Japan Journal 01

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Day ten, we’ve luxuriated in the onsen with late morning baths back and forth between the hot pools and the bright cold, looking out of the windows at rain sheets lamenting through green. By noon we pedal, now it’s a perpendicular mist, the world rotated gravity axis all of our perceptions singing askew. Upward, straining into the cadence, leaning close to the bars at the pitches so water fountains off the front of the short peaks under our helmets that mostly until today have shielded against sun.

Emerald wind trembling, small rock slides that might give a driver pause were there any cars but there aren’t, wind through them, now there is enough grey between us that I don’t know where the boys are. We won’t see more than five people today, climb seven thousand feet in thirty six miles, we’ll kick and cascade over golf ball rocks on a gravel road that has improbable incongruent guard rails to break the spell of neglectful remoteness.

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Everywhere is in our imagination before we go and even after, but Japan unusually so. Landscapes outside of temporal location, in the city it’s dense quiet incandescent tidy shoulder to shoulder bullet train shoe fall spider web of communication lines vending machines shrines at the foot of glass sheen. We’ll try incompetent noodle slurps, we’ll drink beer with men with loosened collars and identical sloppy knot black ties, we’ll stand quizzically in front of blinking lights for some sort of tawdry robot show, look in on pachinko, we’ll sit by the river in Kyoto drinking Asahi tall cans from one of those vending machines.

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These are all after or future images right now as against the leaves and wet, I wrestle for the cities not to be the only retinal projection. Easiest gear, tack up the steep, if Chris was thirty meters ahead I wouldn’t know, this place doesn’t want me to know and is providing an antidote to its memory of crowds.

The descent isn’t respite, but different—an exchange of sweat and breathless chest heave for shiver and vigilance against slick hairpins. Near a crossroad we pass chickens on the road, rusting corrugated sheds covering industrial equipment from forty years ago so still in principle contemporary. I hope that I won’t start wanting the climb again only to want a down, the seesaw itself is imprisonment and it would be foolishness to only visit prisons on Shikoku.

The one lane of tarmac is obsidian clean—infrastructure from the 90’s or the turn of the century as Japan tried to resist deflation by generating public works employment. No one drives these roads it seems, they’re bike paths out of fantasy. If the population was distributed evenly across these islands, it might be a middlin’ dense nation, but that’s not how history, geography, the connections of family or work or inertia work. Fractal flowers bloom within the urban blooms, the cities the nearby development impossibly crowded, but then here there’s empty space, just the force of gravity between across the concretion.

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The day will end soon. At the top there is a roadhouse that we didn’t know about where we each eat two dinners and take turns standing next to a propane heater. Shoulder our bikes up 90 stairs to a shrine, Parker asks the caretaker if we might sleep indoors in the meditation area, he considers and hesitates then relents, I don’t bother to inflate my sleeping mat and lay straight on the tatami. The steel bottle of 7-11 whisky we pass around, I look up at the kanji on the ceiling between the bulbs, I awake dream meaning. I dream awake the tapping wind outside, I awake dream the sound of lightning, I’m awake a final expansion of space just a few cubic meters, I’m dreaming on this mountain.

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