After my classes for the day I would ride my bike down through the narrow alleys and lanes of Shindaiku, Hamanamachi to Dozumachi where Natalia managed ‘The Liffey’. An Irish Pub in the drinking and socializing district of Nagasaki. The main thoroughfares were lined with an endless conveyor of taxis. Natalia designed and built it for an ex pat, married to a Japanese living there. After she built it, he asked her if she would like to run it. Why not? Extra income. It became a popular hang out for foreign workers at Mitsubishi ship yard, English teachers and for Japanese who liked to socialize with foreigners if for no other reason than to keep up their English.
The routes that I could choice from could easily be one of many. All away from the commotion of traffic. So in the latter part of the evening, maybe in the rain, maybe under stars, generally around 10PM, I could glide on my bike like magic through the orient of ancient Nippon as an alien. Just sailing along.
Nippon, Unchanged from the past, I would sail along on wheels through the shopping arcades only accessible by foot, or as I was now, when they were closed for the evening, on my magically gliding machine. The only sound the clicking of the wheel bearings on my bike. An occasional swish swish swish of a broom or the spraying of water from a hose on tile or asphalt. All of which could be easily tuned out and there you were, alone. Gliding along looking out through your eyes upon something very special. A little noodle shop catering to the shop owners lite up here or there. Curtains hung across the entrances. Customers leaning over steaming bowls of noodles or rice. Otherwise, shops all closed. A night light on reflecting off of produce or rolled bolts of cloth stacked high but neatly arranged, cutlery, spices, hardware. A 100 yen shop. Etc. etc.
It would be generally a 20 minute trip but time faded to the back of my mind as I absorbed all this oriental life and smells. So different from all my previous life.
One route was along the Nakashima river way. A canal walled in with descending stone stair foot paths to the rivers edge. Carp swimming under an overhanging willow. Turtles occasionally popping their heads above the water. Ducks paddling by or as now maybe along the edge nesting for the night on some smooth stones, their heads tucked under their wings.
Another route was along the Shinto shrines set against the rising hill side at the valley edge, dark shadows folding into once carved wooden planks hung with braided ropes. One after the other.
There was one little detour that I generally took, up a slight incline on a narrow lane. Recessed off of the lane a step or two down, a narrow entrance into a shop with a low overhead threshold. I think it was a laundry shop. The proprietor would always be there either folding cloths or wrapping cloths. Sometimes standing by his washing machine waiting for it to finish its cycle. Sometimes he might be standing in the entrance, his slippered foot propped up on the entrance step and leaning out with a cigarette, enjoying the evening. A bow was acknowledged and returned even from a gaijin on a bike.