24 March - 12 April 2000

Since last writing I have had four days off after working 12 days straight. This was a result of doing a shift swap with a girl that wanted a long weekend to go skiing. During those four days I managed to get caught up on most of my training homework.

More importantly I was able to get my bike assembled. All went well with the assembly until I tried to put the chain together. I think I told you I managed to break a chain tool when I was taking it apart to come over here. Well I managed to bend the new one that I had bought and brought with me. So I took about a 30-minute walk to a great bike shop that I have found near this e-mail site. There I had the shop owner get the pin out, which I had almost in, and install another one. My problem with chain tools seems to be that my hand strength has been affected by the psoriasis and I need to use some "cheater bars" to get enough leverage on the handles. This extra leverage should be alright but if the pins do not go in or out I end up screwing up the chain tools.

The weather did not cooperate during the 4 days I had off, in fact it was bitter cold and we had small snow flurries on two of the days. On the 28th I caught a local bus from Taira to Onahama, on the Pacific. There I went to the top of the Marine Tower, a 60 meter tower with observation deck, and had a look and took a couple of pictures. The day was very hazy and the mountains to the north and west were not visible but I had a good view of the near by coast and the town of Onahama. It is also part of Iwaki although it took about 30 minutes by public bus to reach. That is why Iwaki is so large in area.In 1966 they merged 14 towns and villages into one municipal body called Iwaki. Travel costs are quite high in Japan. It cost me 1,220 Yen round trip for maybe 40 Km plus another 320 Yen to go up into the Tower. I want to see some of Japan while I am here but just the cost of transport is going to cut into the budget sharply. Hopefully the bike will cut down on the cost of local transport costs but more distant places are very expensive to reach. There are no $69 Greyhound specials to be found.

This is Iwaki Marine Tower which stands on a small hill and provides a good view of the area. Misaki Park at the base of the Tower, it has picnic areas, athletic fields and outdoor bandstand. This is Misaki Beach looking north along the Pacific Coast

I finally got on the bike for my first ride in Japan on 4 April (a lucky thing because the 5th was a hard rain all day and on the 6th we had strong winds). It was only a 26 Km day but enough to make me a little sore. I started out by riding mostly along a riverbank (all the rivers and streams here have been channelized with roads on top of the levies) near my apartment. It flows from the mountains in the west to the east and generally marks the northern boundary for Taira. I left the river and tried riding a road into the mountains that my map indicated would dead end. I never reached an end because I had to walk about 200 meters of the uphill to the summit and did not want to start down the other side and then find that I would have to walk back up. I turned around and went back the way I had come and almost stopped and got off to walk the downhill also because it was so steep. I was hoping that there were roads or trails that continued along the river that did not appear on the map that I have. It is quit detailed at a scale of 50,000:1 but during my hikes I am finding a lot of such trails along the riverbanks that do not show up. I did not find anything along the river but what I did find was a bike width road alongside and under the Express Toll Road that runs North/South of Taira about 8 Km west of my apartment. I followed this to the south for a short distance and then took a new road over the crest of a hill, which dropped steeply into Uchiga; a town that is one train stop to the SW of Taira and also part of Iwaki. I then road a regular street through town that had a good marked shoulder, until I joined up with a second river that flows through Taira. This river is about 3 Km to the south of my apartment and flows parallel to the one that I had ridden to the west. They both flow east for about 4 Km where they join the Natsui, a third larger river that flows into the Pacific. Once I was in Taira I rode city streets, or sidewalks, to the bike shop where I inquired about registering my bike. I have read that this is necessary because the police stop cyclist to check for stolen bikes. When the shop owner could not find a serial number on my bike, and I told him it was "custom", he said not to worry about the registration. The police will know my bike and me within a month and it will not be any problem.

Speaking of stolen bikes. One of my roommates had his second bike stolen on the 10th. He has been here just over two months and has now lost two bikes plus some other small items like a hat etc. This is his fault! The first bike he had stolen was parked in front of our office/school for the day with no lock and it went missing. The second one also went missing when he parked in front of McDonald's, did not lock it, forgot that he had his bike and walked off to work. When he remembered that he had left it at McDonald's and went back it was gone. The amazing thing is that he found it again on the 12th. As he was walking to work he saw his bike lock laying on the sidewalk and his bike, or what he thinks is his bike, parked next to it (registration, serial numbers and all those details are not of much concern to him). This was in the same block as McDonald's; what we would consider to be a bike "joy ride" theft!

I was hoping that I would be able to get out again on the bike on the 10th and 11th but it was not to be. The weather was very threatening during the morning of the 10th. This was noted after getting a gentle massage from a 4.9 magnitude earthquake that was close enough to get me awake at 6:30. No damage done here or near the epicenter, which was some kilometers away, and 60 Km under the surface. The weather on the 11th got even worse. I was awake around 3:00 am with the wind shaking the apartment worse than the earthquake had. Then by 8:00, when I finally did get up, it was slashing hail against my bedroom window like shotgun blasts. It did clear up in the late afternoon but the wind stayed strong all day.

I managed to get a lot of financial stuff done on the 10th i.e. checking account reconciled, security deposit refund mailed in for deposit, pre-paid storage fees etc. Then on Tue the 11th I did homework and received an e-mail from the Iwaki International Association; a part of the city government that provides free volunteer Japanese teachers. They had finally found a teacher for me and I went to meet him. During the afternoon discussion we decided times and places for my lessons. He speaks no English and his past teaching of Japanese has been with English speakers that had a good command of the language and were working to improve. I will be his first attempt to teach someone with no Japanese language experience at all. We will see how it goes and I will update my efforts from time to time.