When compiling a wish list for this adventure Japan was a place I really wanted to come to. It was one of my non-negotiables! I’d had the opportunity back in 2006 to visit as part of an MBA study tour though at that time opted for china given the rapid pace of change there. While I had no regrets about that decision my desire to see Japan still remained.
The first part of our trip was deliberately chosen. It was a warm up. In the USA we had maps in english, campsites to aim for with specific biker areas and fellow travellers and a book detailing our route, eating places, shops and hotels. This was quite the opposite for Japan and adjustment took some time.
In contrast, there was no book. Maps were very basic or in Japanese and it took some time to be able to recognise any words in Japanese script. Add to this my ignorance of Japanese topography – its 90 percent hills- and you can start to build a picture of biking in Japan. Keeping to flatter roads often means more industrial areas and for scenic read… Mountainous!
Despite sounding like being far from a cycle pardise the number of cyclists here is outstanding… All be it i’m sure for commuting not long distance. Consequently facilities and attitude to those of us on two wheels is amazing. As with the USA some roads have shoulders but many here too have bike lanes, shared with pedestrians not buses like back at home. All major stations have lockable, manned bike parks and while many of the places we stayed had no specific areas for us ( what we were doing was far from common!) all made an effort to provide us with a safe “parking” spot. Yesterday we even packed up our bikes in the entrance hall of the Sheraton. I like that.
Our route, we estimate around 700 miles in total, took us from Tokyo to Osaka via Miho, Hammamatsu, Cape Irago, Toba, Tsu, Uji, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Shodoshima, Naoshima ( well, it had to be done), Takamatsu, Tokushima and Wakayama. We saw temples, castles, farms and industry with buildings and history of old land Japan to the leading edge architecture of Kyoto station.
While Starbucks often had to fulfil the large coffee requirements (green tea is good but has its place!) the food here was exquisite. However, my overriding memory will most certainly be the people. Along the way we were given lifts (with bikes and gear) when a hotel was full, were treated to an amazing lunch, another guy spent around 45 minutes on his mobile helping us find a place to stay and in addition everywhere we went folks were more than happy to help… Most often with reading Japanese maps and providing directions.
After a couple of days in hong kong we will be in Nepal. While climate may provide a different challenge we eagerly await what we hope will provide some of the most spectacular scenery thus far…. And yes, in this case we really do expect scenic to mean mountainous!!!