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Exploring Fussa by bike or on foot had been high on our priority list since arriving in Japan in December. The previous Sunday we conducted a 6 mile practice run since we hadn’t ridden our bikes in 9 months or so and we definitely are out of shape. Also, exploring Fussa would entail 4 miles just getting from home to the gate and back. Checking the weather, not just for rain/wind/temperature but also for air quality – levels of PM (particulate matter) and yellow sand – we chose Saturday for our adventure.

Having received “Grace” tattoos from my home church (Grace Community United Methodist – http://www.gracehappens.org) via my sister, we applied our tattoos to our cheeks and set out. After all, “grace happens” all over the world, not just the U.S. The skies were clear and blue with temperatures in the low 50s as we cycled across base on the bike path. After a couple of unplanned stops (wardrobe malfunction, lost chewing gum which was eventually found on the “victims” shoe, and a bathroom stop) we made it the 2.5 miles to the gate.

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Crossing highway 16 (Tokyo Ring Road), we started down the narrow street toward our first destination, the Cloud Nine bakery. I must say that my anxiety level was through the roof many times as I tried to negotiate my way down the street. The Japanese are so adept at this (young and old alike) that they are traveling at what seems to be lightening speed. Eric is also pretty skilled on a bike (probably due to years driving a motorcycle) as well. However, I need more practice… but I will have to recover for a few days before I go again! I think I used every relaxation technique I knew on this adventure.

We arrived at Cloud Nine bakery and we’re greeted with the aroma of freshly baking/baked bread and a quizzical look from the clerk. Eric realized what the look was about and explained our tattoos. She spoke some English but I am not sure she totally understood, but she nodded and smiled. We canned the items in the display case and they all looked so very tempting. However, our purpose for the visit was to try the famous “Fussa dog,” which is a special type of hot dog/sausage in a fresh baked bun, sold only at certain bakeries in town. Our “dogs” were served with horseradish, grilled onions, coarse mustard, and were delicious. We took one last look all the wonderful baked goods and made a note to return later in the day to pick up some French bread to have with our shrimp scampi supper.

Off to find the Tama River! We bicycled through the busy streets making one stop at a bike shop to look for fasteners for Eric’s new fender. We were unable to find what we needed so we continued on heading downhill toward the river. When we found it, it wasn’t what I expected. The “river” was cement-lined and it just didn’t seem right. So we checked our map and sure enough, this was NOT the river (maybe a drainage ditch?), so we continued on and found the river a few blocks down. We rode our bikes over the Nagatabashi bridge and stopped halfway to have a closer look at the river. From the bridge it appeared to be only about 2 ft deep (but it WAS a long ways down, so I could be wrong), was crystal clear. We could even see several fish that appeared to be about 12-14″ long lazily swimming along. The Louisiana in me (or maybe genes I inherited from my mother) wanted to pull out a fishing pole and toss it in! Maybe there will be a chance to catch a fish in Japan before I leave, but this definitely wasn’t the time or place.

We crossed the bridge, turned around and crossed back over and decided to take a different route back. There were so many little shops, cafes and noodle shops along the way that it was hard to see all this new territory and watch where I was steering my bike! Safety prevailed and I only glanced out of the corner of my eye. We stopped when Eric noticed an emergency animal clinic along the route so we could note its location in the unlikely event we need one. I noticed a house/building across the street with shuttered windows like we saw on 16th century buildings in Kawagoe. The shutters were 3 layers thick and used for protection against attacks but also cold weather. So now I am wondering if this home/building in Fussa is also from the 16th century if there are others that old in town.

The light posts in this area of Fussa were hung with banners that said “Fussa Happy City.” I think I remember being told that Fussa does mean “happy city” in Japanese. Also on some lampposts in this area was a more permanent looking sign with three Japanese characters that I couldn’t read. I did, however, recognize the middle character as representing the sound “no” – not the meaning “no” but only the sound. Later, one of my Japanese friends Tomoko, told me that these three characters are “ama no gawa” which means “milky way” and refers to the Tanabata Festival (see Tanabata Festival).

As we pedaled on we found another bike shop where we spend at least an hour visiting with the clerk (he asked about our “tattoos” and so of course that started a whole conversation!). We looked around and found the parts Eric was looking for and also a wonderful little rack to go on the back of my bike. And, I must add, the colors of the rack (silver and black) matched my bike perfectly. The counter beside the cash register displayed some really intricate origami items that I had to ask about. One was a snake (this is the Year of the Snake in Japan) and the other was a peacock! I remember making origami birds in my 5th grade class, but there was no comparison…these were really complex and beautiful origami pieces. We finished our business and the clerk, along with Eric, installed my (color-coordinated) rack on my bike (of course now I need some kind of wonderful bag to go on the rack).

We left the shop and turned left down what I believe to be Shin-Okutama Kaido street to find our favorite Mexican restaurant. It was lunchtime and we were both hungry. I was traveling down the sidewalk about 10 yards behind Eric going a little faster than before (the hunger thing), and as I was whizzing by, I vaguely noticed a concerete/cement wall on my left, and before it could register in my mind, an opening in the wall passed as I was engulfed in the smell of incense. By the time THAT registered we were passing a Torii gate (indication of a temple) and I was yelling to Eric, “S-T-O-P!!!” He turned around and we rode under the Torii and onto the temple grounds.

WOW, I was so excited that we had discovered this temple, and beside it, where the incense fragrance originated was a cemetery. Immediately beside us, in a flower bed, was a beautiful dark pink blossomed tree that reminded me of azaleas back home. My guess is that it was a plum tree based on descriptions I had heard from others. And then, just to the right of this beautiful tree was a posted that read (in both Japanese and English), “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Eric saw it and commented on it about the time I saw it too. It really struck me that here I was, a Christian-to-the-core person, with my Christian tattoo standing on the grounds of a Buddhist Temple in a country and a culture that could hardly be any more different than my own. But even with all the differences, there is also much sameness. Once again, I was reminded how very blessed I am to be here, at this time.

During the remainder of our ride, I kept thinking about that quote on the post. Really a simple idea, and certainly not a new idea. But in all the craziness and upheaval in our world this little marker on the grounds of a Buddhist temple was certainly an unexpected blessing. The next day in church we sang the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The words of one particular verse stood out to me… “blessings all mine with ten-thousand beside.” I can’t stop singing that hymn!