Morning in Miyakonojo

I'm on my way to work, metallic blue mountain bike gleaming in the morning sun. Stopped at a traffic light. I feel 40 eyes on me. Is it me or my weird Styrofoam bike helmet? "Do all foreigners wear those mushroom hats?", commuters wonder. I know that I look like an enokidake, long, lean and white. I am kotsu anzen bicycle 'safety driver', I think. Green light. I'm off.
Past the vegetable shop where an old man who looks like Confucius is putting out chingen-sai and shungiku. Confucius always gives me a discount. We exchange our usual greeting. I make a mental note to do some shopping there after work today.
Everyone is on their way to work now. The fruit shops are open already. How do those shops survive? There are two shops with identical merchandise right across a narrow street from each other. I consider for the first time that they are run by the same family. The 400 yen apples look good. So do the 3600 yen gift peaches, but where did they get those in January?
Hold my breath as I bike past the ramen shop where pork-scented steam perpetually billows out into the street. What did the ramen people think when they saw 'Babe'? Maybe they haven't seen it.
I pass the barber shop where the hippest barber I have ever seen is sweeping the street in front of his shop. He is a man of change, sporting a new hairdo every week it seems. Today he has sideburns. Big ones like Elvis. The universality of the barber pole impresses me.
Almost there now. I pull into the bike parking area and say hello to other cyclists arriving to work. After six months of parking our bikes next to each other we have become friends. They know me now, and my weird helmet and multiple reflectors on my huge 'gaijin' bike. We are used to each other and we are friends.
Here I fit in to the same degree as I stick out. At 190 cm I stick out a lot. In a world where I am so different, I also am much the same. Seeing the same sights, buying the same vegetables as the people that I work with. So many strange and unusual sights, smells and sounds have become normal that Japan doesn't feel foreign anymore. I think that is what feeling at home is all about.
Written by Wendy Reinalda

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