Lake Yamanakako 50km
By Travis Cote
The blue road sign said, “Lake Yamanakako 50 km.” It was 6:30 a.m. and I was cycling west towards Mount Fuji. The lake on the eastern slope of the massive volcano was my goal. I don’t own a car so trains, busses and my bike are my primary modes of transportation. Although it is possible to get to Lake Yamanakako by a combination of trains and busses, I much prefer riding my bike. Honestly, I don’t actually care about the lake itself or the scenery surrounding it. Instead, riding is both my means and the goal.
My bicycle has taken me along quiet country roads, past twisting rivers and through steep mountain valleys. I purposely try to use secondary roads with sparse car traffic and this usually results in passing through small mountain villages. I’m lucky to often meet the people of these “country communities” on these cycling trips and I’m always amazed when some elderly resident shouts in English, “Good luck!” or, “Fight!” as I zoom past. Likewise, I always seem to startle these same people when I say “こんにちは” or comment about the weather in Japanese.
English in Japan, indeed in most of the world, is a lingua franca. That is, a shared and common language among people of different first languages. Aside from the typical English classroom or the standardized English test, the goal is often simply communication. The grammar may not be identified as “native-like” nor the pronunciation, but when there is a need and desire, the message is successful. It is during these cycling trips and chance meetings with the people of these far-flung mountain towns that I’m reminded that Japanese is also a lingua franca. I know very well that my Japanese grammar is woefully incomplete and my pronunciation can be cringe-worthy. However, I can communicate; I can get my message across. It may not be perfect, but when the road signs are absent, I can ask how far it is to Lake Yamanakako.