The Gaijin Ride In


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Asia » Japan » Chiba » Narita
August 2nd 2006
Published: August 28th 2006
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Doing the soft shoe shuffle 31/07/06


We sleep for most of the 6hr flight to Narita but still arrive feeling knackered, we stagger like zombies through immigration and customs and find a space to rebuild the bikes near the bus stops. People keep wandering up to have a look (see the silly Gaijin getting hot and sweaty). Next to us is the pick up point for one of the buses to Tokyo, each time a bus leaves the porters all bow to it which is really weird to see. As we are about to leave they approach us and the best English speaker asks us where we have been and where we are going, she then translates for the others, there follows a short Q and A session about touring with the bikes then they wish us well for the rest of the journey; meanwhile we wish we spoke better Japanese.
We let the info centre book us a room in Narita for the night, then we work out how to get out of the airport employees' entrance to avoid the freeway. The 10 miles to Narita town are a bit hillier than we are used to, but nothing to test
Room in a ryokanRoom in a ryokanRoom in a ryokan

The futon beds are a lot more comfortable than they look.
us and we soon arrive in the town. Now the fun begins, we would like some lunch and stop at a café where my opening gambit is "Watashi wa begitarian des" (I'm a vegetarian) the woman behind the counter looks like she's trying to comprehend this, but it's not making sense, eventually she shakes her head and tells us they have nothing I can eat. We wander away and ride towards the ryokan where we'll be staying tonight, on the way we see a café with a sign outside which says "We welcome all our vegetarian friends". Well, I don't know if I'm their friend but it's worth a try, we order the dish of the day and a cup of tea each. Cold noodles are quite unexpected but surprisingly good, green tea is going to take some getting used to, it's a bit like drinking weak asparagus soup, but worse. The owner of the café chats to us about our journey; where we have been, where we are going and suggests some places to go to in Japan.

We reach the ryokan where we are greeted by a woman who points at our shoes then at a neat
Ryokan gardenRyokan gardenRyokan garden

We never did work out if that fish was real!
row of slippers, so we take our shoes off and are about to put on some slippers when she interrupts us and points at the largest slippers they have, so it's official then, we have big feet. We are shown to our room which has a tatami mat floor, so we have to leave our slippers at the door, it's strictly bare feet from here. The beds are futons (thin mattresses lying on the floor) with wheat stuffed pillows; they don't look very comfortable.
We do a relay getting the panniers into the room, I put my shoes on and bring them from the bikes to the front door and Vern keeps his slippers on and carries everything upstairs. We are allowed to put the bikes in the front entrance where they will be safe and dry.
Back in the room we discover yet another pair of slippers for the toilet, which, incidentally, is in the smallest room ever (it's a good job the door opens outwards!). Talking of toilets, and I'm sorry if this lowers the tone at all, but this one has a bum wash and dry facility on it; there's a row of buttons, one with a picture of a bum over a shower, one with wiggly lines on it and one with a pink and slightly more curvaceous bum over a shower, oh and also a stop button. Press the required one and you get a squirt of warm water in the appropriate place until you press "stop", then press the wavy line button and a blast of warm air dries you - amazing!

Okay, so we finally get bored of playing with the bathroom fittings and go out to look at the temples and shrines, which are set in a large wooded area with carp ponds and shaded walks, it's all very peaceful and a great way to chill out. We spend some time admiring the carvings and paintwork of the buildings before walking around the grounds and watching the carp swimming about. We take the easy option by finding a curry house for dinner.

Capital, simply capital 01/08/06


After a breakfast of noodles, vegetables, miso soup and green tea we load up and ride to Tokyo. Our route takes us through a number of small towns and villages; the houses are mainly small and detached with neat gardens and always a full
Road in NaritaRoad in NaritaRoad in Narita

It's the evening, therefore no traffic and no shoppers.
vegetable patch. We notice a few cyclists all on Mama'chari (mama from mother and chari from the sound of the bell; they have a traditional "ladies" frame, basket at the front, child's seat or basket at the back, single speed, sit-up-and-beg style) and all on the pavement. Even when the pavement is made of concrete blocks, only a foot wide with a wall on one side and a raised kerb on the other they ride along calmly with never a swerve or a wobble, one hand on the bars, one holding the mobile, one holding a cigarette, one holding an umbrella and one for waving to friends. We are impressed I can tell you.

As we get closer to Tokyo the number of cars and bikes increases, although we are the only cyclists on the road we are invariably given enough room by the drivers, we try riding on the pavement for a while, but can't get the hang of avoiding the pedestrians or other cyclists so we go back to the road and watch enviously as the locals glide effortlessly around all the obstacles without appearing to actually notice any of them. We then discover that the cyclists of Japan take any route available to get to their destination, if the path is blocked they will just swing onto the road regardless of which direction they are travelling in, we have to swerve to avoid bikes coming towards us a few times, thankfully when this happens any cars also swerve to avoid us.

We get accommodation at a hotel with only single rooms (so small we can touch both walls while standing in the middle of the room), tonight we are next door to each other, tomorrow we have to change rooms and will be six floors apart. We buy dinner at the nearest convenience store, noodles (just add water and wait 4 minutes), crème brulee thing for desert and couple of cans of Asahi beer. At the checkout we get given chopsticks, little spoons to eat the crème brulee and serviettes. So back at the hotel we eat our dinner with chopsticks and it takes a while and is a bit messy, but we will get better (hopefully).

Lost in translation 02/08/06


On the 2nd August we are out early and looking for a doctor (again!), my bum lump is protesting about the ride yesterday, we end up at the Red Cross Medical Centre which is in the most affluent area of Tokyo, where all the embassies are based. We go to 1:New Patient Reception and open with "Ego ga hanesemas ka?" (Do you speak English?) "One moment please" says the receptionist, she then makes a phone call and hands the phone to me. I explain to the man at the other end of the line that I have a lump on my bum and he asks me to give the phone back to the receptionist, they speak for a short time then she leads me over to 3:New Patient Check-In, she talks to the woman behind the counter then leaves us.
It's about now that things begin to get a bit surreal. "Where in your stomach does it hurt" asks the new woman, "Here" I say and point at my bum. "No, where in your stomach?" "Here" point at bum again. She finds an English/Japanese crib sheet, looks at it for a minute, I can guess which word she's going to select, and sure enough she points at the word "haemorrhoid" "No" I say, study the sheet for a while and finally point at the word "boil" which is the "best fit" on the list and pretty much what I'm hoping I've got.
I am directed to Dermatology where I see a German doctor who speaks much better English than either Vern or I speak Japanese (which, incidentally she also speaks very well). She tells me it is a lump and prescribes antibiotics for three days, then I will have to return and they will operate to remove the remains and I will be able to ride again in about a fortnight.
Not a happy bunny, the delay is a real pain as we are in one of the most expensive cities on the trip and can't really afford to sit out two weeks here. Anyway, armed with a prescription and a new appointment time we head downstairs to 16:Cashiers and pay the bill. The rest of the day is spent bemoaning our fate and generally feeling miserable about the enforced delay. We can't even get on the bikes and explore the city as I've been told not to ride until it's all sorted (again).



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