Heading South on Route 261

I have a Great Dilemma: I will be teaching at three different schools beginning at the end of August.  One of the schools is an easy walk from my apartment.  The other two are in Ohnan Town, about ten miles away. My dilemma is how to get there! I have decided not to own or lease a car while I’m in Japan, and my options for making it from one rural town to another are limited. I have been considering hitch-hiking, riding my bike, or navigating the bus system. I hope to test out all three options before teaching time rolls around…so today I decided to see how difficult it would be to bike to Ohnan Town.

I headed South out of Kawamoto Town on Route 261. It was a scenic and beautiful tour of the countryside.  I had to go through a few short tunnels, but otherwise traffic interaction wasn’t too frightening.

As I approached the final tunnel between Kawamoto and Ohnan, I noticed extensive signage…many big red kanji symbols and arrows pointing every which way.  I chose to ignore the sign, as I was unable to decipher its message anyway. I entered the tunnel…

…a bad idea. I immediately realized I wouldn’t be able to ride my bike on the narrow track of raised pavement that ran along the side of the tunnel.  And it was dark…so dark.  The small light on my only works when I pedal fast, so I was out of luck.  I would get a glimpse of signs inside the tunnel every once in a while when a car would pass me.  After walking my bike for about ten minutes, I noticed a sign that had two arrows pointing to opposite sides of the tunnel.  One read: 470 m, the other: 640 m.

Oh no. I was halfway through a 1.3 kilometer long tunnel!

At that point I realized I needed to walk more briskly, stop thinking about how creepy being in a long dark tunnel all by yourself is, and get out of there. By the time I neared the exit I was faint from all of the vehicle fumes that were filling the tunnel space. Fresh air on the other side was a welcome relief.

I hopped back on my bike and rode to a little rest area where there was a recreation map. I was in Ohnan Town limits, but not anywhere near the two schools I would be teaching at.  There were signs near the forest that showed pictures of people hiking, swimming, and climbing a mountain. Cool! I decided to follow.

It was a beautiful trail. Many wooden bridges, flowers, and trees marked with tin signs. I came to the swim hole right away. No one was around…so I jumped in! I couldn’t believe it…I’ve never swam solo before due to extreme fear of the aquatic unknown. It was wonderful! So refreshing…cool, crystal-clear water, and the rocks were so smooth. I stayed for a while : )

The rest of the trail was difficult to navigate.  Every once in a while there would be a sign showing a series of trails, roads, and bridges…I could only decipher the kanji for mountain, so I kept going in that direction.  I lost the trail a few times, stumbled upon a burial site, and pulled numerous thumb-sized flying insects out of my hair.

When the trail finally started to climb steeply I picked up the pace.  I thought I was close to the summit of the mountain…

Halfway up the steep trail I saw the roof of a house.  Bummer! I don’t usually feel comfortable approaching people’s homes when I don’t know enough Japanese to get myself out of an intrusion situation. As I was thinking over what to do I heard shots fired from the house. Yikes! I don’t think the gun shots had anything to do with my presence, but it scared me nonetheless. I abandoned my mountaintop dreams and scrambled back down the trail.

I biked a ways further on Route 261, and eventually saw a sign for the two schools I was looking for. Five more kilometers…too far for my little town bike. I decided to turn around. I hope I can catch a ride some other way : )

The way back to Kawamoto was entirely down hill. I even found a way around the dreaded tunnel, and was able to make a stop at a beautiful temple along the way.

I’m so amazed by the wonders tucked away in these mountains. I can’t ride my bike for five minutes without happening upon a shrine, a temple, a beautiful overlook, or an intriguing trail.

My reward for a hard-day’s work: a Japanese Sno-Cone. Delicious.

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