Whoops, the adventure feeling is completely gone today. If I had to use one word to describe today it would be MEH.
I'm in Nara-ken now. Nara prefecture looks almost exactly like Kanagawa. Today's road was extremely flat with only one slightly hilly section. I cycled 80 kilometers today, but because I started early I was already at my destination at 14:30. Not a lot of cycling and not a lot of hills meant that I still had a lot of energy left. Unfortunately for me the area I arrived at was pretty much like Atsugi: just a typical Japanese city with nothing special anywhere in sight. The weather got cloudy too so I was very much bored and not feeling the adventure at all. Right now I'm at the youth hostel, which turned out to be a typical Japanese house next to a railway line. Every 10 minutes a train goes past and the sound of a bell disturbs the neighborhood. I'll be glad to skip this area and get to Kyoto. This is just too normal.
After being in Japan for a while now, I've observed that there are not many outdoor places that are very accommodating to people. For example, today I walked along a road at the riverside, but the entire side of the road was blocked off with barriers making it impossible to get close to the river. There is no possible place to just sit down and relax! Even if you improvise it's still impossible. If there were no barriers, or if the space between road and riverbed was only 10-20cm's wider, then it would be possible, but no. In the entire country of Japan there will be no such thing. There will be no loitering around at random areas. Japanese people go from home to work and back again, and if they want to loiter around they will go to a dedicated loitering place and spend their time in a concrete park instead, even if they have to go 5 kilometers out of their way to find one. This just plain sucks. In Holland, no matter where you are, there will be benches or grassy areas to sit on. I used to forgive Japan for not having these kind of places because Japan is overcrowded and Japan has no space, but that's simply not true. It has plenty of space to put a couple of benches alongside some roads, it's just simply not the 'Japanese way' to do that. It's for the same reason that there are no trash cans in this entire country: you dump your trash at your building's garbage collection place, or at a convenience store along the way. If neither is possible, Japanese people will carry their trash with them for the whole day. Unless they dump it at the riverside, which is why so many of Japan's natural scenes are spoiled by huge amounts of garbage. You suck, Japan.
I very much dislike these points about Japan. Japan is great if you can accept the Japanese lifestyle and don't try to change it. Things are the way they are, and you'd better accept them, or else you'll only get annoyed. If you can accept them, or if you are never confronted with the bad parts, then Japan is a great country. In every other case I can imagine that people won't like it very much. It reminds me of Apple: there's only one way to do things and it's convenient maybe 90% of the time. The other 10% you're screwed and you wish you were somewhere else. But, like Apple, sometimes there is just not a good enough alternative.
I like Japan because people don't bother me. Every0ne minds their own business and leaves you alone. I like Japan (well, the Tokyo area) because of the convenience. There's train stations everywhere, convenience stores, beautiful sights, anything within 1-2 hours travel. I like Tokyo because it's so huge and there's always something new to discover, and I never have to worry about getting lost because there will always be a train station nearby. I like Yokohama because it's beautiful and peaceful and just gives me a good feeling to walk around in. I like Atsugi because it's both near the countryside and near the big cities, and the area around it is great for cycling and exploring.
Lately I'm not looking forward any more to meeting new people on this trip. Especially the Japanese people's reaction is always the same. First I tell them that I'm from Holland and I work in Japan, then they ask me what's Holland and do they speak English there. Then I laugh and tell them that they speak Dutch, which is a little bit like German. Then they ask about my job and my trip and why my Japanese is so good. After that they run out of things to say and end the conversation with "Ganbatte kudasai": well, do your best. The most interesting conversations I've had on this trip have been with foreigners who have been in similar situations as me, living in Japan for a while and then having to decide whether to stay here forever or go home. I was hoping to meet more of those people at youth hostels, but today there's only one old Japanese guy from Yokohama and he's not very talkative. I have more interesting conversations online than in real life..
Tomorrow I'll reach Kyoto. If I start cycling early I'll have two and a half days there, and I should be out of there just before the golden week madness begins. I'll probably get my bicycle's gears fixed when I get there, although they've been remarkably fine recently. I really wonder if they can be any better than this, because even when I first bought the bicycle the gears were a bit wonky. I've finally gotten used to their current state, so I wonder if fixing them will make things better or worse. Oh well. Kyoto, here I come.