Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Experimental Task at a High School

Next week (October 1) I will be doing my annual Kenkyuujugyou (open class) for 20 jr. high school students I have never met and then I will give a 90 minute lecture to English teachers observing my lesson about Task Based Language Teaching. It just so happens that last week I was asked to give a 90 minute lecture in Japanese about "university life" to two groups of 87 and 29 high school students, respectively. The first group consisted of first and second year students (US equivalent is sophomores and juniors) and the second group consisted of 3rd year students. As a warm-up for my task-based lesson at the junior high school, I decided to give a 20-minute "mini demonstration lesson" at the ending of my lecture at the high school.
The task that I had students do was similar to the global education activity I introduced a few months ago. After doing the task, I gave students a short questionnaire to fill out. Through giving this questionnaire, I wanted to know why students who talked to their partner and completed the task were able to do so and why students who could not communicate with their partner were not able to do so. I was hoping that identifying some factors of why students failed and succeeded in language learning tasks would help me plan my task-based lesson for next week.
Here is what I did for the task:
A. Pre-Task: (Preparation for the Main Task)
Step 1. Students were given page 1 of the following document. In the document the world is divided into 11 regions. It asks students "if the world only had 100 $1 bills, how many dollar bills would be in each region? " The teacher explains in English to students what they should do.
Step 2. Students individually write the number of dollar bills that each region should have. (5 minutes)
Step 3. Students watch a video of the teacher and a colleague doing the Main Task (see below)
B. Main Task
Step 4. Students compare their answers with a partner and agree on how much dollar bills should be in each region They do this in English. (7 minutes) . The outcome of this task is a completed chart whose figures both students can agree on.
C. Post-Task
Step 5. The teachers calls an pairs to give their answers and ask why they gave such answers. (5 minutes).

I knew that step 4 would be very difficult for students to do, so I had them watch the below video of me and a colleague doing the same task before doing pair work.

For the first group of 87 students, we had little time to do the task but for the second group we had more time and also the number of students, 29, was much fewer so I was actually able to help students that were in trouble. Anyway, after the task I asked students to write whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the below statement. I was interested in learning why students were either able or not able to interact with each other in English for the Main Task (Step 4).

I talked to my partner about how many dollar bills should be in each region.
In the first group, 25 students wrote that they either strongly agreed or agreed while 3 wrote that they disagreed.

In the second group, 45 students wrote that they either strongly agreed or agreed while 35 wrote that they strongly disagreed or disagreed. You can see all the data here. I was surprised that so many students were able to do the task successfully.

I then asked students to give reasons why they agreed or disagreed. I organized the responses into categories. Below are the categories, the number of responses that fell within a category, and a description of the category.

Categories for Responses of Students who were able to communicate in English
(Please click on the above link to see the actual responses)
Attitude (10 responses): Respondents were positive about doing the activity and did not feel any anxiety.
Effort (10 responses): Respondents communicated meaning by any means possible: gestures, words etc.
Fun (2 responses) : The activity was fun and the respondents wanted to participate
Knowledge (11 responses) : Respondents were able to use the English that they knew.
Motivation (3 responses) : Respondents had a strong desire to speak in English
Pre-task (13 responses) : The video demonstration of the task was helpful
Teacher (4 responses) : The teacher's explanation was easy to understand or the teacher helped individual students
Teamwork (17 responses): Respondents were able to work well with their partner to complete the task.
Japanese (1 response): Respondents used Japanese to complete the task.

Categories for Responses of Students who were not able to communicate in English

Attitude (1 response): Respondents were not positive about engaging in the task.
Cannot understand the activity(19 responses): Respondents did not understand the English directions, the activity was generally too difficult, they had no idea what to do, or the chart was confusing.
Knowledge・ability (8 responses): Respondents felt that they lacked specific knowledge or ability to do the task
Performance Anxiety(9 Responses): Respondents were embarrassed about speaking English or just shy in general, they did not know how they should speak during the speaking activity.

My Analysis
The Successful Students
Students who successfully communicated with a classmate to fill out a chart were able to do so because they did not feel much anxiety, had a good working relationship with their partner, communicated their thoughts by any means possible, were able to use the English knowledge that they had, or took advantage of the video demonstration to help them do the task. These students were able to accomplish the task with their friends, using clues, relying on their own knowledge or communicative strategies. In other words, these students found a way to get the job done by themselves in a variety of manners rather than relying on ad nauseum explanations from the teacher. I think that an effective task enables students to use the knowledge that they already have but also try to experiment and use new language like the language that they saw from the video. It is ideal for students to be interested in the task, have enough confidence in their English ability to use it, have a good working relationship with their peers, and be willing to use communicative strategies.

The Unsuccessful Students
Most students reported that they were unable to do the task because they were lost from the beginning. Students also reported that they were not successful because they lacked the abiltiy to do the task or felt nervous or awkward using English with a peer. It was my impression that many of the unsuccessful students froze and felt very anxious from the beginning. They felt awkward asking for help or asking their peers what they should do. In the second group, I was able to help some students who were in trouble and they were able to complete the task. In the group of 87 students, I was too overwhelmed.

Many of the students wrote that they were not used to this kind of activity and I believe that a lot of students who have been able to do a similar task if given the opportunity to try again. Usually, the first time you try a new activity with students, many do no understand what is going on. When they have the opportunity to try the task again, though, they usually do much better the second time. Thus, I think that experiencing success can help relieve students of the anxiety and stress they feel when doing tasks that require them to follow directions in English and work with a peer in English.

Concerning group work and pair work, I think that the teacher has to a little careful in putting students with peers who they will be comfortable working with or whose diverse abilities or personalities would make the group dynamic and exciting.

When I teach my class in the junior high school next week I have decided that I am going to take my time introducing the task and making sure that students understand what they are supposed to be doing. Last week, I rushed through the task because it was just supposed to occupy the last few minutes of a lecture. I think that if I do not hurry learners they will do better and be able to overcome the anxiety they feel.

Lastly, a lot of students answered "I just didn't know how I should speak English" during the communicative activity even though I showed them the video beforehand. I think that many students are not familiar with using communicative strategies. so, when I teach at the jr. high school next week one of my goals will be to help students learn communicative strategies.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Doing Task-based Teaching: A Book Review

I recently read Dave and Jane Willis's "Doing Task Based Teaching" and found it immensely helpful in getting me to generate a lot of different kind of language learning tasks. They divide tasks into the following categories based on a classification of cognitive processes
1) Listing
2) Ordering and sorting
3) Matching
4) Comparing
5) Problem solving
6) Sharing personal experiences
7) Projects and creative tasks
and also give concrete examples for each kind of task.

So far, I have found this taxonomy helpful for planning tasks with advanced learners (high school and university). In other words, I think that their tasks will work well with learners who have some linguistic knowledge but do not know how to use it.

I have even found this taxonomy helpful in planning workshop discussions in Japanese. Today, I went to a high school and gave two 1.5 hour workshops in Japanese to 87 and 29 students respectively about "University life". We had a discussion about effective language learning methods where I had the high school students do a listing task and then discuss the results with each other. I think discussions work best when participants have some kind of concrete outcome to attain (for example an individual makes a list, he then compares his list to another person's list, they then make a new list and then share their results with the rest of the class).

I also found their suggestions for how to facilitate certain tasks as well as accounts of real tasks from teachers across the world to be very helpful. For example, one thing that I learned is to always have students do a task individually at first and then work with others after they have made some progress by themselves and understand the task.

For me, one drawback of this book is that Dave and Jane Willis fail to show that their teaching methodology can be used with beginning learners in EFL contexts who have very little knowledge of English or exposure to English outside of the classroom.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido (Part 4)

Day 4: Oshmambe to Date (60 Kilometers)

I woke up at about 6AM, had breakfast with the family which had given me dinner the night before, played badminton with the daughter of the family and left Oshamanbe Park at about 8:30 AM.

Before I left I met a university student who happened to be camping next to me. He was in the university cycling club and took a keen interest in me and my trip. He had arrived to Oshamanbe by train from the main Island and was planning to cycle Hokkaido for the next month with his college buddies. I marvelled at the guy's state of the art equipment and wondered how much it had cost him. It seemed like he had spared no expense in preparing himself for his trip. He was surprised that I had gone such a far distance on such a crummy bicycle while carrying a backpack. I told him that when you become 30, you become careless, start doing any kind of endeavor haphazardly and stop caring about whether or not you have the right equipment. He told me that my trip would have been much easier if I had used smooth-surfaced tires rather than the rugged mountain bike tires and I agreed with him. Here is a picture of Mr. Tour-De France. What I learned from him will help me in my next bicycle trip.

The first 10 kilometers after Oshamanbe were easy riding but the pain that I had been feeling in my right knee was starting to become a little more acute and I was not able to ride this section in the time I wanted to. Why did I want to ride the first 10 kilometers so fast? After I had cycled the 10 kilometers I would have to tackle 45 kilometers of mountainous road between Shizukari(静狩) and Abuta (虻田). The greatest challenge would be traversing the Shizukari Mountain Pass (静狩峠) and the Reibungei Mountain Pass (礼文華峠). To the left is a picture of the mountains that I would be cycling through.

Surprisingly, once I started ascending the first mountain, my body responded to the challenge and my knee felt fine. Of course, I felt physically tired but I did not feel any other kinds of aches and pains which made the ride rather enjoyable. I had driven this route by car many times but never imagined that I would some day be cycling it.

One thing this route had was many tunnels, a total of 7. The longest tunnel was almost 1 kilometer. To the left is a picture of one. Before I went on this trip I looked on the Internet for rules of etiquette on how to go through a tunnel on a bicycle but could not find anything. Going through tunnels can be a little intimidating. First, although there are lights in the tunnel, it is still dark. Second, most tunnels do not have a walk way wide enough to ride a bicycle on with confidence and do not have any kinds of breakdown/bicycle lanes. In other words, at any given part of the tunnel, if the 2 lanes from both directions have cars there is no room for a bicycle on the road. Third, the noise of a vehicle is greatly magnified in a tunnel so that even a mini-car sounds like a bullet train. Lastly, the wind generated from a passing vehicle in a tunnel is quite strong and when you are riding in limited space it can be a little daunting. Anyway, I don't want to scare you too much. Going through a tunnel really isn't that bad. My advice would be to not do anything you are uncomfortable doing. For example, if you are uncomfortable riding your bicycle on the road, don't do it, walk it. Most of the times I rode my bicycle through the tunnels but there was one tunnel that had very heavy traffic and I walked my bicycle half the way. When riding through tunnels cyclists have the following options:

1) Ride your bicycle on the walkway if it is wide enough or you have enough confidence to ride your bicycle on a narrow space while withstanding the wind from the cars.
2) Ride your bicycle on the road.

3) Walk you bicycle on the walkway.

4) Walk your bicycle on the walkway when there are cars and ride your bicycle on the road when there are not cars.

Anyway, my experience riding on the roads of the tunnels was that the cars respected me. However, at one point when the traffic was very heavy I did decide to walk my bicycle and not test the etiquette of the drivers.

At the Reibungei Mountain Pass, I decided to take a detour, get off the mountain pass, and cycle along the Reibungei coast. I am glad that I did it. Cycling through the Reibungei town felt like riding through a ghost town. Although Reibungei is still inhabited I did not see a single person. I saw no food stores but several beauty salons which made me wonder about the priorities of the Reibungei folk. Of course, there were a few farms; maybe that is where they got their food. Reibungei also had a beautiful beach which was packed with people and tents as the beach also served as a camp site. If anyone is interested in camping for the night on a beach I recommend the Reibungei beach. I think you should keep in mind though, that there are probably very few food stores near by. However, if you would like to get a perm before or after you camp this would be a good site for you.

I took a rest on the Reibungei coast and took the above picture. It was at this point that I decided to meet up with my wife in a town called Date and go back to Kuriyama that day rather than spend one more day riding. Past Date, I did not think the ride would be so interesting as I would follow the coast for about 50 kilometers through Muroran and Tomokomai, two major industrial cities, and then go about 60 kilometers on rt. 234 inland from Tomakomai to Kuriyama. My body also ached, but the primary reason was that I missed my family and wanted to see them. So, at this beautiful spot where I took the picture, I called my wife and asked her to pick me up in Date. From Date, I would put my bicycle in the car (this is where the expensive bicycle bag came in handy) and we would drive the 120 kilometers back to Kuriyama.

When I was cycling to Date, I realized I had made the right decision as my pace was slow and my back and knee were really starting to hurt. On my way to Date I met someone who was cycling the perimeter of Japan on a 3 speed Mama-chari (Japanese basket bicycle) and felt embarrassed to be complaining about my aches and pains as I had only been cycling for 4 days and on a 21 speed bicycle. At about 3:00 PM I arrived at the Date michi no eki which also featured a "History Village" rekishinomura and waited for my wife to pick me up. To the right is a picture of me at the ending of my trip.

To give one last final reflection on my trip, I was a woefully inexperienced cyclist/camper and had I known what I was doing and been properly prepared I probably could have made it to Kuriyama. Nevertheless, traveling Northern Japan by bicycle enabled me to see that part of the country and interact with the people like I had never done before. I think that a heavily accented, smelly, sweaty and funny-looking guy such as myself must have been an intimidating sight for those who encountered me. Nevertheless, I was treated with respect wherever I went and also received help when I was in need even when I did not ask for it. This trip made me appreciate greatly the relative safety of Japan and also the generosity and thoughtfulness of so many people. Frequently Japan receives a lot of criticism from ex-pats (including me) for its treatment (particularly policy) towards foreigners, but this trip served as a reminder to me about how open-minded and hospitable so many Japanese people are.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido: Part 3

Day 3:Hakodate (Ono) to Oshamanbe (75 Kilometers)
After arriving in Hakodate on August 11, where I lived for 2 years, I spent the day eating and relaxing. My friend Bill let me stay at his place and was a great host. In the morning I ate at the morning market. I then took a nap and in the afternoon I ate a huge burger at Lucky Pierrot, a fast food chain that can only be found in Hakodate. After lunch I went to a hot spring and then appeared in one of Bill's English classes as a guest. The class was for children from one-parent households and Bill taught it as a volunteer. The night of the 11th, Bill and I went out and I was able to catch up with another old friend, Rintaro. The next day, I would regret staying out so late the night before. On the morning of August 12, Bill and I went to his in-laws' house in a town called Ono which is right outside of Hakodate (I actually lived in Ono for two years and not Hakodate). Bill rode my bicycle out to Ono and I drove his car. (Bill is riding my bike in the picture below to the left. The picture below that is a picture of Hakodate Mountain.)

Bill and I ate breakfast at Ono and then Bill's father in-law and brother in-laws were nice enough to oil my bicycle chain and give me a tire pump that would work for both woods or American valves (see my last post for a discussion of bicylce valves). Bill's father-in-law used to have a bicycle shop and was extremely generous in giving me some of his unsold merchandise.

At the time, Hokkaido was in the middle of a rare heat wave. The temperature was about 32 degrees celcius (90 fahrenheit). At about 11AM, Bill and I put my bicycle in his car and we drove about 7 kilometers North of Ono (there was a nasty hill and a long tunnel that I wanted to avoid). At about 11:30 I was back on the road. My destination was Oshamanbe (長万部)where I planned to spend the night at the campsite in Oshamanbe Kouen (Park). When I started, I was about 75 kilometers from Oshamanbe and, despite the heat, I was feeling fantastic. The breeze I felt while coasting on my bicycle kept me cool. I knew that there would be no mountains to travel over or serious hills before Oshamanbe. I looked forward to an easy ride. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes my knee started to hurt and as I approached the coast the wind got stronger and I had to pedal against it all the way to Oshamanbe. Again, my pace slowed down and it was not an easy bicycle ride.

Despite not feeling my best physically, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Unlike the first day, I was in no hurry. My goal was to make it to Oshamanbe before dark (75 kilometers) and I knew I could do that easily. I was traveling down a road, route 5, I had driven by car many times when I lived in Ono and would visit my in-laws in Kuriyama. Route 5 runs along the eastern coast of the Oshima Penninsula. When driving down route 5 to Oshamanbe, the bigger towns that you pass through are Mori and Yakumo. There are also a lot of fishing villages in between.

When I used to drive to Kuriyama, I would take route 5 from Ono to Oshamanbe and then get on the express way at Oshamanbe and drive to Kuriyama. Going from Ono to Oshamanbe, I would drive as fast as possible because I thought that there was nothing but lonely fishing villages, small towns, and barren coasts in between. This time, though, on my bicycle, I was excited to see what actually lied between Oshamanbe and Hakodate. (Above is a picture of me in Yakumo with Mt. Komagatake in the background).

One of the interesting things I discovered was a place to get natural water from its source for free in Yakumo (see the picture to the left). I also stopped at a store in a small town called Kunnui which was about 11 kilometers from Oshamanbe. Kunnui consisted of a post office, a general store and houses. I sat on a bench outside the general store, drank a soda, talked to the clerk of the store, and watched some people walk out of their houses and greet each other. I know this seems strange, but I felt very happy to actually be able to meet and observe people in this small town I had driven through so many times and ignored. I realized that when we drive cars quite often we are completely oblivious to everything between point A and point B. Traveling Hokkaido by bicycle made me appreciate the towns, sights, places, houses, stores and people in every kilometer of the road.

I arrived in Oshamanbe, a town of approximately 7000 people, at about 5:45. As I am a terrible navigator, I struggled to find the Oshamanbe Park campsite. When I reached the dead end of a rural road, I knocked on the door of a house and asked a surprised elderly woman if she knew where the park was. She instructed me to go back the way I came, take a left, cross a bridge, take another left, and then knock on someone else's door and ask. I did as she said and eventually found the park at about 6:30.

The park was beautiful, I was surprised. (To the left is a picture of my bicycle, Sheila, at the campsite). There was a river running through it, a nice green lawn for tents, bungalows for renting, hiking trails (I think), a place to have a barbeque, a playground for kids, and most importantly clean bathrooms and nice sinks which were outdoors. It cost 500 yen per person to use the campsite for the evening.

I was excited to use the tent that a colleague at work had lent me. He told me that he had not used the tent for about 10 years but that it was very easy to set up. I unpacked the tent and checked the contents of the bag. There was the tent canvas, a cover for the tent, and a plastic sheet to put under the tent. There was also a long poll, there was a shorter poll, and there were many pieces of what seemed to be for a third poll. Here, I got a little confused. I was not sure if there were supposed to be 2 polls or 3 polls. Also, I was not sure if the shorter poll was missing some pieces and supposed to be the same size as the longer poll. I struggled to set up the tent for about 15 minutes when I noticed that it was almost dark. Near my tent was a family of 4 who were getting ready to have a barbeque. They had pitched two very nice tents and had a lot of nice camping equipment; they looked like they were very experienced campers. I was tempted to ask for help but was too proud. When it was almost dark, the father and eldest son approached me and asked me if I needed help. I swallowed my pride and said yes. We worked out the problem with the polls and set up my tent in about 10 minutes.

After we had finished, the mother of the family told me that I could bring my dinner to their area and eat dinner with them if I wished. I told her that I would be very happy to do that but would have to go to the local convenience store first and buy dinner (it was about 2 kilometers away). I think she felt sorry for me and invited me to eat dinner with them. I said yes and was treated to a wonderful barbeque with a wondefully nice family from a city North of Oshamabe called Muroran. The son was a high school student and the daughter was an elementary school student. The son had a girlfriend and spent much of the dinner text-messaging her on his cellphone. When he was not talking to his girlfriend, he was very social and a lot of fun to talk to. I drank beer with the father and mother and learned about Muroran, camping, and the son's girlfirend. After dinner, we went to a hot spring in the family's car and enjoyed a bath. That night I slept very well. In the morning, I ate breakfast with the family and played badminton with youngest daughter. (To the left is a picture of the family.) Throughout the trip, every time I had experienced a problem such as a flat tire, getting lost, or a defective tent, I was fortunate enough to get help. I was one lucky guy.

In my next post I will talk about my last day as well as my experience cycling through tunnels.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido: Part 2

Day 1: Morioka City to Aomori City: 200 kilometers (August 10)

There isn't actually so much to write about this day. I rode 200 kilometers in 16.5 hours. It was brutal and I did not do anything very fun, I just rode and rested. I am writing about this so any novice cyclist can learn from my experience or any somewhat experienced cyclist can laugh at me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had originally planned to go from Morioka to Aomori City in 2 days leaving Morioka on August 10 and arriving on August 11. From Aomori I planned on taking a ferry to Hakodate. Because the ferries were going to be completely booked from August 11 and I would have a very difficult time getting my bicycle onto the ferry I decided to get to Aomori city on August 10.

I planned to leave my house at 3:30AM on that day and figured I could do 200 kilometers in about 12 hours averaging about 20 kilometers an hour and using 2 hours for rest. I imagined myself arriving in Aomori at about 4PM and being in Hakodate that night drinking beer and eating sushi with friends. Boy, was I wrong.

I got out of bed at 5 AM and it took me about an hour and half to get ready for the journey. I left my house at 6:30 without eating breakfast. My plan was to take route 4 all the way from Morioka to Aomori. In a little over an hour I had gone about 20 kilometers. I was not going as fast as I wanted but I was happy with my progress I stopped off at a Daily Yamazaki convenience store and ate breakfast and then was back on my way. In not so much time I was in Iwate-cho, 40 kilometers from Morioka. Soon after passing through Iwate-cho I experienced the 奥中山高原 or the Okunaka Mountain High Plains. The sign on the right marks the highest point on route 4, 458 meters above sea level. At this point I thought that I had overcome the hardest stretch of the trip. That was not to be the case.

After passing through Okunaka Kougen I arrived at 一戸 or ichinohe. "Ichi" means one and "he" means "door". Interestingly, there also exists a "2 no he" a "3 no he" a "5 no he" a "6 no he" a "7 no he", an "8 no he" and a "9 no he". I would have the honor of passing through all the "no hes" except for "8 no he" and "9 no he". Throughout the day, I wondered what the founding fathers of Iwate Prefecture and Aomori Prefecture were thinking when they were naming the towns. There must be some interesting history there.

At Ichinohe, the rain changed from drizzle to downpour. Because I was in a hurry to get to Aomori, I decided to go on in the pouring rain. As I was cycling up a hill I saw a cyclist standing under a tree waiting for the rain to stop. We made eye contact and he looked at me as if I was an idiot for cycling in the pouring rain. In this pouring rain, my feet and undergarments became soaked and would remain damp the rest of the 16 hours. When cycling, bring good water-resistant apparel as well as wear water resistant shoes or avoid cycling in a downpour.

After Ichinohe I passed through Ninohe (2 no he). As I was leaving Ninohe, I had gone about 80 kilometers and it was 11AM. I was feeling confident that I would be in Aomori city by 5PM. Unfortunately, 5 kilometers outside of central Ninohe I had a setback. As I was cycling up a hill, all of a sudden the back of the bicycle felt heavy. I looked down and realized that I had a flat tire. I got off my bicycle, tried to pump up the tire and realized that the hole in the tube was too big for any air to stay in the tire for a period of time. I took my spare tube out of my bag but soon realized that the valve of my spare tube was incompatible with my pump. According to the Japan Cycling website, most bicycles in Japan use a "Woods valve" (in Japanese the notation for this is 英) while the international standard is a "French" (仏)or "American valve" (米). The tube on my bike was an American valve so I had bought a pump compatible with that kind of valve. The lesson I learned is that when cycling in Japan bring a pump that can do Woods as well as French and American valves.

I was closer to Ninohe than Sannohe (3 no he), but did not want to walk in the oppostite direction so I decided to walk towards san no he and pray that I find a bicycle store along the way. After walking about a kilometer, I came across a gas station in the middle of no where. I explained to them my predicament and they told me that the nearest bicycle store was 10 kilometers away. Of course, they did not sell bicycle pumps. I asked them if they could pump up the tire and they said yes. I then asked them if they change the tube and they said yes. So I got to sit in the waiting room of the gas station and have a coke as the attendants fixed my bicycle tire. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I saw the cyclist I saw under a tree in Ichinohe pass the gas station. They also patched my tube for me and informed me that it had been punctured by a nail. Getting my tire fixed cost me 1050 Yen. It was money very well spent as I felt well rested and ready to cycle the remaining 118 kilometers. Later, when I recounted the story to a Japanese friend he said that the reason why the gas station helped me was because I was a foreigner and they might have blown off a normal Japanese. I don't know, though, these people acted like cyclists had come to them before when they were in trouble.

I left the gas station at close to 12PM. About 45 minutes later I was leaving sannohe (3 no he) when it started to pour. I was fortunate enough to see a michinoeki or "road station" which is similar to a highway rest stop. I stopped in the michinoeki, parked my bicycle and saw the cyclist who I had seen in under a tree in Ichinohe and pass me at the gas station between ninohe and sannohe, sitting under the porch of the rest area house sipping tea. I sat next to him and introduced myself. He lived near Morioka and was on his way to Hachinohe, a city about 30 kilometers from our present position. When I told him my destination and plan he called it 無謀 (mubou) which means foolhardy. A woman working at the rest area house overheard our conversation and gave me a cup of green tea. After about 10 minutes the rain stopped, and I felt good and ready to go the remaining 95 kilometers. It was about 1:30 PM.

After 10 minutes of riding the sun came out. I soon left sannohe and entered gonohe (5 no he). There is no 4 no he because the pronunciation for 4 sounds like the character for "death" and thus it is considered bad luck. At gonohe I encountered hills and mountains that went on for many kilometers. It was at about this time that I started to feel extremely fatigued. It seemed like everything was uphill and it never ended. I could have stopped in central gonohe but decided to continue. I thought that I could make it to Towada city which was about 20 kilometers away. The hills, though, became mountains, and my progress became agonizingly slow. At about 3PM I pulled into the Towada michi no eki barely able to stand. I ate a quick lunch and fell asleep for an hour. I woke up at 4:15 PM and left the michinoeki at 4:30 PM. I still had 80 kilomters to go to Aomori City. Between 6:30 AM and 11AM I had manage to cycle 80 kilometers. Between 12PM and 3PM, though, I had only managed 40 kilometers. My pace was slowing down and I was feeling tired even after my hour long nap. I had 80 kilometers to go, it was 4:30 PM and it would be dark before 7PM.

To make a long story short. The remaining 80 kilometers were hilly but not mountainous. I had to rest about 10 minutes for every hour I rode. Also, once it became dark my pace slowed even more. I made it into Aomori City at about 10:30 and then got lost. Route 4 approaching Aomori City is not bicycle friendly and I would recommend that cyclists try to find an alternative route into the city if possible. After asking for directions at a police box I was able to find the ferry terminal at about 11:30PM.

I had made a ferry reservation for early morning (5AM) for myself on August 11. They told me that I would be unable to take my bicycle so I had bought a bag (輪行 - rinkou)to put my bicycle in so that I could carry it on the ferry as luggage. When I got to the ticket booth at the ferry terminal I asked the agent if I could change my reservation and ride on the 1AM ferry. He looked at me as if I was crazy and informed me that the 1AM ferry was completely booked and that all the ferries leaving the next day and the day after were completely booked. He told me that if I wished they could put me on the wait list for the 1AM ferry and that I should go to the "waiting list" line. When I spoke to the agent at the waiting list line he told me that I could ride on the 1AM ferry with no problem. I asked him if I could also bring my bicycle on the ferry and he said no problem, I could put it together with the motorbikes. At that moment, I wondered why in the hell I had spent 12,000 yen for a bicycle bag. (The bag turned out to be very useful when I packed the bicycle in my car.)

Boarding the ferry was pretty interesting. I boarded the ferry together with the motorcycles, pedaling my bicycle into the ferry while the other bikes motored in. My bicycle, Sheila, was tied to the wall of the garage as the picture to the right shows. Disembarking from the ferry was a little unpleasant. About 20 minutes before the ferry docked, all drivers, bikers and cyclists were instructed to go into the garage and wait in their cars or on their bikes. When I got into the garage, all the cars and trucks had their engines running and I felt like I would die from carbon monoxide poisoning. I took a picture of the scene and you can see it on the left. Eventually, the garage doors opened and I pedaled off the ferry between one big white truck and one dark one. I had made it to Hakodate. It was 5AM and my friend Bill was there to greet me. I decided the first thing I would do was go to Hakodate's Morning Market and eat sushi.

To be continued....