This summer in Japan was the hottest on record in six decades. Even after 13 years enduring Mississippi summers, I can never get used to such unbearable heat. More than 300 people died from the heat while we were there and there were at least 40,000 hospitalizations due to complications from heat stroke. As in the US, elderly individuals are at the highest risk of adverse effects from heat exposure, and many either can’t afford air conditioning or refuse to run it, thinking it a waste of money. Maybe it’s my public health training, but I can’t help but think that dying of heat stroke is inherently an affliction of the poor. Rich people have air conditioners and don’t mind using them. Regardless, Japanese air conditioners are ill equipped to deal with Japanese summers.
Braving the heat, I borrowed my brother in law’s bike and rode the Akashi/Himeji Cycling Road from Akashi Okubo Station to Himeji. It was only 100 degrees but I wanted to get in a least some amount of bike time in while I was in Japan. Japan is excellent for cycling. The government has created a vast network of paved cycling roads, well off the main automobile infested streets, with detailed signs and maps along the way so that one does not get lost. Convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere, no fear of getting mugged or sick, it’s tailor made for cycling. Plus, one gets to enjoy the incredible scenery along the way. Unfortunately, though, the Akashi-Himeji Cycling Road is mostly under a Shinkansen track and looks like the picture on the right for miles. The plus side is that there is shade underneath the track.
Once one actually gets to Himeji, however, the challenge is to find the castle. After getting some miserable directions that took me at least 5 miles out of my way, I finally made it to the castle. Himeji castle is famous for being one of the most beautiful existing castles in Japan. Kurosawa filmed both Kagemusha and Ran at the site. It’s breathtaking, but now looking at the pictures, I realize that the heat must have been getting to me (some pictures are fairly inexplicable). I don’t think I really appreciated how fantastic it is. Unfortunately, the main building is closed for renovation and will be for the next 5 years or so. One can still get into one of the minor buildings, though.