Monday, 23 March 2015

out of sight, out of our minds

In a strong headwind we push up the coast, sticking to the bikepath/pavement beside the road.  In the towns and cities many Japanese ride bicycles but generally only on the pavement.  Out on the road the drivers are not used to sharing their space with cyclists, especially ones with luggage.  So we hedge on the side of caution and plod along happy to be able to look around freely without the stress of drivers trying to push past us.  The coast is hilly but the road is fairly flat with frequent tunnels cutting through any ridges dropping down to the sea.  We arrive at Aoshima where there's a long beach and a little island shrine popular with locals.  We go over to have a look and watch as Japanese of all ages come to say a prayer or make a wish or whatever it is they are doing.  To be honest it has the feel of a very peaceful and hushed fairground as they go around the shrine and roll dice, play jackstraws, pick a fortune out of a box and there's even something resembling a coconut shy.  At every stage there is a tupperware box to make a donation.  It's a Sunday so there are plenty of visitors.  The boxes are being emptied by an attendant while we walk around, the coins jingle in his big box.

make a wish

leave a wish
We mosey along the beach and watch the wind surfers and pass families picnicking.  I go off to look for a shop and leave Gayle at the beach.  When I return she is sat with a group of men having barbecued chicken and bread and pop.  A couple of women in headscarves are sat at the next table.  The men are students at Miyazaki university, three from Egypt and one from Mauritania.  They are all academics at home and have been studying here.  The Egyptians have brought their families here too.  There's also a Japanese man whose English is quite bad and who tells us he liaises with the students and has just recently converted to Islam.  While we talk we are invited to eat and we begin devouring the lovely fresh bread baked by the women.  They insist that we take the leftovers with us - a stack of delicious flat breads.

you can't tell but the guy from Mauritius is bending his knees
We don't want to go any further today so set about looking for a camp spot.  Further along is a large sports complex with baseball park, tennis courts and a big indoor arena.  It is surrounded by landscaped gardens, kids playgrounds and picnic tables and arbors galore.  Perfect.  Except for the cat.  The cat appears when we start cooking and shows no sign of departing.  When I give chase I disturb three more hiding in the hedges.  This is their patch and they ain't going nowhere.  I insist we find another place to camp, because I'm fed up with cats clawing and spraying our tent, but it's now dark.  No matter, Gayle leads us off on the bikes to the other side of the complex.  We zip across the main driveway right behind the back of an attendant in high-viz jacket and into a lane that ends in stairs.  This means we have to backtrack to the driveway where we are bound to be spotted by the security man.  Neither of us dare look his way but we get onto a different path that takes us to the tennis courts.  There are lights casting huge shadows across the gardens on the edge.  We park the bikes and split up to find a discreet place to camp.  When I return to the bikes a security guard is waving his torch over them.  I step back into the shadows.  He walks on.  Gayle comes back and we quickly roll our bikes away.  We are stood checking out a place behind a hedge when a van comes cruising along the drive.  Instinctively we duck down.  They're searching for us!  The van slows, turns around and comes back.  We duck down again.  What to do?  We creep out and check in all directions before tiptoeing our way over to a big lawn area backed by leylandii.  Our shadows leap about in the night, as we pass from bright white lights into black darkness.  We've walked into a chase scene in a thriller shot by Orson Welles.  Dead leaves crunch underfoot.  Can they hear us??  A car slopes past, lights dimmed.  Is that a zither in the distance? We put the tent up in a shadowy area as far from the driveways as possible and get in quick.  We quickly apply the rationale of a three year-old to our situation: if we can't see them, then they won't be able to see us.  It works.  We sleep undisturbed by security men in high-viz jackets wondering what on earth we think we are doing camping in their sports complex.

In the bright sunshine of the next day we realise that actually no-one is in the slightest bothered by our presence.  It's another cool windy day on a quiet Monday with just a few locals having an early morning walk.

jam on toast, mmmmm

We ride into the city and head straight for the immigration office.  We have a 90-day visa stamp in our passports and we want to extend it to the 6 months that UK citizens are permitted.  A young man serves us and asks a few questions.  The first is why we want to extend our stay after only 6 weeks from arriving.  Once we explain about our cycle journey and the need to plan ahead he then asks about our flight back to the UK.  So we explain about taking a ferry to Korea and why we don't want to book a ticket.  He seems satisfied.  We have to write a schedule and a letter explaining how we will fund our stay and how we plan to leave Japan.  We pay a £20 admin fee.  On the letter he asks that we write "We promise not to work in Japan."  And that's all.  The process takes just over an hour and is the best service we can remember from any bureacracy on this trip.  

Now that we have the right to stay until early August I want to put into action my plan of getting a new passport.  My current one only has two single pages left and the easiest way to renew is to send my current passport home.  All I need is two passport photos and to sign a form.  When I checked the website the turnaround was estimated as 3 weeks minimum.  But that seems better than the 6 weeks it estimated when I looked in November.  I've seen photo booths regularly since we arrived in Japan so it seems unsurprising that now I want to definitely apply for a new passport I can't find a photo booth for toffee.  I'm sure one will turn up soon. 

We head along to a big shrine just north of the city and eat our lunch while watching wedding couples have their photos taken in the gardens.  There are several couples doing this and they are all in traditional dress, which makes a change from the big white frocks that seem all the rage across Asia.  Gayle goes to look around the shrine while I check out the tombola.  And then we head out of the city, stopping at a thrift store for me to buy some sandals.  The shop is busy with customers looking for that bargain designer item.  I find sandals that fit me - remarkably - and off we go. 

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