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.