21. Guiding Hand

20 Apr

Bike Mechanic in ZentsujiCycle Saviour: the English-speaking bike mechanic in Zentsuji

I struck out today for Takamatsu, the prefectural capital of Kagawa and the largest city on Shikoku with nearly 700,000 residents. Takamatsu would be my last port of call before returning to Tokushima, and I was eager to reach it. Whilst I had enjoyed the journey so far, I must admit I was looking forward to it drawing to a close. Rain, exhaustion and soulless business hotels with 1970s soft furnishings had all taken their respective tolls on me, and I was glad the end was just around the corner.

For such a small prefecture Kagawa had more than its fair share of temples. In the morning I skipped briefly eastwards to Daikōji and then headed in a northerly direction to Jinnein, Kanonji (the central temple from which the town I had stayed in the last two days derived its name) and then over to Motoyamaji with its stunning five-level pagoda.

I was making great progress until flying down a hill approaching the temple town of Zentsuji my front tyre blew out and my mood similarly deflated. Whatever I had hit had substantially damaged not only the tube but the tyre as well. Luckily, I travelled with a foldable spare tyre for such occasions. Unluckily, it was currently sitting on my back wheel as a result of hitting the pothole in the dark two days ago; that tyre had been damaged then, too.

Cursing my bad luck in going through two tyres in three days, I kept walking along the route, which I knew led to Zentsuji. There was bound to be a bicycle shop in town; otherwise I was scuppered.

I reached the small town centre and spotted a row of bikes with front-mounted shopping baskets outside a shop (such a bike is affectionately and humourously known as a mamachari, derived from the English words “mummy chariot”, since it’s a popular mode of transport for mums about town). I popped in and to my dismay it was just a retail shop which didn’t do repairs. The owner was a helpful chap, though, and simultaneously spoke and mimed simple directions (thank God I’d learned “left” and “right” in Japanese) to a nearby repair shop.

That exchange had been awkward enough in terms of comprehension, so I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with the bike mechanic as I approached his shop. He was an ever-steady old fellow, who ambled from the back of the shop to meet me.

“Hello! How can I help you?”

I was stunned. Here I was, in a backwater of Shikoku, and I’d only gone and stumbled upon an English-speaking bike mechanic! It was the kind of experience that Buddhist pilgrims might choose to ascribe to the guiding hand of Kōbō-Daishi, the original 88 Temple pilgrim who is said to always travel with you. Personally, I put it down to outrageously good fortune.

The bike mechanic was an interesting chap. He was in fact Chinese, but had come to Japan as a youth and become a naturalised citizen, and apparently had even served in Japan’s Self Defence Force. He had taken up English a few years ago, learning it at nightschool, and he was good at it. Every now and then he would throw a complicated word or construct dredged from his memory into our simple conversation that would make me smile. He insisted on changing the tyre for me, which in between our chats, him putting the tyre on wrong first time(!), people coming into the shop to see what was going on (including two small kids who stared at me constantly and a couple of other elderly residents who seemingly had nothing better to do) and finally the mechanic insisting he made me a massage implement out of a whisky bottle top!, the repair took somewhere in the region of an hour and a half. By this time I was getting a bit restless as I needed to press on with my journey to reach Takamatsu before nightfall. Finally he was all done and I was back on track, waving the kind chap, the kids, the old people, the bike shop owner and pretty much everyone else in the town goodbye as I set off. It was like Trumpton.

I decided to forfeit any more temples for the day and head directly to Takamatsu, which was the priority. I entered the city at about 5pm and by 6 I was lounging in my three-foot square Japanese bath and reflecting on the see-saw change in fortunes I’d experienced today.

45 miles


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