Nagoya to Mie - The beginning of the end?

April 16, 2007
Distance: 50 km
Top Speed: 45 kph
Average Speed: 23 kph
Time: 3 hrs
Mood: Wet

My tent and bike at the moat of Nagoya Castle

Mie is known for it's mountains and onsen (hot spring bath houses), but the part I went through was the northern flat part known for absolutely nothing. It's probably just a bedroom community to Nagoya - a relatively un-happening place in and of itself. All I saw in the short time it took to cycle the flat highways to Mie, were downtrodden outdoor malls, run-down shops selling strange things like pet fish, and plenty of used car dealers. At least it went quickly.

An interesting connection to Boston

I started my day by checking out some of Nagoya. The city was pretty average for Japan. It looked like some parts of Tokyo, but none of the good parts. It had it's own tower, like the Tokyo Tower, but it didn't stack up at all. The Nagoya Castle I had camped next to the night before was the highlight as far as I could tell. I did make it to one of Japan's most important shrines, and it was a nice place. I relaxed for an unexpectedly long time while watching the monks, and tourists, and then made may way towards Mie.

Raking the stones at the shrine

I was used to 10 and 11 hour days over the mountains, but on the flats, I forgot how fast I could go. I arrived in less than 3 hours! It had turned into a rainy day while I was at the shrine, so more than 2 hours of cycling had soaked me through. I couldn't meet my host until the evening, but I was only 6 kilometers from his place, so I decided to spend the day at an onsen. It was a great place to spend the day relaxing. Unfortunately the whole experience was marred by bad experiences. One, I wouldn't find out about until the next day, but the other happened as soon as I arrived.

At onsen's (or "sento lands" as this kind is probably called) there is a routine. It's the same at all places that are anything even remotely like an onsen. You walk in and take your shoes off. There are probably free lockers you put those in near the entrance. Barefoot, you walk to the counter, or ticket vending machine and buy your entrance ticket ($3-10). You find the appropriate entrance for men or women, and enter the changing room. There are more lockers or baskets in there and you take off all your clothes. Everyone is naked, and it takes some getting used to when you first experience it, but it's no big deal since... well, since everyone is just as vulnerable as you. You are supposed to have a small towel that you bring with you into the bathing area. You can hold it in front of your bits and pieces for decencies sake if you like. The bathing area has 2 main functions: cleaning, and relaxing. Before you are allowed to relax in one of the myriad pools, saunas, or steam rooms, you have to bath. Showers are rarely available. Instead there are rows of buckets and stools (sometimes upside down buckets are the stools). Everyone finds an empty stool and sits down. They are facing the wall, which has a tap, and usually a mirror and gel soaps. You fill your bucket with hot water and begin cleaning yourself thoroughly by pouring the bucket over yourself.

This is a very routine activity for Japanese, so sometimes I hear people socializing while bathing, but usually everyone minds their own business. I suspect people who talk to each other probably are friends who came together. So wasn't I surprised when a man came over and sat down next to me (when the whole row of stools was empty) and started talking to me. He wanted to know where I was from, and all that. I thought he just wanted to practice his English. But then he started commenting on the hair on my arms and comparing it to the hair on his arms. Ok... maybe this is just an interesting topic to Japanese people? Then he commented on the hair on other part of my body, and before I knew it he was slapping me on my arm or knee. Ummm... not ok. Maybe this is what guys do in the locker room when they are totally comfortable with each other, but I didn't know this guy, and we were naked. I became a bit rude to make him go away, but I still was considering it was possible he was just Japanese and what the hell do I know about how Japanese interact in the onsen.

Well, I went over to a deep bath and was relaxing when he showed up wanting to show me a unique feature of that bath. It wasn't that special, and I thought he might just want me to look at him. I shrugged him off. He wadded over and was talking about something when he brought him my hairy legs again. And with that, he reached out under water and patted me on the knees. As he did so he "accidentally" brushed his hand against my bait-n-tackle. I immediately said "HEY!, FUCK OFF!" in Japanese and got really pissed. He got a bit defensive and said "no, no, I'm safe. I'm not like that. Don't worry." at which he reached straight out under the water and patted me while smiling. I said "LISTEN! FUCK THE FUCK OFF! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!" in Japanese and he said sorry, and that he really wasn't like that, and all that shit before fucking off. What a fuckin' guy! I wonder if this is something that happens at onsen's? Or maybe everyone at this onsen knows him, and steers clear? Or perhaps onsen's are also gay pickup spots, and unless you tell someone to fuck off the moment they speak to you, they think you're fair game? Whatever. It really pissed me off for a good while, and I ended up walking around the place just to make sure he had left, so I could relax.

Well, that sucked, but pretty soon I was totally relaxed, and decided to head out to the attached restaurant to sit and write some of this blog and eat some hot food. I ended spending quite a few hours just chillin at the restaurant occasionally ordering more food, and getting lots of writing done. After about 6 hours I went back into the onsen and relaxed some more before finishing up and packing my bags again. I headed out to the lobby to call my host when he had told me to call, but he didn't answer. I called again and again, and waited for him to call me back. It was coming up on an hour and I was getting really cold sitting at the entrance. I was about to give up on the guy when he called me and said he had made it out of work and could meet me at the train station. I looked at my GPS and told him I could be there in 15 minutes. I got on my bike and as far as I knew everything was normal. I raced to the train station through the rain, while drafting as many cars and trucks as possible, and running as many red lights as was safe. I eventually got there but he wasn't there. I called him and he said he'd meet me in a minute. I saw him from a distance (foreigners really stand out here in Japan) and went over to meet him.

My host, Peter

Peter is a really nice Australian guy who is teaching English in this nowheresville suburb of Nagoya. He didn't seem to keen on it, and will probably leave this summer. He told me about how he came to live in Japan and we chatted about Japan and travel in general on the way to his house. When I arrived it was late. I unloaded my bags and realized my front handlebar bag was unbuttoned. Something I never forget to do. I disregarded it, and we went in to stay up late and talk about life...


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