Aomori – Hirosaki
I’d riled up a nest of ants during the darkness of night, whilst slyly parking my tent in the grounds of the Aomori Prefecture Sports Park. Passing unnoticed through the compound’s gates, I’d found solace behind a small congregation of bushes in a blind spot from passing vehicles. Here I would play the part of trespasser, albeit an out of sight and out of mind trespasser – one of the best in the trade. And by dawn, even the ants had settled down and forgiven me, as before the sun had barely even considered flexing its semi-cancerous rays, I was on the road to Hirosaki. My only evidence to ever having spent the night coming from this very confession, for I am the ever guilty trespasser.
In a few short and stress-free hours I found myself to the south of the Tsugaru Plain in the castle town of Hirosaki. The town’s emblem is the swastika, but it doesn’t take long to realise that Nazi Germany had played no part in the formation of this appealing city. The city has oodles of charm with a series of compact and tranquil alleyways lined with a montage of traditional Japanese homes and immaculately maintained gardens.
Sitting amongst the spacious Hirosaki Castle Park, lies the city’s showpiece: the 17th Century Hirosaki Castle. Yes, it’s been nobbled once or twice, but today it stands very prominent atop a fortress of boulders, some 3-storeys high; its fair white walls and dark green bamboo roof tiles arching out above the lily-covered waters of the moat, 20 feet below. In its presence one can’t help but cast one’s imagination back to feudal Japan with its spurting blood and roly-poly heads, as seen in the likes of classics such as Shogun Assassin, and the Lone Wolf and Cub series. And without any evidence to back up my claim I convinced myself that I would have been an excellent samurai… most probably.
I cycled further into the Park, stumbling oddly across a very un-Edo running track, the re-imaginings of violent samurai movies suddenly ceasing. It was then that a shirtless white-man foreigner came running towards me.
‘Hey!’ he called out.
I looked over my shoulder to see if he wasn’t perhaps waving at a better person than myself, I saw no one. I looked back at the semi-nude foreigner who was now pointing at me directly. I raised my hand coyly to reciprocate some form of response, my stranger-danger perceptiveness kicking in slightly.
‘Hey man, what’s the deal?’ said the stranger in an American accent, his nipples in turn also pointing at me.
‘Oh, I’m just cycling around Japan,’ I replied rather modestly, trying my best to look around the nipples but not directly at the nipples.
‘Cool, cool, you fixed for a place to stay here in Hirosaki?’
‘Err… no, but this town seems nice enough though. I’m pretty sure I’ll find a decent gutter or park bench to nuzzle up to.’
‘Nah man, won’t allow it. Me and the wife have gotta little place just east of here, we’d love to have you over to tell us some stories.’
And like the drop of a hat, his American man-nipples no longer offended me. I wondered about taking off my shirt also, to reveal my English man-nipples, but quickly came to my senses realising that the algorithms wouldn’t have quite computed and would’ve customarily have been deemed as just plain weird. So… I kept my nipples under wraps.
The American’s name was Ken, and he and his wife, Eliza, were from Nashville, Tennessee. Ken informed me that they were both English teachers and that he still had a class to teach before winding down for the day, but could meet up with me after work at the train station, after which he would show me the east side.
I had again fluked myself into the home of fellow humans, the kind charity of strangers again gifting me a roof over my head for the night; an overwhelming treat every time.
Not being due to meet up with Ken for another couple of hours, I decided to seek out a camera shop. My saviour would come in the form of BIC camera, where I explained, in Japanese, to the sales assistant that I had a mucky lens – suffice it to say this was a trifle tricky. But, when he began to quickly dismantle my camera in front of me, it appeared that I’d somehow managed to get the message across. He polished and blew with the tentative care one would show a prized possession, meticulously piecing it back together, testing it, pulling it apart again, before repeating the process of cleaning the camera’s interior until duly content. All the time I worried about how much it was going to set me back financially, but being a needs-must scenario, I had little choice in the matter.
‘Hai, dozo,’ said the satisfied sales assistant handing me back my camera, a slight glimmer of sweat bullying his brow.
Testing the camera, revealed that the lens was now spotless; like new. I was jubilant with the service offered and began to rummage through my wallet in order to pay. At which point the sales assistant began to blush and look deeply embarrassed, his eyes darting from side to side in the hope that his colleagues weren’t watching.
‘Ikura desu ka?’ How much? I asked.
‘Nai, nai, nai, daijoubu desu, daijoubu,’ No, no, no, it’s ok, it’s ok, shaking his hands disinterestedly at my wallet.
‘Hontou ni?’ Really?
‘Hai, daijoubu desu, arigatou gozaimasu,’ Yes, its fine, thank you very much.
I was a little taken aback, he’d spent a good deal of time pissing about with my camera and had saved me a great deal of grief, all for the remarkable price of absolutely nothing. I feel that I’d struggle to find this sort of bargain anywhere else in the world. I thanked him and put my wallet away, the tears in his eyes beginning to retreat as he gave another quick glance around to make sure none of his colleagues were watching his shame. He bowed with honour, I bowed back with sincere gratitude, he bowed even lower, I dared not bow again.
Outside Hirosaki train station I met up with my new Tennessean friends. Ken as good looking as he was, was no match for his amazingly beautiful wife, Eliza, I didn’t tell them that though because I didn’t want a punch in the head. After being whisked back to their apartment on the east side of town, I enjoyed a relaxed evening amongst new friends. Realising that I hadn’t really conversed with anyone for the best part of a week, it was nice to just have a general chinwag and talk of common interests in life: TV shows, music, sports etc. We also did all the things good friends would do like going out for burgers and heading to the cinema to watch a mediocre X-Men flick. It was a warm and homely environment to be a part of and I felt more than welcomed into the happy couple’s Hirosaki lives. It was abundantly clear that Ken and Eliza loved life and they loved each other equally as much, and that in itself was a wonderful aura to be around. It was a peaceful interval, before I clashed head on with the full brunt of ‘tsuyu,’ a.k.a. rainy season.
Dates: 25/06/2014 – 27/06/2014
Total miles traversed: 2,551 miles
Total time in the saddle: 259 hours and 59 minutes
And now, it gives me great pleasure to announce the release of my book ‘Tokyo to Tokyo – A Cycling Adventure around Japan.’
Enjoy the ride.