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Hello. I'm Sean and I live in Japan. I'm glad you've come because I need you to do something for me.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

I'll Take The Shinkansen

In order to properly appreciate this post, it is my recommendation that you press play on the video below before continuing on.  This is merely a suggestion for your enjoyment though, viewer discretion is advised!

So if you had not guessed by now, I bought a bike.  However, instead of jumping the ledges on route twelve on my way to catch sweet Pokemon and earn gym badges, the only thing I've caught is a cold and I get to hop curbs in a jostling fashion.  The new bike is a stunner, and fits the mould for what I would call the stereotypical Japan-bike.  Wheel covers and a basket.  I was told last night that the youth slang for these majestical steeds is a Japanese word meaning 'mother carrier', and there is no real guess work that needs to go into figuring out why the kid's call it that.  Don't I look like a tough guy.

Knowing a while back that I had intentions for purchasing a bicycle, I had made a inquiry with my friend Emily as to whether or not she'd be up to the task of naming it.  As she had just come off a multi-month, Australian bike tour with some friends last year, I figured she was intimate enough with the biped-als (a joke) to be the authority on names, and a couple weeks later I presented her with this picture:

And this description:

"Ummm, the pedal strokes are firm, and with purpose. It rides steady, and the springs in the seat allow for a very soft and relaxing sit. The basket and bell accent it perfectly and both brakes work splendidly, but the left one has a plaintive squeak! It's an older girl, but it carries itself with an air of dignity and poise that shouldn't be overlooked."

Keeping in mind that I had only rode this bike a whole eight minutes home from the shop before taking this picture, writing that paragraph and then asking for a name, I feel like I outdid myself to build this thing a personality from half truths and copious amounts of crap.

Thus the Shinkansen came to be.  She actually did well, considering that naming other people's inanimate objects can be a rather obscene task.  The name is a joke and a compliment wrapped in an enigma, that is again folded into a paradox.  As far as mother carriers go, it is a nice silver colour and I guess 'sleek' enough.  Calling it the bullet train gives it something to aspire to.  Yet in no way is it fast, despite possessing a whopping five gears.  Its real allure comes in the possibilities for mockery, the times when I can leave the apartment and say "I'm off to the store, I'm taking the Shinkansen!"

You can turn the music off now too, if you were crazy enough to keep it on this long.  It is really a ten hour loops of the bicycle song from Pokemon, and it's only relevance to the story is that I was humming it on my way home from the store and that Pokemon are awesome.

The shop where I bought the Shinkansen was this little hole in the wall of a place that I found a few weeks ago while making one of my night walks around Nagoya.  The store immediately caught my eye  because it was the first place to sell used bikes, and it was run by this friendly looking Japanese couple, the husband always eyeing me warily when I happened to browse his selection on any given day.

When I finally stopped to make my purchase, he was out front of the store making repairs to a rather dilapidated looking thing.  Again he kind of looked at me sideways, and provided me the courtesy of grunting.  I started inspected his wares, and his eyes followed me as I poked and prodded the inventory.      I was disappointed that the green one that I had been eyeing for a week or so had been purchased, but I'm absolutely positive that it must have been picked out by some child who was saving their money for months to buy that very bike, and that now they're off in some sunlit, grassy field, frolicking hand in handle.  When I finally had made my consolation selection, the real fun began.

All bikes of my Shinkansen's variety come with built in bike locks on the back tire.  They all have a special key that only fits that lock, and that key MUST be in place for the bike to move.  When the lock is not secured, the key can not be removed from the mechanism.  This means that theft on bikes is pretty low in Japan, and the whole system works quite well.

Unfortunately for this cute, shop owning couple, they had made one ghastly oversight.  For whatever reason, they had been possessed with the notion of placing all the keys for all their bikes into one jar.  I'm not sure if they just didn't expect anyone to buy them (which seems like a fairly poor business model), or it had been something done in haste, but it led to a rather funny montage of the older man parading keys to the bike in order to free it from the confines of the iron manicle.  A modern day tale of Cinderella and the matching slipper.

While this was happening, I was facing a struggle of my own.  His lovely wife possessed about as much English as me Japanese, and was trying to kindly request of me my address for something I can only assume was a police registry.  This is all fine and good, except that my address is about three lines long and goes a little like something-chu, something-shi, something-ku, etc, etc and I for the life of me have been unable to commit it to memory, let alone try to pronunce it without being laughed at.

With all praise going to the iphone, I was finally able to find my address in some remote corner of Facebook where I had messaged it to my sister.  Seemingly simultaneously the correct key was found, and the bike freed from its chains, and I proceeded on my mary way.  I finally used it again today to get groceries and succeed in hitting a traffic cone, but fortunately didn't break my eggs when I bailed.  Thankfully, a nice woman did come quickly to the aid of the fallen pylon, and no cones were seriously injured.    

In none-bike related news, I signed my contract, and am now a full fledged instructor!  Nice work me!  Due to the proximity of my arrival to the end of the Japanese school year, my week and a half of contract leading up to the end of term has me rocking the role of a sub shifter, and for the past three days and the next week I will be visting a variety of different ECC schools in Nagoya and getting a taste of the many faces of the company.

I managed to get a little bit of experience out of the past couple days, and even got my hands dirty in a few free time lessons, and I think I may have even managed to teach something.  I also learned that I hate the meitetsu train line, as its sign boards at Nagoya station are a blanket of Kanji.  I can't blame the Japanese for using their language, but I am allowed to be rueful and petulant.

Yesterday I was most graciously invited to the end of the year party of one of the schools that I will be working at come April.  It was also a goodbye/welcome party to a couple staff members, and the event was carried out in the form of a Japanese drinking party.  So with the keg tapped and the food served, I was offered a glimpse into the cool world of Japanese social customs.  I also simultaneously got to realize how little I really do know about the people here, and how bad my pronunciation is for the few words I know.  I have a long way to go.

The night was good though, and as the party was made of students and staff alike, there was much chance to talk and learn about where I should go, what I should see and the likes and dislikes of the wonderful people that live here.  I couldn't maintain my normal position as wallflower, but I guess I really wasn't too bothered.

Thanks for reading,

Much Love,


P.S.  I think my bike could still maybe use a first name, *__________* the Shinkansen.  What do you think is a suitable title for this noble steed?  Let me know in the comments!



  1. the pink shinkansen
    the pink dancin' shinkansen
    obviuosly you would have to paint it pink first

    or the silver bullet


  2. or...your the bug and shes your new lady so...."the ladybug"....again have to paint it...preferably pokadots