November 17, 2016 § 27 Comments
Everybody knows about sushi but my favorite Japanese food is J-toast. It’s hard to describe perfection but I will try. J-toast is made from big thick slices of white bread that are too thick for sandwiches and too soft to eat plain with butter.
When toasted they form a perfectly sized piece of crack that absorbs butter slabs without getting soggy and allows you to mount thick layers of jam without getting more than a couple of heart palpitations.
Every morning Honorable Mother-in-Law gets up at four and has hot coffee waiting for me when I awake, which is immediately followed by two pieces of J-toast.
In addition to its amazing taste and medicinal properties, J-toast is the perfect fuel for mama-chari bike adventures, filled as it is with empty calories and butter, and pre-amped in coffee.
I rolled out the mama-chari, which is an abbreviation of “mama” and “charinko.” Charinko means “crappy old bike” and is the preferred means of transport for anyone over 80, which is most of Japan nowadays.
The mama-chari has a number of performance characteristics common across all makes, models, and prices. First, it is real fucking heavy. You may want to know how heavy but let’s just say Strava Jr. doesn’t even have any kids who weigh this much. The weight protects the mama-chari in a collision by allowing it to absorb the impact of, say, a cement mixer, and continue unharmed.
Mama-chari don’t do carbon.
Mama-chari’s key function is carrying Obachan and shit, fully laden, so it has tiny 150mm cranks that allow it to get started from a dead stop by applying granny leg power, which, although considerable, needs all the help it can get. Mama-chari backs up the mini-cranks with a mini-drivetrain consisting of a single gear that measures 12 gear-inches. At first this seems a tad under-geared but when you hit a big climb, say anything greater than 1%, you immediately appreciate the physics, any physics at all, that will help you move 300 pounds of steel against the chains of gravity.
And speaking of chains, the mama-chari’s chain is ensconced in a complete covering, and the wheels are protected with massive fenders so ensure zero spatter anywhere. This is because obachan is certainly running multiple errands from the cleaners to the green grocer to the butcher to the relatives’ across town to drop off some tea and pick up some gossip to the funeral hall to pay respects to a young hale fellow of 97 who dropped dead in his prime to the hospital to say hello to Uncle Hideki who is getting a stent to the doctor’s office to get a mole checked out so, in other words, Obachan can’t get any mud or dirt or rain on her which is a real risk as she’s often doing this in a typhoon, snow storm, or riding through four feet of spring-melt mud slush.
Mama-chari comes fully equipped with a massive rear rack sturdy enough for mounting a kiddy seat for triplets or for carrying a granite headstone. On the handlebars, which are upright to improve Obachan’s posture and stability, there is a giant yellow bell, activated with the slightest flick of the wrist which will alert all pedestrians for the next couple of miles and scare all the pigeons and crows off the utility poles.
Since the mama-chari is so heavy, if it ever tipped over it would create a two-foot divot in the asphalt, so rather than a side kickstand it has a rear-wheel kickstand with a lock so that it can’t roll backwards and slide down the hill, killing thousands and losing the bread that Obachan pedaled twelve miles across town to save fifteen cents on.
But the crowning performance detail is the mama-chari basket. Forget the cute wicker thingy that fashion-conscious boys and girls attach in Santa Monica for $99. This beast is a solid steel cage that, when properly loaded with seasonal ham gift boxes, wool panties bought on sale at Tobu Department Store, three pairs of toilet slippers, a bag of mandarin oranges, and 30 kg of ready-crete to build out the rear deck, perfectly balances the uncut logs and 50-gallon planters that are strapped to the rear rack.
My morning goals were simpler than all that. I was going to ride out to the Utsunomiya race course that the UCI world road race championships were held on in 1990, and that my buddy Rick Kent and I rode when he came out to visit in 1999. Then I was going to do the epic climb and maybe shell a couple of unlucky locals.
I had forgotten the way to San Jose and after an hour of pedaling the mama-chari through narrow roads and rice fields I was lost, and more importantly I was exhausted from spinning the tiny cranks, the tiny gear, and the heavy bike uphill. Did I mention that the average obachan in Japan isn’t six feet tall? Because even with the saddle raised to its max my knees hit my chin. Bike Effect would probably not have approved of the fit.
My goal had been to find the race course, do the epic climb on my mama-chari, and still get home in time to leave for the family outing to Mashiko, the nearby pottery village, at eleven. I gave up, but not before running into an old friend out in the rice fields who I hadn’t seen in twenty years and who took a few seconds to realize he wasn’t seeing a ghost.
We chatted and caught up and I rode home just in time to un-thaw, bundle into the car, and head off for a day of food and reminiscences with Honorable Father-in-Law, Honorable Mother-in-Law, and Mrs. WM.
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Oh yes, J-toast is crack. It’s like roasting a marshmallow, crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. mmmmmm
Fortunately my (Japanese) wife finds it for us here in the States
I know the Mama-chari well too
Enjoy your trip
Lots of eating going on, but man oh man, those pics of the pottery are really cool.
Could have shot a billion of them!
All that talk about the mama-chari, you could at least post a full pic of the fucking thing, headstone included.
Don’t want to give it all up at once. Today I’m going to find the epic climb and ride it!
So awesome I love your adventure stories!! You look happy
Thanks!! Still no place like home though!
I love your vacation stories. I love even more my occasional reading dyslexia, because you just can’t beat a bell that scares cows off of utility posts. (I suspected wild boar on my back fence until I determined they were just really freaking angry raccoons; I do wonder if that bell would help.)
Haha!! That’s a typo too good to fix!!
Not even a typo – you had it correctly. I read it as cows. 🙂
Whew! I like cows better, though …
Where are the benjo ditches? It looks so clean and modern.
Way back when ….. the Olympics were coming to Tokyo everything got cleaned up …. even the benjo ditches
Notices were posted for men to stop urinating in public.
Not to generalize but Japanese people seemed more serious about life than most Westerners.
After a failed attempt to take over the government …..Yukio Mishima committed seppuku …. after gutting himself …. and his second whacked off his head in proper fashion. I read some of his translated works after that incident …. and liked them.
Young couples that did not have parental approval for marriage would also occasionally attempt suicide …. the preferred method being poison …. when I was based in Japan in the USMC … our doctors would save them with renal dialysis machines which were relatively new then …. and usually after showing such resolve …. the marriage would be approved.
If I remember ….. the Blue Entry awnings were tongkatsu parlors … pork served with lots of fat and very finely shredded cabbage …. like angel hair …….. ummmm good.
In Tokyo some of the tongkatsu parlors had ‘cheat’ seats … instead of sitting cross legged Asian style …. difficult for westerners for an extended period …. the restaurants had a deep trough for your feet …. so it looked like you were sitting cross legged … but you weren’t.
Warm sake was usually forsaken forever in lieu of beer and green tea after an initial trial …… and the worst headache you have ever had.
A giant bear woodie?
Yes. Someone finally noticed.
Skinny-san, you are obviously having so much fun in your second home that your boyish enthusiasm has caused me to delay my suicide attempts for at least until after the weekend.
So there ya go. Now I gotta go score some crack.
Old Tim Joe
Suicide can wait. For J-crack.
Up early (again). Thanks for the humor. I was laughing out loud, and then…I saw one of the photos, and couldn’t help but stare. Wanky….you are getting (a lot of) gray hair….cue gleeful eruptions of really hearty laughter…..welcome to the club.
AARP card & glasses, please!
My favorite kinda toast is French Toast made with thick slices of Raisin Challah…
Ahhhhh, more “Letters from Japan” memories. That’s what we called (and reprinted in the VC News) your posts to the guys at Freewheeling Bicycles back then.
THAT WASN’T ME!!!
You wouldn’t have happened to have raced at Gunma in 93? That would probably have been the closest I have to have met you in real life. That was a total no rhythm course if I recall. J toast and Japanese pastries with all the combinations I wouldn’t think of….
Yes, Mt. Akagi RR. Not sure if it was ’93 though.