22 April 2010

Hiei Hill

On my first ever visit to Japan in 1985 I spend some days in a small village called Sakamoto at the shores of lake Biwa just outside of Kyoto. For a long time I have been fantasizing about about riding my bike from Kyoto to Sakamoto and with time running out quickly I graped the chance to do so on Tuesday.The weather looked real miserable when I left the house at 5.30 hr in order to catch the first Shinkansen of the day from Shin-Yokohama to Kyoto station. Riding in the train and looking out of the window the weather situation seemed to deteriorate even more while going West. This was going to be a miserable day, without doubt. So it was no surprise, when it drizzled already when I finished to assemble my bike and started to ride out Kyoto station on the beloved Avanti/Fismy side. How many times have I been there to buy some junk, not appropriate for my age group regardless of which age I entered?

I was so eager to ride out of town, that I rode much to far to the North. When I changed into rain gear and checked the maps at a 7-Eleven, I found out that I hat to ride back quite a distance and make a turn to ride on Ken-30 in direction Hie-San. This is a magical mountain with some remarkable temples on the top, most notably Enryakuji. It is where the warrior monks (Yamabushi, but no Yamabushi Toge in sight) used to live and descend to Kyoto to terrorize the local population. I have ridden up by car a few times long ago and I expected an awful long and steep climb, but it wasn't that bad. Mount Hie is actually more a hill in the scale of Otarumi or Yamabushi Toge (Chichibu, that one).Nevertheless with a lot of luggage on the back it took me quite a while to reach the top. There was an entrance to a toll road (Hie Driveway) which was closed for bicycles. These war-mongering monks still find ways to extract money from innocent travellers, now by levering tolls on highways. So I rode down the other side towards lake Biwa and the town of Otsu.

I had no particular goal to reach, no route planned and no minimum distance or elevation to be covered. So I just rode along in the rain, looking for things of interest on the left and on the right. A very much enjoyable type of rising like I used to do many years ago when I started to explore Tokyo by bicycle. Very non-competitive. Lake Biwa with it's long history is also a very fertile ground for this kind of riding and before long I found the entrance to a bigger shrine (Omi Jinja) where I thought I could buy some Ema for my collection.
When I approached the main hall, I heard some typical Shinto music and I saw a larger congregation of rather old people gathering under the roof. Curiously I climbed up the stairs and just in front of me a ritual take place where three fully dressed Shinto priests dissected some fresh fish with a huge knife and extraordinary long chopsticks. The scene was almost surreal: here I came through the rain on my 21st century (not carbon!) bike dressed in high performance rain gear and suddenly I was in a location and watching a ritual that could have been conducted in the same manner at least 100 years ago.I reminded me very much of a scene from the movie Lost in Translation, where the female lead finds by chance a temple in the middle of Tokyo when lost in the city and marvels about the strange things experienced.

This is not one of my favourite movies. Actually there is only one movie I really, really like and I have seen a hundred times or more: "L'homme qui aimait les femmes" by Francois Truffaut (1977) and this one has nothing to do with cycling. Are there any scenes of cycling in Truffaut's movies? Perhaps in Jules et Jim, but I am not completely sure. Anyway, despite the title and the fact that the movie is starring Brigitte Fossey, in 1977 the most beautiful woman on planet Earth (my generation knows her mainly from La Boum) I do not like the movie so much because it is about love. No, it is a movie about writing and this is what I do when I don't cycle (or have to earn a living or keep my family happy).I deviated. Slightly. So coming back to "Lost in Translation", I nevertheless like this movie not because of the movie itself but because what happened when I went watching it with my wife. Much of the movie is located in the PARK HYATT HOTEL in Shinjuku, a very expensive but nevertheless stylish place where I choose to stay in 1998 for one night out of a sudden and foolish impulse. The next morning I felt terrible for spending uselessly so much money so I tried to compensate myself for this by stealing the hotel's Yukata from my room. Hey, for 50.000 Yen one can expect that piece to be included, can one? Of course I never told that my wife as she hates when I steal things from time to time out of bad habit. I have a nice collection of good looking ashtrays from hotels around the world and a massive amounts of coat hangers from the Excelsior Hotel in Hong Kong where I was forced to stay many times to attend many boring meetings at Schindler's Asian headquarters.

Now, when my wife and me watched the movie, suddenly the main character, Bill Murray, appears on the screen wearing the very same hotel Yukata (at app. 1:46 min in the trailer). Of course my wife noticed this immediately and gave me a hard time to explain why I had precisely the same type. So eventually all bad habits get punished, some earlier, some later. Or like we say in German: "Kleine Suenden bestraft der liebe Gott sofort, grosse dauern etwas laenger."

All of this went through my head as I was standing there watching fish get chopped, sliced and diced in old fashioned form just in front of me. Discretely as I came, I went, trying not to disturb too much the tranquility and peace of the place and the people attending.

Back on the shore road to lake Biwa I found myself sandwiched between speeding trucks on one side and the barracks of a Japanese Self Defense Force Base on the other. A group of soldiers in full gear tried to cross the street led by a guy with the famous Japanese red light swords, commonly used at public road work sites. Funny.
By now I have grown accustomed to the rain and I was pretty wet. My shoes had reached the point of no return as well. Do you know this sensation when riding through the rain? The feet are getting more and more wet and then suddenly they are soaked with water and becoming cold. Do you know this feeling of helplessness that nothing can prevent this from happening? That you will ride the rest of the day, even if the sky turns blue and the temperature rises to 50 degrees in the shade, with wet socks in wet shoes? This must be destiny.

I then entered the village of Sakamoto which is really beautiful with a lot of old buildings and temples and continued on Ken-47 towards the North. The area is beautiful, still some Shidare-Sakura in full bloom and history lurks out behind every gate and wall. So I continued to the town of Ogoto and and tried another road up to Enryakuji, the Oku Hie Driveway. But also this one was closed to bikes - there is no way to ride up to the temple by bike (and to spend money).
So I decided to do the most sensible thing and look for a nice Onsen on the coast and relax after this long, hard ride of 70 (!) km. I found one modern Onsen but it was OK as they had all kind of stuff which one needs to stay there. Even towels, razors and tooth brushes. First I was a little bit irritated that there was no tooth paste, but when I cleaned my teeth with it nevertheless, I noticed that the tooth paste is already integrated in the brush. Clever idea. Or perhaps it was the residuals of the guy who used it before me, again not 100% sure.

And this Onsen also hat three tatamis on a podium in the middle of the bathing area where one could lay down, completely naked and sleep. A most splendid idea.

After having a nice nap, I mounted my bike again and rode to Sakamoto where I met a friend from my first visit in 1985 and we had an excellent time together. The last Shinkansen at 9 PM brought me back to Tokyo later. Not such a cycling focused day but more than one can reasonably expect from a rainy day in Japan

1 comment:

mob said...

I forgot to mention that all combinis in the area are required to do a more "shibui" version of there signage. It was a very strange feeling when arriving at a 7-Eleven in Sakamoto and obviously having lost the ability to see colors. The normally red-white-green signboard was now dark brown - white - dark brown.

The same was true for a Circle K on top of mount Hie which was all brown again instead of the orange / lilac standard combination.

The effect was emphazised by the rainy, grey weather.