and history in the near future, but this is enough for today.

The Seatbelt Convincer

2010年 11月 11日

We enjoyed traffic safety day at school today. Police liaison officers come to school, mark out an intersection and crosswalks in lime on the playground, set up remote controlled traffic signals and run the kids through some training.

Only watching from the warmth and safety of the office, I can’t inform about the spoken content; however, low visibility around large trucks (yes, they drove one onto the playground) and properly stopping before using crosswalks were on the agenda. However, just like the fairgrounds, there is always one ride which is king.

JAF (the Japanese equivalent of AAA or CAA) drove their truck out with The Seatbelt Convincer written boldly on the side. After opening the sides of the truck to make a stage displaying the contents, the fun began. A few students at a time climbed into a mock-up of the traveling compartment of a car. The car rolled along at 5 km/h and then was abruptly stopped to simulate an accident. Being shook up by this jolt, the students are presumably likely to understand that not wearing a belt in a 60km/h accident is deadly.

Considering I still see many toddlers climbing around in cars every day, I think this presentation is beneficial. Many people need convincing.

Back on Two Wheels

2010年 10月 26日

OK, OK, I promised this photo long ago. As most of you know, I was hit by a car on August 1st, 2009 and spent the better part of the year in physical therapy. My neck and hip still don’t feel right, but I am back on the bike. Before the accident I had my white bike decorated with red bar tape and we dubbed it the Hi no Maru bike. We call the Japanese flag, having a bright red dot on a pure white field, the Hi no Maru. After the accident, I wanted to renew my spirit by changing the look and feel of the bike. Also, because of the long recovery, I was hoping to celebrate a little as well.

Now the bike has purple bar tape and purple tires. Yes, that’s right, the tires are purple. They had some with purple sidewalls, but I opted for the entirely purple tires. My gloves and helmet are also new. Purple gear was hard to find, so I went with white to match the frame color. All this gives a clean and fresh look. Also, I picked up some Mavic wheels with a smaller number of flat spokes. They should roll a lot faster and decrease drag.

Here’s a photo of me leaving the pit area at the Suzuka F-1 Circuit where we raced on Saturday. I will write more about that, but I’m tired now.
Ready to Leave the Pit

Five People, Five O’Clock

2010年 9月 30日

Tsuitachi mochi (朔日餅) and Tsuitachi gayu (朔日粥) are, respectively, special rice desserts and special porridge breakfast which are only sold in the morning on the first of the month. Ingredients change each month as does popularity. July and October are known to be in demand. Tomorrow’s mochi dessert includes chestnuts (栗) which are considered a symbol for October in our textbooks.

Readers may recall that I picked up this practice as a way to enjoy my new life in Ise. Before moving here, I enjoyed the porridge with my wife, who ultimately was my reason for moving. That was back on November first, 2008. Generally my wife can’t join me because she is working; whereas, I can finish in time to ride the train to work. My first solo venture was June first, 2009. I also went in July and August; however, riding home from the last one I was struck by a driver. Resting up from my injuries (and a little fear of riding my bike on what I formerly considered a safe street) I missed several times. February this year marked my return since I could drive safely in my new car and picked up an interested friend to pass the time better.

Tomorrow will be a special trip, my wife is off work, her friend is visiting from Kyoto, my regular friend is up to the task, and a new teacher wants to ride along. We are expecting to be a party of five. Hopefully, heading out at five in the morning will give us enough time to buy mochi and sit down for a nice meal with porridge.

Rumors Exaggerated

2010年 3月 4日

Just for the record, I am still alive. Wanted to get that straight unless any rumors were milling about. So, why haven’t I been posting?

  1. Busy planning my wedding (May 15th and 16th)
  2. Getting ready for new school year (April 1st, er… 6th)
  3. Pondering how to write up potentially offensive posts
  4. Playing a stupid game on Facebook
  5. Just plain tired

Good news/bad news

  1. Lost three schools so I will miss the students, but with only four schools I can focus on my lessons and build relationships with teachers and students.
  2. Got 100,000 yen back from the government for my ‘eco’ car.
  3. Restarting Japanese lessons. My teacher slashed her prices in half because of the poor economy. I think she should have raised her prices, but she is too kind.
  4. Ordered silver Mavic rims with flat spokes and purple tires for my bike. The frame is mostly white and the bar tape was changed to purple after the accident. This is to celebrate being able to ride again. My neck and hip are still a little sore, but I think we are at the time-to-tough-it-out phase. (Photos will be posted after the shop work.)

Most likely, I won’t be posting before Sunday.

Breakfasting Again

2010年 2月 1日

I moved to Ise (伊勢) in late May. Knowing I would face some new burdens, such as the long commute, I decided to embrace some of the special qualities of Ise to remind myself to enjoy my new home. Committing to eat tsuitachigayu (朔日粥), early in the morning, on the first of each month, was the first step in that direction.

Fifteen months ago, I spent the night at a hotel in Ise so I could arrive as close to the 5AM start time as possible. I had heard that people made long lines and you had to arrive early to avoid disappointment when they sold out. Sitting in the old, traditional inn and supping simple food, fit me very well.

June, July and August were each very pleasant. On that last trip, I chatted a little with a new-found friend and stared out the window at the lush, green, misty mountains. Fine rings were spreading over the surface of the full, broad river as thin droplets drizzled slowly out of the sky. August usually means oppressive heat and humidity in Japan, so it was a special treat to be there.

My regular readers will recall, it was on the way home that morning that I was struck by a car and my lifestyle shifted from how I would have planned it. Since then, I had not gone to enjoy what was supposed to be my monthly ritual. At the beginning of my hiatus, it was easy to blame it on my physical injuries; but really, I think there was an emotional wall preventing me from traversing that peaceful little road toward the shrine. Today was to be different!

With my new (and very safe) car, I drove to Oharaimachi. For the past few days my neck and back were aggravated, giving me a ready excuse, but it is far more healing to go out and enjoy myself. The river was very low and the mountains were not visible in the cloudy weather, yet still I looked out on it with a certain guarded joy. Hesitancy was just from reflecting on where I am now and where I hoped to be, but the joy was intriguing.

One viewer might have seen the river as poorly and sad; however, I saw that it was unusually clear and fresh-looking, particularly in the shadow of the bridge. Even the dead, insubstantial winter leaves which occasionally dotted the surface seemed to have a light feeling as they bobbed by. Perhaps, in my heart, they were really the brilliant Autumn leaves I was meant to see earlier.

Discovery also graced this trip, as another hidden room in the inn and a couple mossy back alleys made themselves known to me. I am looking forward to filling in my missed months over the next year. March, April, May, September, October, December, and January: what new things will they contain?

Out of Balance

2010年 1月 14日

Some days I can feel how out of balance things are in my life. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings found me running to the train station and barely arriving in time to leap into the train wheezing from the sprint. Let me also mention here that Monday was a holiday, so I’m batting zero.

Half of my ride this morning was standing up with a high-schooler repeatedly bumping me, the second half – after out manoeuvering said student – I was seated. Shortly after settling into my perch, I noticed I didn’t have my leg strap to keep my pants from joining my bike chain and front gears. Not wanting to roll up my pants for the cold ride into the country, I was a bit glum but that problem quickly became moot. Just before exiting the carriage, I noticed I left the bike lock keys at my apartment.

Everything cascades from there. My school allowed me to take the bus and arrive 15 minutes late (but three hours before my first class). I would have been disappointed if they didn’t say OK given that there is only one bus an hour and their other teacher always comes by bus and I always arrive early and leave late. Now I am in the countryside, and I will meet some ladies to chat about events, fortunately I can walk to meet them, but I normally spin my wheels to meet up with some youths a half hour away. I will have to beg a ride from someone, or take a taxi, or cancel out. Naturally I never want to cancel out on kids.

On the bright side I did get a lot done before fled the house in a panic this morning. Normally I am living alone, but this weekend there will be four of us squeezed in, so I’ve been trying to get things in order for that. Getting the new gas fan heater working in my study was a major coup yesterday.

Learn to Read

2010年 1月 9日

When I moved to Ise I bought a cheap bicycle to commute from Tsu Shinmachi station to my schools. I park it every day near the station. For more than half a year the bike has rusted away. I Can Park HereOften I would park in one of two lots behind the station and I always jealously eyed the lot between them, under an apartment building.

Funny that I never wondered why a lot for a few hundred bikes would be under an apartment for forty people. Also funny that I had seen maps indicating there were three public lots behind the station. One particularly wet day, I pulled out the phone and shot this sign. It says that it’s a public lot, and I have parked there ever since. My butt is now dry; there are indeed benefits to literacy.