So, you’d think that I’d start a blog post about my departure from Ise with pictures and stories about the famous Shinto temples and shrines. But no. I set off for the hardware shop to buy a nut and bolt to repair my broken pannier and discover an outdoor shop right next door. This is definitely a dangerous thing because I love outdoor shops, have money in my bank account and know that I will be paid in a day or two. So with some trepidation I enter. I realise as I park that I have lost my bicycle chain somewhere on the way to Ise, so I start by buying one of them. I am also getting some blisters from the duct tape that is holding the foam on my handlebar together, so I buy some gloves. I prefer to cook with gas than with the fire lights so I buy a canister of gas. I also buy a spare stove for when I need to use alternative fuels. And, of course, after my wet ride the other day I also buy a set of wet weather gear. The cost is slightly less than it would be for the same items in Australia. Actually, I have noticed that Japan is definitely cheaper to travel than Australia. Accommodation (camping, hostels and hotels) are about 10-30% cheaper, food is about 20% cheaper and even the camping equipment cost less than at home (for example, the gas canister was $4.50 here but at home it would run at about $6.50 – $8.00).
Stocked up I go to the hardware shop to buy some nuts and bolts so that I can fix the pannier that broke. It works a treat.
I follow the road to Ise Grand Shrine. This is the most important Shinto shrine in Japan. There are tourists everywhere (both domestic and international) with their big cameras, tour guides with flags and special traveling clothes. I get a sense that this is one of those places that you go to because you have to and it doesn’t feel at all spiritual to be here. I go through the main gate, decide that I don’t have to be here, turn around and join the departing crowds. It just doesn’t feel right. I want to be making my own way through the world, not following the crowd. There are more tranquil and sacred-feeling shrines dotted along the roadside in the rural areas I am traveling. So I leave without having seen the shrine. I also decide that I probably would hate the Camino de Santiago de Compastella because it probably has a similar well-trodden feel so I shelve those plans too in favour of something more me. It’s an important lesson, to realise I like the out of the way places that aren’t popular with tourists but also aren’t on the “off-the-beaten track map” either. They are the “nothing” places in between that never make a guide book and rarely find their way into blog posts.
My decision is rewarded when I ride past my first proper wisteria plant and get to see some bumble bees going about their business.
I follow a small road from Ise to Toba from where I will catch a ferry to Irago. The road takes me through some pretty agricultural scenery like this guy plowing his rice paddy. It looks like tough work, even with a machine because he has to fight his way through all that mud. The farm is relatively urban though; like in Korea, every available patch of land is being used to farm. Even here at the fringes of the urban areas.
I reach Toba about half an hour before the ferry departs. It costs me JPY2,850 ($30) to get myself and the bike across the bay to Honshu on the car ferry. This saves me about 300km of cycling around the city of Nagoya. It’s not that I’m in a hurry but I would rather not have to navigate my way through or around such a large city. So I pay my money and let the Japanese men in their blue overalls and white hard hats tie my bike down securely for the 55 minute voyage.
I confess I missed the first twenty or so minutes of the journey because I fell asleep. No sooner did I sit on a seat and let my head rock to the side than I was snoring. When I awoke this relatively small fishing vessel was outside the window. I always think fishermen in small boats are brave because the oceans are so big and can easily turn violent.
We cross a major shipping channel. Now these ships are much more on par with the scale of the ocean. They even make the ferry, with it’s capacity for about 50 cars seem small. The containers seem almost precarious as they perch above the side rails of the container ships. I enjoy watching them come and go slowly like the trucks of the sea that they are.
And then we are here on Honshu. The ferry ride was comfortable and smooth. And no sooner have we all disembarked than our chariot of the sea is loaded and ready to take cars and passengers back to Toba.
I have two choices: I can head along the seaboard or I can travel bayside. The seaboard will have better scenery but I saw a sign at the ferry terminal that showed a camping ground on the bayside up near Tahara. So I decide to take this road. What I discover is heavy agricultural industry. Cabbages await harvest in neat rows or go to seed in neighbouring fields. The air stinks of fart just like it always does when there’s this much cabbage around.
Windmills chug away, making a dull roaring noise as their turbines are driven around. It must be annoying to live under or near these machines that probably use more carbon to produce than the carbon they will save.
But I’m not really worrying about the world’s energy resources right now. Rather, I am enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and trying to see the beauty in the heavy industry and intensive agriculture that I see around me.
It’s also a good chance to do some people watching. I find the wearing of uniforms here quite intriguing. Sure, at home children wear uniforms to school but it’s nothing like the Japanese way of classifying people. These children wear what looks like blue overalls, which make them look like factory workers in training. What’s more bizarre are the helmets they are wearing on their heads. They are not for cycling because children walking also wear them.
Fishermen and wharf builders also wear the same helmets. They also wear overalls of varying colours, probably to denote seniority or function.
This young guy is wearing a typically Japanese suit with the buttons straight down the middle and no collar. I can’t imagine a guy at home wearing an outfit like this and still cycling. I guess he has at least changed into joggers instead of wearing the shoes that match the suit.
There’s even a scuba diver out in the bay fishing for whatever scuba divers fish for here. I can’t speak to his uniform though.
The camping ground I was cycling towards is closed because it is not yet the swimming season (this is what a groundskeeper at a big park tells me when I ask after it). There are no other camping grounds in the area so the groundskeeper grabs a map and points to a barbecue park about five kilometers away. He assures me that if I camp there it will be okay. I reach the park, which is totally deserted but quite lovely. It’s right next to a major road intersection so isn’t as peaceful as it could be. But I suspect that will also keep away the passers-by. The picnic hut looks pretty comfortable so I decide to just cook my tea, watch a movie, do some work and then bed down without a tent. It’s plenty warm, discreet and will give me a chance to get away easily in the morning without having to pack as much.