(PICTURE: The end of the line for my bike.)
Buying a bicycle the first week in Koryama was the greatest purchase I have made in a long time. The whole time I was here I only rode the local bus two times because I rode everywhere. Katie and I guesstimated that I rode at least 400 miles in three months between commuting to work, going to the gym every night, exploring Koryama and taking the river bike path a few times. I've tried to think of a way to bring my bike back to Vietnam with me but it just isn't economically feasible especially when I can buy the same exact bike in Vietnam for the same price I bought this one for. However, that doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye.
During the second to last week of school one of my students told me that he had broken his bike. I had devised a great plan to surprise him with my bicycle the last day of school when two days prior to the end, he told me he got a new bike. I now had two options for my bicycle:
Option 1: Sell it to a second-hand store. There is one a few minutes from me that will probably give me $20 for it.
Option 2: Find a small street and leave it there until the next time I come back to Japan.
Yes, option #2 sounds ridiculous but let me recant a story that my friend Mikka told me: Mikka said that she works with a girl who taught in Japan last year. At the end of her contract she left her bike, with the key in the lock, in an alley in Tokyo. The teacher left Japan for three months and when she came back, BAM, the bicycle was still in the same spot. How amazing is that?
Gosh, I'm gonna miss my bike and Japanese honesty.
Anyway, in the end I went with Option #1. Turns out it was a GREAT move. Masumi, Kensuke and I went to a local second hand shop to get an offer on my bike. The owner told us to wait a minute and instead of just twiddling our thumbs, we perused the store. I gotta tell you, I've been to many a second hand store before but this one took the cake. This place was awesome. They had all this old authentic Japanese stuff and I was enthralled that I almost immediately said to Masumi, "Maybe I can swap my bike for one of these [old giant Japanese banners that I was looking at."
First things first, the owner went outside with us and gave my bike the once over and offered me 1500 Yen. Frankly I was offended since I assumed the lowest he would offer was 2,000 Yen. However I played it cool and offered my swap idea. The owner was game and we went back into the shop. I pointed at the banners and asked which he recommended. He ended up choosing an old one that had a price tag on it for 3,150 Yen! That's more than double what he was offering for my bike. I immediately agreed to the deal. The owner went to get his ladder when something caught my eye high on the wall. There was a hand print with Japanese writing over it.
(PICTURE: The hand print with Japanese writing.)
I asked Masumi what it was and she told me it was a sumo wrestler's hand print and his signature. BOOM! I asked the owner if I could switch and he said no problem. Masumi then asked him a question in Japanese and got excited when he told her that he had her favorite sumo's hand print/signature.
(PICTURE: The owner taking down the hand print/signature.)
This particular collectible had a 4,000 Yen price tag on it. I asked the guy if he would swap it with me and I would give him another 1,000 Yen (Yup, I thought I was getting money when I went into the store). The guy agreed and then hooked me up again by only charging me 500 Yen. I asked Masumi if she wanted the item but she told me to keep it. Besides the giant calendar I was given the day before, I now have a huge framed sumo hand print/signature to carry for ten days. Sure it is a pain in the ass to carry but it is by far the best souvenir from Japan ever!!!!
(PICTURE: Almost an even swap.)
Oh, if you're into sumo, the hand print/signature is for the retired sumo heartthrob Terao.