Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Minoyama Sunset

It was a gorgeous warm spring day today. I was able to open all the windows in the van and enjoy the warmth. Bummer about having to work though. About 5pm it just got too much. I had to get out and enjoy it just a bit. So, I got on the scoot and headed out of town in the direction of Minoyama, one of the mountains that surrounds the Chichibu basin. Its the purple camera symbol in the top right of the map below.

View Larger Map

From up there, you can really see how Chichibu really is a basin, ringed by quite high mountains. There are some smaller 'ranges' inside the basin that separate the Arakawa river valley (in which Chichibu-city is) and Ogano to the west. From down in chichibu, you dont really get an idea of the overall geography.

But from the top of Minoyama, its wonderfully clear...

And the Big Love Bike is living up to its name and showing me the love!

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I decided to have a look at the brakes myself, so i took the caliper off. The brake pads are almost new, but whoever changed them botched it. one of the two metal clips that help hold the pads in place hadnt been put in properly, and was being wedged against the disc, causing the nasty scraping noise and further damaging things.

you can see on the photos where the clip has been worn away. I filed off the sharp edges, and put the clips and the pads back in properly, and Voila! no horrible scraping noise! I just need to bleed the brakes now (the clip must have somehow been wedging the pad in more) and all will be well! :)

In answer to Kirsty's comment, the Garmin-compatible english language map of japan comes from a place called UpUpDown. Its not bad - has two mapsets, road/nav, and topo. on my particular gps, the topo can be overlaid over the roadmaps, providing a nice combo. The only thing that is a bummer is that it doesnt have street names.

One of my missions tomorrow is to get a better helmet. the one that came with the bike would be fine, except that its missing the visor. its also very secondhand looking. never a good thing in a helmet...

I'll leave you with my favourite page from the Saitama Prefectural Police Traffic Safety Textbook...

"You must not reel along drunkenly on the road, rush out in front of cars or interrupt other pedestrians"

Friday, April 11, 2008

Chichibu City 680

a.k.a. The Big Love Bike. Complete with hello-kitty pink numberplate.

Its a Yamaha Grand Axis 100. 0.1 litres of 2-stroke freedom. Its got just over 6000km on the clock, and was purchased for the princely sum of 90,000 yen - just over $900 Australian. Sure, it has some issues that need sorting. its missing a pair of side panels that fit under the footbed on either side, and it needs the front brakes looked at - bled, and maybe the pads replaced. But Kakizakai has already located the panels secondhand on yahoo auctions, for about $20 for the pair off a wrecked bike, and the mechanic is going to look at the brakes tomorrow for me.

Of course, after picking it up yesterday, it immediately rained all day. So this morning was its first proper outing. Up to the Myuzu-Park lookout and back. Which also gave me a chance to test out the Garmin 60CSx mapping GPS unit and the Japan map pack... :D

Monday, April 07, 2008


Last Friday saw me head into Tokyo to see the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) - which was reported to be in full swing.

I'd heard that there was a large park in Shinjuku - Shinjuku Gyoen - which was pretty reknowned for its sakura. There were a few other possible places I could have gone, but I was also planning on walking from Shinjuku down through Harajuku to Shibuya, so this one seemed pretty good.

I had stopped off and bought the makings of a picnic at the huge Seibu department store in Ikebukuro (where the train from Chichibu terminates in Tokyo) and was pretty hungry by the time I got to the park. The photo above is the grove where I had my lunch. The trees here were very old and very large, and every time a gust of wind blew, it would snow flower petals. Really quite otherworldly...

Of course, I wasn't the only person who had the brilliant idea of heading to the park for a spot of hanami on a gorgeous spring day. Luckily though I'd come in one of the less prominent entrances to the park, so that grove was much quieter than the insanity going on over the other side of the park - but I'll save that for tomorrow's blog entry. Lots of kids gathering bags of petals, and just being kids.

Though of course, there will always be some that are totally focussed on their own worlds...

Rubik's Cube was completely uninterested in the spectacle. His father was desperate to get a photo of himself amidst the blossom, and at one point after failing to his attention, dad came up and hung his expensive digital SLR around the boys neck and went over to where he wanted to be photographed. The kid didnt flinch - just kept on going with the cube...

The petals on the ground were amazing - gusts of wind would blow them like snow, into drifts and piles against tree roots, picnickers, or any other stationary thing. you could literally see the gusts of wind ripple across the ground, stirring up the fallen blossom.

And being spring, of course the other trees weren't just sitting still. The momiji (japanese maple) that are my favourite, and which I have seen go through the fabulous colour changes of autumn before losing their leaves, have sprouted vibrant new growth too.

There were other unusual flowers hiding amongst the trees too...

I'll continue the story tomorrow, in which I discover that the other half of the park is somewhat more populous, and continue on my way down to Shibuya.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


A fraction short of 160 MEGA bits per second! that was while downloading a windows update from microsoft. fastest ive seen my connection run yet. I wonder what it is actually capable of?

The biggest problem is that the rest of the world cant keep up...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

First week

Wow. I've been here a week already! Despite no lessons for the last few days (Kakizakai went on holidays to Taiwan for a few days) I've settled into practice well. I'm enjoying the piece I'm working on (Hifumi Hachigaeshi) and its coming along nicely. Not far off memorising it.

I managed to get out on the bike a bit on the weekend. Did a 30km round trip west down the valley to the white bridge and then back on the other side of the river. I stopped at a temple called Seiun-ji, which is apparently famous for its weeping cherry trees - but not quite in blossom yet though. next weekend maybe.

Lots of (what I think are) magnolias out at the moment though - very pretty. Can anyone confirm this from the photo? (click on it to see a large version)

Kakizakai says the sakura is big in Tokyo at the moment. Hopefully it lasts until the weekend. He also think this weekend will be peak time in Chichibu - but the weather has been pretty weird. Yesterday was freezing - rain here, snow on Buko-san. Today was clear but insanely windy.

Its an interesting challenge being here. There are no other foreign students here at the moment - I haven't seen any other westerners at all. Its a bit like a solo retreat - no distractions, but care and focus required so that the isolation doesn't become overwhelming. It feels good though, and I feel very clear headed. Its nice to have the time and space for thoughts to come and go, and come again, developing a bit more each time.

I came across a great quote in a book by Murakami that I've just finished -

"In this world, there are some things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with someone else. It's important to combine the two in just the right amount."

If I had a Macbook Air, I'd have frozen to death...

Lucky for me, my trusty half-ton laptop has an industrial strength power supply that has an auxilliary function as a foot warmer! I shall now perform computationally intensive tasks to prevent hypothermia...

It was cold and rainy, with lots of low cloud. When the cloud lifted, it revealed that what was rain down here in the valley was snow on Buko-san!