Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Adventures in the bike trade

Jon got a new job with a substantial pay raise, so he decided to buy a Nagasawa frame. Actually, last time I had been out there, Nagasawa-sensei said he had a frame kicking around that would fit Jon. He said he would finish it and sell it for 100,000. So, Jon, Maisei and I went out there to see if we could order the frame. Jon set up the appointment with Nagasawa-sensei, so I don't know what they talked about, but it confirmed my opinion that there's no point in just talking on the phone with him. When we got out to the shop, he took one look at the paper Jon had with him detailing the frame we had discussed and told us he had already sold it. It turned into an epic evening.

At first Nagasawa-sensei insisted that he would have to make an entirely new frame and that, in itself, was a bit more than Jon wanted to spend, and wasn't what we had talked about. Moreover, he was reluctant to let anyone else build up the bike, pointing out that since it would have his name on it, ultimately, he would be responsible. A brand new Nagasawa frame, after all, could only be build up with the best parts.

Jon tried to talk his way out of this, but since he wasn't exactly sure what he wanted, there was no way he could convince Nagasawa-sensei. I wasn't really willing to help him out here, because he really didn't know exactly what he wanted. At one point Nagasawa-sensei pointed out that since he was the bigger bike geek, the matter should be left in his hands. (The Japanese word he used was jitensha-baka, 自転車馬鹿, "bike fool.") I basically agreed with this sentiment and kept my mouth shut. Anyway, the Japanese was flying so fast, I couldn't follow everything.

So we were at an impasse. Nagasawa-sensei wasn't going to sell Jon a frame by itself, and Jon didn't want to pay the full price for a brand new bike, fully build up. Nagasawa-sensei spoke his mind, folded his arms over his chest and sat back looking at Jon, who shifted around uncomfortably. Eventually, Nagasawa-sensei suggested that we go down to the workshop.

In the lower shop, we just puttered around, looking at the machines, discussing frame building and looking at some of the projects on the go. Eventually, in this row of fames, I noticed some large unfinished frames wrapped in plastic. I asked Nagasawa-sensei about these and he pulled them down. The first had some rust, but the second was a clean, unfinished frame from the 80s in Jon's size. Nagasawa-sensei said he'd finish the frame and build up the bike for 160,000 and I told Jon he wasn't going to get a much better deal than that.

We spent about fifteen minutes discussing the paint job and then went back up to the main office, so they could discuss the components. Again, the fact that Jon didn't know exactly what he wanted complicated the entire process.

Eventually, Nagasawa-sensei's daughter came out and she and Maisei and I talked while the the other two hashed out the details of the bike. At one point I asked her when our last train was and she told us that we had missed it over an hour ago, but that she would drive us back to town. Maisei and I were a bit taken aback.

After they finished discussing the bike, Nagasawa-sensei broke out the Nihonshu and passed out drinks while he told us his story. It was now past 1:00 am and the Japanese was too involved for me to really follow.

At one point Jon asked Nagasawa-sensei if he ever drank in the shop and he said he only drank after the work was over, but when we finally said good by, around 1:45, he said he was going back to work and headed back to the lower workshop.

I got home around 2:30.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Onsen in the mountains

Over the weekend, some friends and I went to an onsen way out in the mountains surrounding Kobe. This was my first time at an onsen, and since they're such a big deal in Japan, I thought there was going to be more to it, but it's basically just gender-divided hot tubbing.

We went to a hotel that had two different bathing rooms, one on the ground floor and one on the ninth floor. They issued us bathing clothes that kind of looked like something a samurai might wear but which I'm sure were actually much simpler and cruder than anything a samurai would ever be caught dead in. Once we changed into these clothes, we spent the rest of the time in this get up, shuffling around the hotel in slippers. (My slippers kept flying off my feet, occasionally hitting other pedestrians shuffling by, proving once again that everything in Japan takes some getting used to.)

We would spend a few hours in the baths and then recuperate with some food or sleep and then back to the baths. It seemed a bit indulgent to me, but this was actually the plan.

The bathing rooms are divided by gender. The baths themselves are in a sort of inner sanctuary, made holy by the gradual removal of shoes and clothes. The foyer of the baths is a no-shoes zone, the dressing room for the baths a no-slipper zone. Here, we undressed and put our samurai clothes into wooden lockers. The bathing room was a no-towel zone, except for a tiny washcloth that everyone carried (actually, lots of the older guys kept their the washcloth on their head when the were in the bath). First we sat down at washing stalls that looked kind of like dressing tables for a theater, except you sit on a low wooden stool and wash yourself, and instead of make-up and hair spray they are supplied with soap and shampoo. (The brand of the soap was called "horse oil," 馬油. I'm not sure exactly how it's pronounced or if it comes off as wrong in Japanese as it does in English.) The rule is you have to wash yourself completely before getting in the bath. There were six different baths in the men's section. There were various temperatures, mineral contents, bubbles, and so forth. Two of them were outside, and since it was snowing, this was somehow the most exciting area. We just sat around in the baths for hours, wandering from one to another.

The baths were open from 5:00 in the morning until 2:00 at night. Since we all had to work on Monday morning, it was decided that we would wake up early and hit the baths for an hour from 5:00 to 6:00 and then head back to Osaka. This seemed crazy to me, but it apparently made perfect sense to everyone else.

Randomly, this is the tile work at the Tsurumiryokuchi Station (鶴見緑地駅) on the subway's Nagahorietsurumiryoku Line (長堀江鶴見緑地線), the only line in the city whose name I still consistently forget.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Car Trouble

Last night I had my first real accident in Japan. I was riding with Eph, who just moved here from Vancouver, and I got broadsided by a car. Luckily, we were both going fairly slow, so although the car didn't make the slightest effort to avoid me, there was no real harm done. I was knocked head over heels but amazingly there was no damage to my bike at all and my legs were only slightly banged up. (Strangely, my bike was more damaged in two previous collisions with other bikes than last night.)

I got knocked down in the middle on the intersection, so the first thing I did was get back on the bike and ride to the sidewalk. The driver just took off and while I was trying to shake it off a lady came up and started asking me, in thick Kansai-ben, if I was OK. I told her that I thought I might be and then she told us that if something happened, we should call the police. She was mostly talking to Eph, because he looks like he could be Japanese, and because I was a bit to shaken to pay much attention. At one point, she was telling him that we should tell the police the car's licence number and that it was 55768, or 55678, or maybe 55687.

After I got my breath back, we went to a nearby shop and had my rear wheel trued while I waited for the adrenaline to subside so I could determine if there was any long term damage to my legs. The stinging was pretty intense but I decided my legs were actually fine and to try to ride it off.

We ended up riding for about two hours, out east near Kyobashi (京橋) and around Osaka Castle. Here's a cute little Christmas love hotel that we saw along the way. In Japan, every night can be like Christmas, as long as you have someone to spend an hour or two with.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pruning Trees

A lot of the construction workers here have wild outfits, but I haven' t really gotten up the nerve to just go right up and take pictures, because, like anywhere, they're tough dudes who look like they don't give much of a shit. But you have to hand it to them. Osaka wasn't built in a day.

The two guys in these photos are wearing fairly characteristic ninja shoes with a split between the big toe and the others. Some of the guys wear really wide pirate looking pants that tuck into these shoes, but I haven't been able to get a good photo yet.

Monday, February 11, 2008


That red demonic looking thing reaching up into the sky is actually the Ferris Wheel (kanran-sha, 観覧車) on top of HEP5, seen behind one of the many entrances to the Hankyu Railway station. Ferris Wheels are somehow a typical feature of the skyline in many entertainment districts in Japan. This one is visible from almost anywhere in Umeda.

The sign is quite boring. It reads Hankyu (阪急), the name of the railway, Umeda Eki (梅田駅), the station name, San Ban-gai (三番街) and Juu-nana Ban-gai (17番街), that is number 3 and number 17 shopping mall. These bangai go up as far as number 32, spreading out in a mysterious labyrinthine structure around the station. They belong to the rail company and are a vital part of the company's overall business strategy. They must have been numbered chronologically, in typical Japanese fashion, because there seems to be no connection between their numbers and their physical distribution. Indeed, it seems likely that some of them were torn down and replaced with others at the next chronological number. I'm sure I haven't seen close to 32 of then but I have been in the 32nd bangai.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Snow

Somehow, this weekend we got our first snowfall of the year. It came down for hours yesterday, but today the sun came back out and melted it all off. Now it's sunny and warm again.