JET Programme Voices / You meet the nicest people on a scooter

Courtesy of George Dornbach

George Dornbach, center, participates in a local festival in Hyogo Prefecture.

By George Dornbach / Special to The Japan NewsMy name is George Dornbach. I am a Hyogo Prefecture ALT, working in a senior high school in Sumoto city, on the beautiful, onion-filled island of Awaji. From Minnesota in the United States, I’ve spent much of my life overseas in Seoul and Tokyo. I’m so happy to be back!

In Japan, there are a lot of places to go to and a lot of ways to get there. By train, plane, car, bus, ferry, feet and my personal favorite, scooter. I recently purchased a 1995, 3 speed, 50cc, forest green Honda Super Cub. Since the beginning of our friendship just over four weeks before this writing, we’ve logged around 2,000 kilometers, circumnavigating our island home, camping in forests, climbing small mountain roads, zipping through cities and winding our way along rivers and streams.

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  • Courtesy of George Dornbach

    George Dornbach

The Super Cub is a staple in the Japanese scooter market. Since its creation in 1958, in 60 years they’ve sold around 60 million scooters. They’re known to be strong, reliable, and trustworthy companions. Unbeknownst to me before purchasing the scooter, there’s quite a population of Super Cub fanatics in Japan. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll find no shortage of people with scooters new and old, camping, riding, preserving, and sharing all of the stories they gather along the way.

The marketing slogan for the vehicle’s 1960’s U.S. debut was “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda.” On a recent scoot-venture into the mountains of Hyogo Prefecture, I found myself nestled in a valley in the small village of Iwaya. It was the day of their Aki-matsuri (fall festival) and as I passed by on my scooter, the sight of men in festival-wear hoisting a huge, gold-covered wooden shrine up some steep steps caught my attention. I turned around and pulled up to where they were taking a rest before climbing the stairs to the big shrine up above, where the rest of the town was waiting for the festivities to begin. “Genki-desuka?” (How are you?), I asked the old man who was directing traffic. He eyed me and my scooter, and we chatted about what I was up to. Camping in Hyogo. English teacher. Awaji Island.

Before long, more of his friends were over talking and they asked if I wanted to join in helping them carry the shrine up the hill. I couldn't refuse. That encounter lead to sumo wrestling, mochi-eating, and friendship-making. At the end of the festival, without batting an eye, one of my new friends invited me to stay with his family at their house. The kindness of complete strangers is something that seems to have no bounds here in Japan. And I’m extremely grateful for it.

That evening, with my scooter resting inside the entry of their home, and myself snuggled in my futon on their tatami floor, satisfyingly sleepy, my belly full of yakiniku and clean from a trip to the local onsen, I couldn't help but think, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”Speech

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