Bike Tracks

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October 5th, 2000 · No Comments

We arrived at the hotel just prior to noon, local time. We lost an hour on the clock and had been traveling via bus and/or plane for the past 26 hours. I am wound up, our hotel is located across the street from a Japanese Castle, it looks wonderful, with pagoda like guard houses on each corner. This is going to be a cool place to stay.

Our room was amusing, everything was on a small scale, I felt like I was in Lilliputanville! The ceiling in the hallway could be reached by merely raising my arm. The toilet and sink were both very low to the ground. Even the beds were short and low. It was perfect for my room mate Shelli, who is a tiny, little size person.
It was lunchtime, so a group of us opted to find a local noodle house, not to far Lunch in Japanfrom the hotel. We were lucky to have Sara Lindsey with us, a lady who had lived in Japan for four years, and to our absolute delight, spoke Japanese! We set off for our latest adventure.
Sitting on the floor, we ordered from a Japanese menu, thankfully the pictures shed some light as to what we were getting!
Upon entering the restaurant, we encountered a row of shoes. It was an obvious reminder to remove our shoes prior to entering the room. We obliged, carefully stowing our shoes in a row. We choose our places, sitting on pillow like mats on the floor. My knees were not happy.

In the evening after dinner Sara took us to a neighborhood bath house. It was my first time going to one, as well as the others in my group.

We entered the property via an open door, shrouded with the fabric panels hanging half way down from the top. There were places to store our shoes, lockers, shelves and also the floor. I took mine off and placed them in a locker. In the meantime we were welcomed by a little Japanese lady who instructed us in Japanese what to do next. At least she instructed Sara, who in turn directed us.

Inside we paid 350 Yen ($3.50) for the bath with a towel, which looked to be a large wash cloth. We were given plastic baskets in which to store our clothing, then provided with yet another locker. The attendant handed each of us a plastic bowl/bucket and a bar of soap. Normally, the locals bring their own towels and toiletries. Being “gaijin” (foreigners) we obviously needed all the amenities provided. She determined our needs and filled them.

Sara explained Japanese customs to us. They people look for and provide “harmony” at all costs. They do not want anyone to “lose face” so they never call attention to mistakes and help each other along if things, like bringing your own towel to a bath house are overlooked.

We saw examples of this over and over again. If we got lost, they would take us, sometimes by the hand and show us the way. My pieced ear ring popped off my ear onto the floor in the bath house. When the women was I needed help looking for it, they were down on their hands and knees with me looking for it. When I finally found it wrapped in my hair, they cheered. It was such a team effort, so supportive and warm.

The dressing room was adjacent to the cashiers stand, men had their area to the right, women to the left. Standing at the cashiers stand, one could see directly into either side. Dressing in privacy was not an issue for these people. Nakedness is not a big deal. For us, we could stand off to the side to seek privacy, then rush to the inner room where the water was located.

In addition to the lockers, the dressing room was full of mirrors, it looked very much like an old fashioned beauty salon. They had those old bee hive chair hair dryers lined up against a small portion of the wall. It was a busy place, with supplies and things stored all over.

Inside the bath room were several tubs, hot, hotter and hottest. Each side of the wall was lined with facets about 10 inches from the floor. The procedures of washing were done in a kneeling or sit-down position. Just above the facet was a shower head, it too was only above my head, when I was kneeling.

In one corner there was a sauna that would seat about 6 or 7 ladies, it was a very hot sauna, probably the hottest I have ever encountered. Just outside the sauna was another tub, this one had cold water in it. On the interior wall there was shower enclosure that once the door was shut you could push a button then water would spray at you in various pressures and temperatures. You could only control the “on” switch, after that you had to take what came. It was a screaming experience!

The most amazing part of this whole experience was watching these beautiful Japanese women of all shapes, sizes and ages go through their bathing ritual. I do mean ritual. They gracefully soap their body parts with such determination and purpose. It is if they are covered in an inch thickness of clay and the only way it will come off is to gently scrub it off lathering and re-lathering until it is all gone. We were there for 2 hours, while we enjoyed all the tubs over and over, their was one young lady scrubbing her body the whole time. She was almost in a Zen like trance, so methodically graceful.

Of course us Americans did the once over lather then into the tubs for fun and relaxation. We didn’t wash nearly as well as the locals and I fear they must think of us as “dirty”. But then I did take a shower before I went to the bath house. How dirty could I be?

Japanese Bath HouseAfter an evening of relaxation, I was addicted to the Japanese bath house and made a vow to enjoy one everyday that I could when in the country. The experience was even better than I imagined it would be.

Kyoto layover day

October 6, 2000

The plot has thickened, tonight at dinner we were told that our bicycles are having such a good time in Kuala Lumpur, they have decided not to join us in Japan. We will be busing from camp to camp on the Japanese leg of our bicycle tour. Guess you can say the bikes have gone “off route”.

Seriously though, Tim of TKA told us he can get the bikes into Japan, but cannot assure us that he can get them out on time for our tour of China. In addition we will be leaving Japan on 4 different air carriers from 3 different locations in the country for Hong Kong. A rider put this in simpler terms; Our exodus from Japan will be the same as hiring someone to fly you from Los Angeles to San Francisco. When the trip day comes, you are bused to Denver, board a plane to fly to Oakland via Honolulu your are taken by ferry to San Francisco. . Thus making the trip 2 or more times as long and far as necessarily. Kind of like flying to Kuala Lumpur from Cairns to get to Osaka.

How are folks handling the news? Some are absolutely furious others don’t care. I am planning to stick with the group and see what adventures are to follow. It’s Zen to go with the flow.

The Kyoto layover day was exciting. With Sara’s guidance, we purchased all day bus passes and set out to see the famous Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple.

We were walking thru the Gion District the home of the famous Tea Houses and the setting for the most recent book “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

Gion Tea HouseIt was exciting to remember parts of a favorite book while being there.

Confectionary ShopOn the way to the temple we passed various shops selling Japanese souvenirs. Silk sack type purses in every size and color are very popular, as well as beautiful Japanese fans and many confectionery shops. The food places offered us samples of their goodies. I enjoyed the Yatsuhachi a confectionery with bean curd paste filled with a cinnamon chocolate. They look like uncooked ravioli and were very tasty.

CatherineThe Kiyomizu Temple is located high above the city on Mt. Otowa, on the eastern slope of the city. The picturesque Temple can be seen from blocks away, distinguished by it’s lovely pagoda roof. Kiyomizu is one of Japan’s most popular tourist spots, therefore teeming with tourists. I was surprised to see how commercialized the temple was. The surrounding shops on the temple grounds were selling all sorts of paraphernalia. To enter the Temple, we were required to pay a small fee, then another fee to enter another section of the Temple that is only open every 30 years.

Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist TempleAs we entered a gentleman handed us a plastic bag to stow our shoes in while we carried them thru the Temple. Upon exiting, we returned the bag to him to be recycled. We all trod barefoot through the Temple. The crowds prevented us from stopping for long, but we did manage to see a few Buddha’s and some very mean looking warrior type guys. No photos were allowed inside!

My day ended with another wonderful experience at a Japanese bath. The story of gettingRickshaw there is of interest. We had planned to go directly after dinner, but I got involved “substituting” for someone in a Scrabble game. My friends were ready to leave to the bath house before the game was over, so I told them to go ahead, I’ll catch up. Later Shelli came back to tell me our “normal” bath house was closed tonight and showed me the location on a map of another, where they would meet me.

It was at least an hour before the Scrabble game ended. I headed off towards the bath house, my toiletries bag in tow. Following my map and counting the blocks, I went to where I thought the bath house should be. Of course my map, the streets and all the signs are in Japanese, there are no English letters anywhere. I was not able to find a bath house, smell soap or get any other clues. Finally I saw a well lit store that appears to be a Japanese 7-11. I walked in hoping to find an English speaking sales clerk.

As I stepped in line behind the store’s only customer, the gentleman behind the cash register looked at me and before I could utter a word he said, “Japanese bath house for American Cyclist!” I was stunned, but figured my friends must have been here asking for directions too. He took my map, drawing on it where I was and where I needed to go. Then he led me back out to the street and got me started in the right direction. Within 2 blocks I found the bath house, exactly where he said it would be. My friends were there and were they ever surprised to see me. They had all but given up when they found the place with the help of a pedestrian. None of them had talked to my helpful guy at the “7-11”, how he knew who I was and what I wanted I can only guess. It remains a mystery to me!

My second night in a bath house was just as delightful as the first. Bathing in this manner is a Japanese tradition I am becoming addicted too.

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