Japan Ride 3

The following is the third chapter of the trip five New England riders took to Japan to ride the Northern Territories.

Japan Trip

My Honda at the entrance of our Western style hotel in Ebina

Culture Shock
Writer’s note: I have an ear for languages. It is a gift. I speak English and French and I can order a beer and steak and find a bathroom in most European countries. The Japanese language is interesting, complex and totally incomprehensible to someone with my linguistic background. To my ear, the language, particularly spoken by the men, sounds abrupt, unmusical and guttural. It also has warlike intonations and often appears to be delivered in an aggressive manner, particularly when addressed to people in inferior positions or the service sector. At one point, early in both the proceedings and my relationship with Kaagi, I left our dining room to finds a men’s room and walked by Kaagi as he was addressing our waitresses in what were, to my ear, harsh tones indeed. I made my way by them and determined that Kaagi was probably not a very nice person. I was completely wrong, in the next week I found him to be gracious, generous and thoughtful and exceptionally sensitive to our needs. Bonus, he was a tremendously funny fellow. Whatever Kaagi said to the young woman didn’t appear to affect her demeanor or her service in the least.. To me it remains a mystery how this seemingly abrupt manner of addressing others in service is accepted. But it is as though the final unspoken thought at the end of every such utterance is: “No offence intended”. The equally unspoken response is: “None taken”. By the end of our Japanese sojourn I had formulated a theory based on my observations and the commentary of our hosts. The Japanese often refer to the Shogun period of their history with pride and respect. Many cultures contain a warrior society in their past and men often idealize it and even try to emulate it in their sports activities and businesses. This warlord period appears to have a strong attraction for the Japanese. If the language of this warlike and brutal period is all that remains, and if everyone involved understands the “No offence intended” rule then perhaps all it does is make direction clear. And that is not a bad thing. Just a different way.

Day three is kick-off day from our Western style hotel in Ebina. The bikes are loaded with about 50 lbs of gear, most of which fitted in our saddlebags. We are all wearing full body kit, full face helmets and our walkie-talkies are all synced. What I haven't mention is that it is 95 degrees.

Our itinerary today is to visit Toyko, acclimate to Japanese traffic and riding on the other side of the road. We will visit a temple, have lunch and ride to the ferry to where we will embark on an overnight trip to the Northern Territories. Total estimated mileage, about 90 miles. Key to success: DON’T GET LOST. With Kei riding in the lead, Noa riding in the middle and Kaagi riding behind, we were apprehensive but as comforted as we could be.

The ride into Tokyo is like any ride thru any suburbs anywhere in the world where the traffic is heavy, the signs incomprehensible, the need to keep up imperative and the temperature 95 degrees. The only thing that changed as we entered the city was the temperature. The rolling ambient air thermometer on my bike read 106 degrees. At stop signs it was discouraging to look, so I didn’t. This a holiday in the city and the traffic is quite light. Drivers are courteous and our caravan wends its way easily along wide downtown boulevards. The city is clean and relatively quiet, by city standards and we are able to make our way through town in relative ease.

Japan Trip

         Senso-Ji Temple – Tokyo                 |          Peter, George and Art - not ping pong

We parked underground, shed our outer clothing and surfaced at the gates of a beautiful temple called Senso-Ji . Colorful, crowded and seemingly quite commercial, this temple was unique among those we visited. Being in the heart of the city and the tourist area probably contributed heavily to the impression that this temple had simply been plopped down in this spot for convenience sake. While all of the other temples we visited were in the countryside and had other appealing natural and historic qualities, this shrine seemed more like a marketplace than a sacred place. Across the street from the temple entrance is an air-conditioned visitor center with maps and cold juices and sodas and seating. The above picture was taken outside the center and you can see from the way we are dressed that we are ill equipped for high temperatures and long walks. Plus we are all toting our tank bags.

Lunch is a welcome departure and we are guests of Konomi Inc., an international investment bank. Our gracious host, Masao Konomi, is a Harvard grad and has lived a significant part of his life in America. In flawless English he gives us a primer in Japanese culture and business and helpfully points out what we can expect and what we should take time to appreciate on our voyage. Those of us who are fans of the film Grand Prix and enjoyed the urbane Toshiro Mifune’s characterization of Mr. Honda, would appreciate the erudite Mr. Konomi. Thank you Mr. Konomi for opening your heart and your air-conditioned boardroom to seven sweaty, bedraggled but appreciative motorcyclists from the other side of the world.

Please note: Bento boxes are hardly box lunches. In neat individual compartments is contained a large serving of the ubiquitous rice, cold pieces of cooked fish, omlette, tempura and varied vegetables and other nibbles which were frankly, unidentifiable, but delicious. The box itself is quite handsome and puts to shame the thin cardboard boxes and paper bags which we use to convey our victuals. Like the difference between eating and dining. Very civilized.

Refreshed and properly nourished, we found our motorcycles and headed for the open road and the ferry for Hokaido at O-Arai. This was our first opportunity to bring the bikes to speed on an open road. Our heavy bikes came into their own and the Honda 1300’s which Peter and I were riding became our new best friends. The bike feels planted, even in crosswinds. The seat can be adjusted to one of three levels which allow even men taller than 30” inseam to ride in comfort. The engine’s power curve is very smooth and the torque at lower revs could make one lazy on the hi-way and grateful in the twisties.

Next stop, O-Arai and the good ship Sunflower Furano.