The bicycle parked in Tanuma is known as a mamachari; tried and true, and comfort at its finest. The bicycle loaned to me for everyday use is a typical two-wheeled machine with gears and a seat and tires not too fat and not too thin. Neither bike is designed to fit me, but the former wins out. I decided to swap the bicycles so that I could ride daily in moderate comfort and also have a cute little bell on my handlebars. So one Sunday morning I rode to Tanuma. I rode as hard as I could for over half an hour, sweating out half my body weight and feeling the burn in my legs as they slowly turned into tubes of gelatinous fibers. I battled traffic, hills, bumpy sidewalks overgrown with sharp weeds, and the expected hot and sticky Japanese air. Finally I arrived to the school where my bike was parked. And was greeted by a gate.
My heart sank. There was my mamachari, my cookie cutter comfort bike, my pimp ride, sitting just behind a huge metal gate, just hanging out with my coworker's bike. I thought to myself, "self, you're not leaving here until you have that bike. You will climb over that gate and heave that bike onto the street with all your might and you will grunt and growl like a maniac when you do it, but you're getting the mamachari. You'll look good on the mamachari. Get the bike, man." I considered my prostate health, and general discomfort, and decided there was no way I was going to ride back on that hard seat and risk the woes of temporary erectile dysfunction. Spoiler alert: I got the bike. And it wasn't even an issue. The gate, a giant slatted door wide enough to let three Japanese automobiles pass through, or one American car, wasn't even locked. There was a little chain tossed around the fence and the gate, either to keep it from swinging open or foil unobservant burglars. In any case, I hurriedly slipped through the gate and swapped the bikes. I didn't want anyone questioning my motives. A car with two women pulled up next to the school just as I was tidying up the crime scene, and so I casually pulled out my water bottle and took a calculated swig of hydration. I intentionally didn't rush out of there so I didn't look suspicious. I know what you're thinking. Smart move, Marshall. You are a genius, a master of reverse psychology, a wizard of the mind. Or you think too much and are way too paranoid and preoccupied in your own head.
In a personal challenge to see how much I can manage to keep myself from becoming dehydrated and drying up like a salamander on a campfire skillet, I joined my coworker and friend, who will henceforth be referred to as Melissa, on a hike up another mountain. We chose another blazingly hot and humid day to ride out to the mountain and trek along a paved road up to an overlook point. Drenched in sweat and having uttered at least four score and seven F-bombs because of the persistent mosquitos and gnats (I'm guessing they were gnats, but they could have been tiny birds – this is, after all, Japan, a world miniature against all comparisons), we made it to the resting point. A bathroom. A playground. A bridge that went nowhere, crossing only a section of the parking lot, existing for no other reason than to just be there. Maybe it's some sort of Buddhist bridge or was designed by influence of Rod McKuen.
But we could've taken the train. Not a real train, but a diesel-powered cart with faux train engine panels and a hilariously phony train whistle sound. They ride up and down the mountain on a schedule, carting families and people smarter than Americans who decide to hoof it to the top. I opted to ride it down, and a friendly, grandfather-esque man showed us to the trolley and we boarded. He crawled into his high perch — I think he had to use a stool, but I'm not sure — in the conductor's chair, and gave an obligatory toot of train whistle artifice. Even though we clearly could not verbally communicate with him and were the only two people on the not-really-a-train train, he diligently announced something on the loudspeaker, like a tour guide would do. "And to your left are some mosquitos that'll leave you scratching in pain and discomfort for the rest of the night. Straight ahead you'll see some other fools on foot, which will soon be out of sight, in their cars and nearly home by the time we hit the bend, since we're puttering along slower in this vessel than a blind dog with three broken legs and nowhere to be."
On this same mountain there is a fire. An intentionally lit fire. On a mountain. Covered with trees, which are things that generally burn. It's part of a festival that celebrates something that I didn't quite understand or bother to find out more about, but it was apparently a big enough deal to hold a festival attended by the mayor and some cutesy girl pop group, and it happened a few days after our sweaty little outing, and it looks like this:
I'll leave you with a few pictures with no captions. For now, I have to go hydrate.