After three months away, I'm now back in Japan.
I'd left suddenly at the start of February because my mom had a stroke, but she'd recovered enough by the start of May that I could return.
My return was on United Airlines, which over the decades I've flown more than any other. They used to be a good airline, but have gone stunningly downhill in the last decade (yielding occasional rants from me, such as this and this), so it was with trepidation that I tried again. The saving grace was paying the extra $250 to bump myself up to the “Economy Plus” seats, which are the same as normal cattle class except for an extra four inches of leg room.
I appreciated the leg room for the Cleveland → San Francisco leg, though I perhaps would have appreciated it more if the chubby guy next to me didn't act as if he owned the shared armrest. But the short flight was made an hour shorter due to good winds, so it ended up being less than five hours.
Better still was the flight to Osaka, Japan, for which I had a row of three seats to myself.
iPhone 6+ back camera — 1/15 sec, f/2.2, ISO 32 — map & image data — nearby photos
San Francisco International Airport
The non-“Economy Plus” economy section looked to be pretty full, but the “Economy Plus” section had rows of empty seats. What a difference it makes.
The windows have no traditional pull-down shades... you press buttons to increase or decrease opacity. I assume they have some kind of liquid-crystal layer. There are definitely pluses and minuses to these things. On the minus side, it takes minutes for a change to fully take effect. No more quick peeks outside, or slamming the shade shut when a turn puts the sun directly into your eye. On the plus side, one supposes that the flight crew can press one button to have all shades go dark, such as when settling in after the meal service for a night flight that will move into daylight while folks are sleeping. At their darkest they're not blackout, but dark enough to keep a nice subdued mood in the cabin. Yet, you can see enough to judge the view, so the need for a “quick peek” (e.g. “is Mt. Fuji visible?”) is less.
The delay aside, cool.
My father-in-law kindly picked me up at the airport and brought me home. It was nice to see Fumie and Anthony again. This was Wednesday night last week.
Thursday was spent in a level stupor from jetlag. Normally jetlag comes and goes in crushing waves, but I was worthless all day on Thursday. And that, most surprisingly and thankfully, was the full extent of my jetlag this time... it was the least I think it's ever been, ever.
Friday I felt just great, though wasted most of the day renewing my driver's license, which otherwise would have soon expired. It was another reason that I had to get back to Japan sooner than later.
Saturday saw nice weather, so I took the opportunity to try cycling again. I hadn't been on a bicycle since the end of January, so I was fairly nervous about remembering basic stuff like riding clipped in.
I was also nervous about being in shape, not having done much exercise for three months beyond a “100 Push Up Time Trial” challenge I did several times a week while in The States. (I was happy to see real progress during the three months, watching my time reduce from 7m 25s the first time I tried it, to 3m 13s the last time. Of course, several years ago, I wouldn't have even been able to do 10 pushups, until this humbling event spurred me to get in shape.)
iPhone 6+ front camera — 1/500 sec, f/2.2, ISO 32 — map & image data — nearby photos
in front of Sanjo Starbucks, Kyoto Japan
The plan was for a fairly light ride at a slow pace, so it sounded good for a first ride. We ended up doing about 105km (65mi) of mostly-flat lakeside road.
SC-04E at an effective 31mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.2, ISO 50 — map & image data — nearby photos
taken while moving at 24 kph (15 mph)
photo by Manseki Kanemitsu
I quickly got the hang of things and felt good. I knew my body was tired from the trip so I didn't want to push, so I was happy to with the slow group pace.
The ostensible “goal” of the ride was to visit a particular middle-of-nowhere cafe...
SC-04E at an effective 31mm — 1/310 sec, f/2.2, ISO 50 — map & image data — nearby photos
photo by Manseki Kanemitsu
I'm wearing a cycling jersey that Eric and Gigi had sent out of the blue while I was away. It looks and fits great... thanks E&G!
On the way back we did a fun little climb — 1.3km at 11% — though the stats at Strava are not very useful because Strava doesn't deal well with super tight switchbacks near the start/end of a segment. In these situations it often thinks you finish well before you actually do. I understand why their activity-matching algorithm doesn't work well here, and frankly would be hard pressed to come up with a general suggestion to fix it. It's a tough problem.
I felt just great for the first three or so hours of the ride, but ran out of gas for the last hour. Just dead tired. I don't think it was the dreaded didn't-get-enough-to-eat “bonk”, but just that I didn't have the physical capacity yet for that long a ride. My final climbs on the way home were very slow.
On Monday I collected and submitted most of the paperwork needed to renew my visa to live in Japan, which also expires soon. I needed one paper from the town where Fumie grew up, so on the first non-rainy day this week (Wednesday), I cycled down to Hirakata to pick it up.
Much of the distance between Kyoto and Osaka can be ridden on a wonderful bicycle path seen in “Cycling Along the River from Kyoto To Osaka Castle”, but the first several kilometers of egress from Kyoto are horrid sections alternating between mud/puddles, and incessant teeth-jarring bumps. I really dislike it, so I spent some time finding an alternate route (written about here).
Panasonic LX100 at an effective 50mm — 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200 — map & image data — nearby photos
with rain threatening
iPhone 6+ back camera — 1/170 sec, f/2.2, ISO 32 — map & image data — nearby photos
city office in Hirakata City
It took a few minutes to lock up the bike and make myself presentable enough to go in, and another few minutes to fill out the proper form, but once that was done it took but just a few seconds to actually get the paper. There was no line, and the guy quickly checked my ID to make sure I was allowed to have what I was asking. He then pressed a button, it printed, I paid a few bucks, and I was done.
(To keep my paperwork clean and dry during the ride, I carried it all in a Loksak, which I learned about in this comment on my blog five years ago, in a rear-jersey pocket.)
I was in a good mood, having made it down there without trouble, and more than that, having filled out the complex (to me) government requisition form properly and completely the first time.
iPhone 6+ back camera — 1/60 sec, f/2.2, ISO 40 — map & image data — nearby photos
as I prepare to return, with Loksak filled with my passport and other important paperwork
Panasonic LX100 at an effective 24mm — 1/125 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200 — map & image data — nearby photos
utterly pedestrian, nothing-special house
On the way back I added a little 100m climb to make things interesting. Prior to making the trip, I checked out the route on Google Maps, and was surprised to find one house was completely blurred from every angle. Of course, since I was riding by, I had to check it out to see what the big deal was.
If there was anything interesting about the house, I couldn't spot it, but it's a great example of The Streisand Effect, without which I could have ridden by a thousand times without ever noticing the utterly-unremarkable house existed.
Anyway, the short route up a short mountain eventually plunged into bamboo groves, which were much more pretty...
The road ended at a shrine...
Panasonic LX100 at an effective 41mm — 1/125 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200 — map & image data — nearby photos
With that final piece of paperwork in hand, later that afternoon I completed the application for my visa extension.
The next day I finally got my US taxes done.
These big items (driver's license, visa, taxes) were weighing on me, so having gotten them done, on Thursday afternoon I treated myself to a ride for no other reason but to just see whether I could give it some oomph and not kill myself.
The first little segment that I challenged myself on is a short up-and-back road climb that I like, and the result totally shocked me. Out of the six time I'd done it previously, I'd beat two minutes only once (1:47), but this time, trying somewhat but certainly not giving it my all, I did it in 1:24, totally shattering my previous best. I have no way to explain how this could happen.
I also did a counter-clockwise Heart Loop (the 37km opposite-direction version of this ride) in half an hour better than my previous best (1h34m vs. 2h05m), though this didn't surprise me as much because it's the first time I'd ever done it alone. Normally I've done it in a social stop-and-chat-often setting. But what does surprise me is that even though I wasn't really trying, I ended up within 12 minutes of the best time recorded on Strava. Most of my friends are much, much faster, so maybe their efforts are not getting matched properly to the complex route.
Anyway, it's good to be back. While I was away I didn't have time to write much for my blog, and having fallen out of that habit, I don't know whether I'll be able to get back into it. I hope I can. We'll see.