We wake to the sound of rain hitting the roof of our Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL (worth noting if you’re in the market for an easy-to-set-up, lightweight tent-for-two). Our motivation to venture into the rain and manage our wet things is low. We move slowly. When we unzip the door we smell earth and fresh ozone. We see a rotund man in a wool sweater, galoshes and cap who is carrying a plastic bag and bending to forage. Eventually he makes his way to us and we exchange greetings. In my naiveté I point to some large white fungus growing nearby that, to my untrained eye, look like what he shows me in the bag. He shakes his head “no”, they are not the same. We have seen a number of people foraging while in Japan and for two people who love mushrooms it would have been a handy skill to bring along. He eventually hands us the bag as a gift, or perhaps he worries that if he doesn’t we’ll get sick munching on the wrong thing. Either way, I am warmed by the generosity of a stranger yet again.
We decide to take advantage of the coin dryer. While I would generally caution against putting a tent in the dryer, we decide that doing it this once in lieu of packing a wet tent should be ok. We shake and wipe all of the excess water and throw it in, checking every few minutes until it is just dry before removing it. We eat our yogurt and granola and sample a sweet milk drink from the vending machine.
(photo by Jason)
It is 10am and we head to the travel stop which was closed the evening before. It is raining and we feel a damp chill. Brunch consists of coffee, ramen, fried squid on a stick, smiling fried meatballs on a stick, toffee-like fruit chews, and other delicacies not pictured but of course covering all of the necessary food groups, mom. Jason purchases two wall hangings which feature Namahage (one of these we hang at home and it inspires this year’s Halloween costumes).
(photos by Jason)
(Halloween 2016 in Chicago, Namahage from Fukura hanging in the background))
We return to our bikes which are locked to one another and tucked behind a sign outside of the entrance. We do not often see bike racks. As we back out of the space, we take note of the sheltering sign which indicates points of interest in the area. It is here that we read about the 16 Stone Buddhas. The Buddhas are located at the “3” along the coast and we are currently located at the red bubble below it. We have gotten a late start to the day and we would be back-tracking two miles in order to visit…but two is better than 6,000 so off to the Buddhas we go.
(red steps by the road encourage us to pull over before getting to the Buddhas and at the bottom we see this Shinto gate and shrine)
(the Buddhas are in the rocks in the water below and are the ones we took photos of yesterday—photo by Jason)
(the 16 Buddha map—which includes a total of 22 sculptures, all of which we locate)
(Jason looking for Buddhas)
(Playing with perspective—Jason took this photo standing on the ledge where this Buddha rests while I scrambled along the slope across the way in the background. The carvings themselves, this one included, are only about 4 feet high.)
The route extends 1/4 of a mile beyond the starting point. It truly is a hunt among sloping cliffs of rock and grass, there is no obvious path with stairs or hand railings. In fact, we comment on what fun the ruggedness of it is and how quickly it would be turned into a commercial attraction in the United States. Also notable is the lack of vandalism, people have even left piles of coins and other small offerings seemingly undisturbed. The carvings themselves have not been restored and instead are weathered showing the passage of time and the touch of visitors. They were sculpted by Ishikawa Kankai, the 21st priest of the Zen Buddhist Kaizen-ji Temple, between the years of 1864 and 1868.
Our visit to the Buddhas has brought the sun. We are facing it as we turn to head back to the beginning. On our way out along this path we had our eyes trained for Buddhas but in retracing our steps we find the details around them.
(Man with Chives: as we shuffle through the grasses I remark on the fresh smell of onion and when we look to our feet we see chives growing thick all around us)
(video by Jason)
(Past the stairs that lead to our bikes there are larger formations on the beach with multiple carvings. Jason communes with them.)
(I named this one “Sun Worshipper” and added to its collection of coins in honor of my mom who is a sun worshipper herself)
We have spent more than an hour here with no regrets but it is time to get on our way. Though we are still traveling south along the coast, the route itself cuts inland through small towns but first through Sakata, which has a population of 105,000. It is a bit more bustling and less scenic so we take a quick detour on a smaller road. It has no shoulder and lots of trucks so while the scenery is nicer it doesn’t feel any more relaxed. It is along this route, however, that I spot what I first believe to be a dark figure kneeling in a rice field. Soon I see that it is furry and I wonder if it is a scarecrow of some kind. Then I realize what it is and point and blurt out “Not a fake bear!” We watch as the Asian Black Bear, also called a moon bear, runs full speed across the field away from the mountains and then back again. I still worry about whether it made it home safely or not.
(photo of where we saw the bear by Jason)
Eventually we reach the outskirts of Sakata. We are cutting through forest so instead of vistas we are surrounded by trees and small farms and orchards. It is warm and I am full of a sense of urgency to reach a campsite on the beach. Jason and I become separated for a bit and I stop at an intersection to wait for him and eat onigiri which I purchased from the travel stop in the morning, mainly attracted by its purple color. Jason arrives and is hungry as well so I hand him one before taking off past persimmon trees. For some time we travel within viewing distance of one another but just. I am on a mission and devouring the scenery for energy.
(view from the intersection where we meet for onigiri)
I am not, by any means, a disciplined athlete but I do get off on pushing myself as far and fast as I “reasonably” can (not a ride-til-you-puke kind of gal) with semi-regular frequency. I don’t find it exclusively grueling, I find it invigorating and life-affirming as well. Jason has a slow and steady approach. We are different in that way but what makes it work, most of the time, is that he is ok with me going ahead and I am ok with waiting for him to meet up with me before setting off again. I won’t pretend that there are not moments of frustration for us both. There are also many times when we are both perfectly happy at the same pace. Most of all, we both love being outdoors and journeying, whether it be back-packing through parks or criss-crossing countries on bicycle. A relationship is exemplified by teamwork and the teamwork required to set up a camp and cook dinner while exhausted or to pack up and start riding when it is wet out, day in and day out, is one thing but to love it the way we do is another. We certainly didn’t decide to bikecamp across Japan to save money.
Soon we are descending a long hill to a main intersection. On the other side of this intersection is a climb that goes first straight and then veers to the right. There is a residential neighborhood nestled along the road which obstructs the view of what lays beyond. It is not a gradual climb and we huff and puff having already covered 45 miles to get here. Once at the top we are rewarded with a view of the sun approaching the horizon of the sea. The coast is dramatic here, breathtaking. We are filled with glee as we descend toward it on narrow streets.
(video by Jason)
We ride the coast in awe.
(photo by Jason)
Eventually I insist that we stop and watch the sunset. Jason tells me to close my eyes and put out my hands. He lays there a gift he collected earlier in the day just after I had left him at the onigiri intersection.
This is what a persimmon looks like when you’ve found yourself standing at the base of a persimmon tree, picked the fruit just about to burst from its ripeness, and saved it to eat with your lover while watching the sun set over the Sea of Japan.
(Jason wants me to add that he had to battle massive spiderwebs and spiders to get to this persimmon, and it’s true—the webs extended from the ground to the branches in a fashion that suggested human-sized prey).
At the supermarket a persimmon’s flesh is thick and waxy beneath your fingertips and when you apply pressure there is little give; the flesh is hard. A persimmon at the supermarket often has a bitter and prominent pith. It needs preparation to be eaten. This is true even at the supermarkets we visit in Japan. Our persimmon, however, is just barely holding its contents beneath thin, near-translucent skin. The four creases which create slight valleys in the persimmon’s quad-sloped surface have been ironed out by utmost expansion. The tension is palpable. Even the leaves are poised in anticipation. It would be impossible to ship this persimmon any distance and it’s a tiny miracle that it remained in tact in the pocket of Jason’s jersey. It absolutely bursts when we bite into it and the sweet, vermilion nectar streams from the corners of our mouths and down our chins and necks.
The sunset signals the coming of darkness. We are 2 miles from the campground. We get back on our bikes in the twilight and make our way to the last climb of the day. The turn off for the campground is along the descent. In near pitch darkness we ride onto the soft sand. There is a man walking who tells us that the beach is a campground only in the summer. It is windy and exposed. We search this area which is just a small outcropping of residences situated by a large Shinto shrine rock formation on the beach.
We make camp beside a parking lot off of the beach. I am paranoid that we are being a bother and I keep one eye on the windows of the houses. Jason rides to a nearby convenience store. When he returns we set up our kitchen below the shrine on a picnic table. Jason makes ramen and flavors it with the morning’s mushrooms and the chives from the feet of Buddhas. The cold wind whips our hair and the stove’s flame. We drink whiskey and watch the stars disappear and reappear behind moving clouds.