I stopped my bike at a ridge overlooking Yokosuka. It was kinda yellow. Pale. The whole city. The Gobi Desert. What I mean is: the Gobi was coating the downtown towers and the US Naval destroyers in the bay. I lifted my sunglasses. Still pale. Over the past seven decades, the radical desertification and expansion of the Gobi has resulted, in part, in seasonal redistribution of fine particulate throughout the world. Particulate primarily composed of stuff like quartz, feldspar, mica, and kaolinite. Sandstorms mix with tradewinds to carry them far. Today they carried them here.
Those minerals tickled my nose as I biked straight for Dobuita Street. Dobu means ditch, gutter. Ita, plank. Gutter Plank Road: A 500 meter strip that has long served as a makeshift cultural bridge between Americana, Armed Forces, and a fantasy Japan itself. Every other store seems to be so-called army surplus.
A shop called Active Soul appears to sell nothing but sukajan jackets, shiny, silken, embroidered with eagles and pandas and Harleys and Snoopy. Men in fatigues walk past bars promising Tennessee whiskey, past massage parlors, past a shop called Tom & Jack that offers “curry, gyoza, chu-hi.” Tsunami Box proffers a “Trump Burger.” A few hundred meters further and you could have a Carl’s Jr. meal promising a “taste of California.”
Closer to the base — a bit of a ways from Dobuita — a restaurant called The Cabin catches my eye, promises “the best lunch in this town.” Inside: A dark and moody jazz kissa. Piano in one corner, sax in another, big speakers, wall of records.
A grumpy Mama-san takes my order — chicken curry lunch set with coffee — and disappears into the kitchen. I am alone. Charlie Parker blares. The coffee arrives, and then the curry.
Seasoned like it was 1969 — salty, with a rainbow of power-keg-dry spices shaken from big tins — which is when the shop opened. Fifty-two years strong, the owners — the Shibatas — told me it used to be open late, hosted weekly live music sessions. They’d clear out some of the tables and stick a drum kit in the corner. Now, live jam sessions maybe once a month, if that. I ask if Navy boys used to come in and Mr. Shibata said, Sure, of course. We were a flare of jazz during the boom, so the American boys would come late at night to listen to the latest records.
From Cabin I bike back lanes heading towards the Yokosuka Museum of Art — a contemporary white cube embedded in a green hill overlooking the ocean. The current exhibition is of Miroco Machiko’s paintings. Cats abound. The line for the museum cafe is an hour long. A young girl does impressive cartwheels in the grass. I grab a canned coffee and sit up behind the museum, drink my “Barista Black,” and watch a small group of elderly folk picnic beneath the soon-to-bloom cherry trees.
The Kannonzaki Lighthouse is only a few kilometers further down the coast. The octagonal lighthouse, built in 1925, comes into view like a gleaming white monolith, appears from between trees and bushes like the beacon it is. I pay a few hundred yen and go in, spiral to the top, look out through that hazy ether, watch massive cargo ships slide in and out of the bay.
I bike back to downtown Yokosuka and stop for a break at Coffee House Misty. It’s packed, save for one seat in the corner. I take it and realize I’m the only customer not smoking. It’s like sitting in an ashtray. The pizza toast is tasty, though. The coffee even better; sweet, delicious, surprising. The tattoo’d woman serving me has no idea how long the place has been open but reckons its been a while. I’m reminded of a Japan some twenty years ago, where this kind of smoking was pervasive, the norm, and for a moment it feels like a timeslip, back to when, perhaps, Cabin was truly a swinging place.
From Misty I cut west into the heart of the Miura Peninsula, through the small hamlets of Hamigaoka and Kikoba and Kamiyamaguchi. It feels like another world, these inner-peninsula lives — small farms and repair shops, surrounded by minor peaks. Suspicious cats eye me atop abandoned cars. The early evening light is enchanting and biking the narrow roads past small homes fills this heart with an odd thrill, a full-throated gratitude to be whizzing by these quiet lives.
Back down into Zushi, I head to Poolside Coffee for an espresso. A sister shop of Greenstamps (which we visited last issue). Sadly, it’s closed. So I bike a bit further to Breather Coffee, an outstanding cafe run by a young wife and husband team who trained in Melbourne. They use Bonsoy soy milk. I order a soy flat white. Heavenly. Superb foam, toasted banana bread topped with butter, moist on the inside. It’s a good stop.
Before rolling back into Kamakura I circle Zushi Marina. Young men and women take selfies. Two school girls make hearts with their arms and pose in the sunset. Silhouetted children play on a rock jutting over the ocean. Enoshima sits in the distance. The Gobi sands have settled, but not entirely. The clouds are wild and the mountains of the peninsula — a solid half-day ride away — are barely visible. That pale haze seems to coat everything in the corner of my eye as I pedal home, sunburnt and satisfied.
A note about the bike:
I rented a BESV PSA1 e-bike in Kyoto in September 2020 for a week and was immediately smitten. I bought my own in April (matte black, limited edition, of course). I’ve since ridden it over a thousand kilometers. It’s one of the most joy-inducing things I’ve ever owned — there’s much to love about this machine. The BESV became the impetus for this column, and prompted us to reach out to the president of BESV, who happens to have an office just down the road from Papersky. They were excited to collaborate. So while BESV is sponsoring this column, no freebees were handed out, no loaner bikes were shipped to my home in Kamakura, and the e-bike love you see here is as pure and innocent as you can imagine.