Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Higher and Higher

Before crossing over into Fukushima prefecture, Don and I offered a prayer to the border gods for a smooth crossing. Our karma was perhaps compromised, for shortly thereafter the gradient soon became incredibly steep. Don found that a three-speed lacked sufficient gearing for such mountainous terrain; I myself nearly had to walk my Cinelli road bike up the steepest sections of road.

From Kanose into the Mountains

After leaving Kanose, Niigata prefecture, Don and I cycled up the Agano River valley in the direction of neighboring Fukushima prefecture. Farmers were out harvesting this year's rice crop and tying the stalks into sheaves. The autumn bloomer "cosmos" (秋桜; akizakura, or "autumn cherry") lined the road and lent the passage a delicate beauty.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tsugawa to Kanose

From the station we headed out of Tsugawa along Route 459, bound for nearby Kanose. The latter was formerly home to the Showa Chemical Company's Niigata plant, which became notorious in the mid 1960s as the source of Japan's second outbreak of methyl mercury poisoning, known as Minamata disease. Showa has since left the area, and today Kanose is little more than a peaceful village nestled between the Agano River on one side and low mountains on the other. It is also home to the bizarre Kanose Art Museum, closed when we passed through at 8 am.

A Recent Cycling Trip

On a recent Sunday Don Speden and I loaded our bikes into his van and traveled to Tsugawa, a town not far from the Niigata-Fukushima prefectural border. Tsugawa is home to the popular fox festival, held in May of every year. The fox is the town's mascot, and the two paper mache foxes at the entrance to the new station building were made by local schoolchildren.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Oft-maligned Tetrapod

The innocent tetrapod, the only bulwark between Japanese coastal communities and destruction by winter storm or typhoon, receives the brunt of much anti-concrete criticism from western visitors and long-term residents alike. Yes, too much of Japan's cities and countryside has been paved. Yes, there are roads and bridges to nowhere. Yes, dams obstruct the natural flow of rivers whose waters could have been otherwise controlled or diverted during the monsoon season (there are many hydroelectric dams, though, and surely they are a cleaner energy source than fossil fuels). But as for the tetrapod, most of the armchair environmentalists so critical of them are profoundly ignorant: they have never spent a typhoon season or winter on the country's vulnerable coast. The serviceable tetrapod does not deserve to be the poster-child of the country's concrete excesses. For ten years I have lived only five minutes from the Sea of Japan in Niigata. Every summer and winter, especially during the latter season, the waters of the sea are lashed into a frothing fury. Were it not for the walls of tetrapods, the foreshore, with its public motorways and private properties, would be washed away. Hadrian needed his wall; the Chinese required theirs. The Japanese, who inhabit one of the world's most disaster-prone countries, deserve to protect it as they see fit.