After that second day in Ohtawara – being driven around to Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) and having to kill a spider that was thwarting my so-called love-life by perching near my telephone – I was finally able to call Ashley and make arrangements to ride over to her place in Nishinasuno the next afternoon. I had no clue how to get there, but I figured someone at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) would be able to direct me.
I was expected to go into work the next day – but only until noon. Apparently they had a surprise for me.
Kanemaru-san came and picked me up at 7:50 and we headed for the office for 8AM. There was no surprise waiting for me there, so I quite naturally thought I had made a mistake – a language-related one. I sat at my desk and practiced my new Japanese lessons – simple conversational Japanese.
At 11AM, Kanemaru-san woke me up and led me to his car. We drove back to Zuiko Haitsu (the name of my apartment complex which I later learned was well-known in the city for its towering eight-stories and opulence – well, it was tallest building in the city, and was quite nice; but opulent?) – but before I could say sayanora (goodbye), he followed me up and into the place and grabbed the Ohtawara map I had over my phone.
He looked at me and said: “You go A-sha-re’s?”
Is my phone being tapped? How does everyone know what I’m doing or whom I’m trying to do? Still, I realized the man was offering to drive me there so that I could make my own map with notes. This guy was fast becoming my best friend.
We set off. But here’s the kicker. Ohtawara, like many rural Japanese cities, towns or villages does not have signs designating street names. None. Sure there are stop signs, bus signs and speed limit signs (conveniently painted onto the road – another blog) but no street signs.
How did people know where they were going? Was this some innate ability the Nihonjin (Japanese person) were born with?
Traveling and I go together about as well as Alien versus Predator – amusing but a bloody mess. You’ve already read how I managed to get so lost in Tokyo that there wasn’t any neon light near me – but riding in the left-side of Kanemaru’s kuruma (car) while looking for non-existent landmarks and jotting them down on the 1m x 1m (3’x3’) map hand-drawn by my predecessor, Cheryl ,was difficult. Let’s see… that was straight past the rice field. There’s a house with a yellow American-style roof! Turn left at the fork in the road past the rice paddy. Turn right at the 3rd intersection where there’s a rice paddy… well, you get the idea.
The roadway we drove through was nicely paved for the most part (no complaints here). It was exactly two cars wide in many places, but usually only just one and a half car’s wide, so passing an oncoming vehicle was an adventure in itself. The roadway was surrounded on each side by thick, wet fields of rice paddies. Ohtawara – Big-Rice Field-Field – did you think I was kidding?
Ten minutes later, we arrived at Ashley’s building. Before I could open up the door and visit, Kanemaru-san laughed and said “Zuiko Haitsu” and off we went through the streets and rice fields with no name to arrive back at my place.
Instead of his usual parking job of straddling three spots (not an easy thing to do), he managed to park up on the steps by the apartment’s main entrance.
Getting out, he led me over to the covered bike rack and pointed proudly to a rebuilt bicycle. That was my surprise!
Built for a giant (me), it was obviously cobbled together from a few other bikes, but it was an 18-speed! Awesome! Back home, an 18-speed was usually only seen in mountain bikes and even then, those were not often seen on the streets. The seat was a large padded one – better even than my sofa. The frame was a men’s frame (with a bar to crush your gonads) and was freshly painted a lovely metallic navy blue.
There was a basket, bell and light on it - and before you laugh at the basket-thing, I found it quite useful (just not in this blog). The light, too. But not the bell.
It was now about noon. I went upstairs and called Ashley and told her I was leaving and with a good tailwind behind my new bike that I should be back at her place within 20 minutes. She laughed at my syntax, because she knew she had heard me at her place 10 minutes earlier.
What’s Ashley like? She was 5’-3” and 21 going on 22. A Sagittarius to my Scorpio (I was 25 going on 26). Her brown hair, lips, nose and face, squinty brown eyes all remind me of her. Except she doesn’t. There. If you can figure that out, you’re smarter than I thought. Ashley was very sweet and was quite intelligent, though it beats me why she wanted to hang out with an idiot like me.
I got on my bike and began sweating immediately, as Japan must be the most humid place on Earth.
Since most of my blogs have a music-related headline (this headline is related to the old Dion & The Belmonts tune. Wander, of course, is an anagram for Andrew, of course so is raw end), let’s do something musical: Let’s sing to the opening theme from Gilligan’s Island:
Now, just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale.
A tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this rice paddy, aboard this mighty bike.
The rider was a mostly fearless man, the directions were incomplete.
He set forth on the wrong side of the road for a three-hour tour.
A three-hour tour.
The weather started getting hotter – the rider he was lost.
If not for the courage of the Ohtawara police (and a stranger in a van who dropped me off there), he still would be lost.
He still would be lost.
Alright, Keats it ain’t. But you get the point.
After the police called my supervisor(s) and both Hanazaki-san and Kanemaru-san arrived, we all had a good sweaty laugh. We waited for that guy from the OBOE whose name I can’t remember to arrive with his van before heading back to the apartment.
Nearly 4PM, I entered my sanctuary, closed the door and called Ashley. She was asleep in dread anticipation of my non-arrival, but woke up enough to laugh at my incompetence.
After hanging up, I had a quick shower and then flipped on the TV to watch The Incredible Hulk in Japanese.
The doorbell rang at 4:20PM. It was Ashley.
Somewhere lost on a bicycle built for two Nihonjin,
Andrew “smooth sailing” Joseph
PS: Image above found at www.livingthedreamrtw.com