No pain no gain
Yesterday I was being very kindly hosted by a friend who worked with me at Asahi Kasei for a year. He and his girlfriend offered me a place to stay for the night in Sasayama, and they immediately made me feel at home. So much at home in fact, that while I was relaxing and playing games with Mathieu I almost forgot about my trip o_0. It was great to have a content-filled conversation in English for a change, and Mathieu's lifestyle showed a little preview of what could happen if I choose to stay in Japan. Despite, or perhaps because of the homely situation, I chose to cycle on to Himeji today. It's as if I've suddenly been reminded of why I'm doing this trip, and I don't want to lose my momentum.
Leaving Sasayama I continued to follow route 372 and was not disappointed. The beautiful landscape continued on and on for another 20-30 kilometers. The weather was great, the uphills tough, and the downhills rewarding. I put on my favorite music, struggled hard on every uphill and then found what I was looking for on the following downhill. On each uphill pass the scenery changes and the roadsides change to mountain rock or dense forest. The temperature cools down in the small passes, which is great because I'm sweating a lot on the uphills, which were a lot tougher today than yesterday. After completing the uphill there's sometimes a tunnel on top, which is freezing cold to cycle through. Then the mountain road starts to go down rapidly, and the mountain walls disappear, the road becomes wider, and suddenly I'm cycling down a hill with 40kph and the scenery opens up and reveals some rice fields hidden between the mountains, and a small village. There's no traffic, almost no people, the road decline is perfect so I can maintain 30-40 kph all the way through the valley, the perfect speed to enjoy the scenery. And then I reach the end of the valley and the next uphill begins.
That's what I found. The joy of cycling downhill on a wide open road at a nice speed with a beautiful scenery. That's what I was looking for when I started this trip, and that's what I remember from previous trips. It's not just the beautiful scenery, the uphill suffering is as much part of this experience as the downhill thrill. You can't have one without the other, or else it just wouldn't be the same. It's the ultimate reward for a tough physical challenge. On my first cycling trip to Kyushu I experienced this feeling while cycling along the coast of Shimashima island and Nagashima island. On the second trip I found this on route 26 and route 147 on the east coast of Shikoku. Now I can add route 372 wast of Kyoto to that list. It's been a long time since I felt this happy.
After crossing a bunch of hills the road turned towards the south, and as I got closer to Himeji the road changed into a countryside road similar to the ones in Kanagawa, sometimes passing through towns, sometimes cycling between ricefields, but the feeling of being surrounded by mountains was gone. The wind had picked up too and I was having a medium-hard time trying to keep my speed up. This turned out to be no problem, as I overestimated the distance to Himeji, and I arrived at Himeji with plenty of time to find a hotel and to take some photos of the castle before sunset.
Actually, finding a hotel took me quite long. I found a very cheap hostel (2100 yen for one night) on Google, and had to jump through some strange hoops to find the address. I took a photo of the google map on my compact camera and went off trying to find it, ending up in a residential area that was impossible to navigate. I had to ask directions three times and got sent to three different directions. I finally found the place by myself, but no hotel in sight. Considering how difficult it was to find online I guess it either no longer exists or never existed.
I decided to cycle to the station instead and find a business hotel. Big problem: it's golden week right now and a lot of hotels were either fully booked or they decided to kindly raise the price. One crappy (shitty, actually) hotel told me a one-night stay was 7500 yen. When I asked why it was so expensive they just told me "it's golden week". Running out of options, I got lazy and walked into a YMCA building that happened to show up in front of me, and I asked if they knew any cheap place to stay. Yeah, maybe a weird thing to do, but it paid off :D the YMCA guy showed me the way to a capsule hotel, something typically Japanese that I never had a chance to try. Until now.
Capsule hotels are weird. Weird beyond just the idea of sleeping in a tiny cabin and paying money for it. It's a very manly world here in the capsule hotel. I'm on the fifth floor in the common area right now, and on the fourth floor is a public bath. The common area has one huge TV showing manly things like baseball, or you can pay more if you want to see a soft-porn movie. Note that this is the common room and all the guests of the hotel can freely sit here. There is no non-smoking section, so I have to tolerate an annoying smoking guy who is sitting behind me. He can look at my screen, I wonder if he can read English.
The sauna/public bath thingie is even weirder. I thought I understood Japanese bathing etiquette pretty well after going to onsen for four years, but this is slightly different. First, you get a locker to put your stuff in, but the locker area is right next to the entrance. If I took off all my clothes there I would have to walk to the bath area naked and anyone entering the sauna could see me. There were no Japanese people around to mimic, so I had to figure out what to do. I first took a look at the bath area while clothes, and saw more naked Japanese people, and a bunch of people in the sauna all wearing the same underwear. Another weird point, because usually the sauna is shared with the public bath, and everyone's usually naked. I went back to the locker area and found a stack of underwear ready to use for anyone. That idea didn't appeal to me, so I kept my own. I was about to undress and walk to the bath area when a young lady worker suddenly walked by. I've been to many onsens in four years of Japan but I've never seen a young lady in the male bath area (although there were sometimes old ladies doing the cleaning). This confused me even more. Finally a Japanese guy came in and I followed him in, finally able to take a bath. This place is very weird to me, and has a different etiquette from Japanese onsen baths.
Going back to the topic of cycling, tomorrow I'm going to head towards Okayama, the next big city on the way to Hiroshima. I'm planning to take a ziggy zaggy route that will hopefully be more fun to take than the big roads. Unfortunately Okayama is about 120km's from here, and while I could do that in a day, I'd be very tired and stressed out to make it in time. I've been looking for hotels or hostels about 80-90 km's from here but couldn't find anything cheap. The good thing is: the weather's been getting better recently! No rain, temperatures rising. I think I can camp tomorrow and the day after tomorrow without any trouble.