Thoughts on Japan

It has been almost fifty days since I arrived in Japan thirty days of cycling covering 3,500km.  My thoughts on the country have changed a lot and I write about them here.  My start in Japan couldn’t have gone much better, cherry trees were in bloom everywhere.  I initially felt very much at ease with so many things in Japan reminding me of the UK, a happy melancholic reminder of home, life here is easy.

In my last post I commented briefly on the earthquake, I thought I hadn’t been affected, but now a month down the line my sleep suffers; tsunami, falling buildings, broken roads and aftershocks plague my dreams, a normal consequence of going through any kind of trauma.  Although the nightmares are becoming much less frequent and will I’m sure soon disappear, I think of all of the people in the world that have really gone through trauma, I wonder whether they can ever sleep well and I wonder why I have literally no idea about mental health.

I am a zombie on a bicycle, I am tired so end up arriving in places with that thought of ‘how did I get here’, I had this same feeling in my first year of teacher training, I also had recurring dreams.  I occasionally get shaken out of my sleep walking state through interaction with other humans, something beautiful or something sad, but never by noises, there isn’t any sounds in Japan except that of flowing rivers, birds and talking machines; the ‘sound of silence’ never meant anything to me before I came here, I imagine to be on the moon would sound something like this, but at least there would be cheese.

Despite the tiredness, I cycle further and faster than normal.  I cycle to the southern tip of Japan and then head to the ferry to get to Shikoku.  I meet with two cyclists Charlotte and Eric who I met in China five months earlier.  I spend the day with them cycling, it’s great my mind is at ease, I am not worried about anything. I sleep well.  Shikoku appears to be a utopia.

Cape Sata - Southern point of Japan, in line with Egypt.
Cape Sata – Southern point of Japan, in line with Egypt.
Charlotte and Eric. clean after using the sento.
Charlotte and Eric. clean after using the sento.

I visited a school in Okawa and spoke to some children about my journey.  It was a fascinating, eye opening experience for me, and probably a little boring for the children.  Now I have to try to tell you why; writing is difficult.

On a Sunday I sit down with my family for breakfast.  On one of these mornings when discussing something, my father told us a story of a man;

A man had gone to see a witch doctor and had found out his future including the date that he would die.  The man was a man who believed strongly.  The day that he was meant to die came around and he found himself in a car with an erratic driver, the man terrified by the thought that the prophecy would come true and his death brought about by a car accident opened the door and jumped from the car, only to run over by an oncoming vehicle. 

I guess you can take what you need from a story like this one.  I am going to take the part about the knowing your future, but ignore part about the inevitability because it is depressing.  I was reminded of this story in this school.  The school had thirty children and almost thirty staff, the population is aging and there aren’t any children.  The staff had ten days of holiday in a year and all worked seventy hour weeks and worked on Saturdays.  They have no rights, they live away from their families because they get deployed to different areas to work and they literally drop dead from exhaustion and nobody talks about it.    This is a country where mental is intertwined with the word arithmetic and nothing to do with health.  Everything in Japan is designed for convenience to negate the need for thought, to keep the workforce working and not thinking, you don’t even wipe your ass in Japan.  I had the feeling that I was in the future of the UK and did not like it.

Route 6 in Shikokum cyclist heaven.
Route 6 in Shikokum cyclist heaven.
I think this is Okawa, Shikoku.
I think this is Okawa, Shikoku.
Rice fields in Japan make good photo opportunities.
Rice fields in Japan make good photo opportunities.

I leave Shikoku on the famous Shimani Kaido bridges, a beautiful bike route that hops across small islands to the main island of Japan.  The traffic free cycling ends at the end of these bridges, this is where more than eighty percent of the population ‘lives’.

One of the bridges
One of the bridges
Bridge
Bridge
Sky
Sky

I’m suddenly in Hiroshima the Atomic Bomb Museum.  My focus flickers between my own reflection and the contents of the glass box.  I haven’t seen myself for about a week, my beard is slowly conquering my face, by eyebrows losing their plurality and my expression is pained, the burnt school uniform in the display brought to life on a mannequin gives me a sick and sad feeling but I feel wide awake for the first time in a while.  The UK has nuclear weapons. I move on to the next box.

School uniform after the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. 4,000 instantly dead children.
School uniform after the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. 4,000 instantly dead children

It would appear that Japan was not always a place of restraint and lack of indulgence.  Everywhere in Japan you will find abandoned hotels, hospitals, theme parks and houses, evidence that the people of Japan once lived.  Here are some pictures from an abandoned theme park I snuck in called ‘Dreamland’, it is now an ironic name I guess.

Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland

Back on the bike, Honshu is rubbish for cycling compared to Kyushu and Shikoku, there are of course some nice roads, but the parts that I cycled were in general not much fun but got me to interesting places.  For me the nice part about Honshu is Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Hiroshima.

Highlight of Kyoto for me.
Highlight of Kyoto for me.
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Mt. Fuji – This picture sums up the ease of cycling on Honshu. I climbed to 1500m. The view was terrible.

So that’s it from Japan, I’m heading to Canada in search of the next adventure.  I am still trying to raise funds for AgeUK, it truly is a great cause. Click the link to donate.  Thank you for all of the donations so far.

www.justgiving.com/shayl-majithia1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan, incredibly easy bicycle touring

I write from Aira, I’m staying with Nobuyo and Kanami, a husband and wife who own the Ramen shop downstairs. The rain falls steadily, the volcano across the bay wears a cloud hat and puffs steam and smoke intermittently into the sky.

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Best Ramen ever! Kaman is on the left and Nobuyo is on the right.

The last few days have been a little strange.  Being woken by an earthquake in the night is not unusual for this journey; I have experienced a few.  But the aftershocks are high in number and strength and make me a little nervous, the alert app I’ve downloaded goes off all the time and the ground rumbles with a slow rocking motion; mother nature truly is a powerful force.  So far the casualties have been relatively few, so the local people seem less worried.  Today there are less aftershocks, but due to the rain I’ve decided to rest and update my blog.

My campsite in Satsumasendai next to the nuclear power station on the night of the first earthquake.
My campsite in Satsumasendai next to the nuclear power station on the night of the first earthquake.

Everything in Japan works, it appears to be a utopia, the first attempt at the matrix.  The people seem quiet, level, constant, robotic, unemotional.  But scratch the surface and you’ll find that the Japanese are not just inhabitants of Japan, but are part of a community.  The rules that would seem over the top, like only ever crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing (which is observed even by drunks in the early hours) is just a deeper, more engrained understanding of what is the best thing for everyone.  Take a moment to really talk to a Japanese person about anything and you will recognize an unparalleled passion for mastery of the apparently simple and a comprehension of the effects of the details in life on the self. You will find a chef who knows your needs because he understands his food profoundly, you will find passion, love and intent in every bowl of soup.  But you must take a moment to observe it, to be present.  This is not shouting, this is subtlety.  This is Japan.

Abacus. Yes.
Abacus. Yes.

My trip is over one year old now, but still I wake everyday with a feeling of nerves, apprehension and interest for the adventures that will come my way.  I use the word adventure in the meaning of anything that is different to the same.  Generally I have found that a transition is just a more succinct way of saying ‘dip in progress’; every time I move from one country to the next I regress.  I forget many of the important lessons I’ve accumulated throughout this journey and my confidence levels drop, but this hasn’t happened in Japan.  Japan is the easiest country I’ve travelled to so far.  Convenience stores everywhere provide toilets, reasonably priced good food, hot water for tea or noodles and free internet access.  I came to Japan with little preparation and research, just off the back of other people telling me it’s great and I just discover my way from day to day.  The basic day is to ride either the beautiful rolling coastline or the more hilly, green inland roads.  Stop for a picture of something interesting like a beach, volcano, vending machine, shrine, flowers, birds, sunsets, sunrises.  Stop to eat. Find any park to camp in, even in cities. Wash in sento, Onsen, campsite showers, couch surfing or warm shower host houses.  Easy and yes it is expensive if you compare it to backpacking or cycling in the rest of Asia; similar to Europe.

Some pictures and a plea.  Please donate to AgeUK because it truly is a great cause, one which truly centers around the idea of community and compassion.

Coastline of Kyushu in the evenings.
Coastline of Kyushu in the evenings.
Gate buried by lava
Gate buried by lava

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Coo Carp swim in the streets of Shimabara in volcanic spring water.
Coo Carp swim in the streets of Shimabara in volcanic spring water.
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Unzen
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These signs are everywhere, Japan is prepared for nature.
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Shit.