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.

Japan, a moment please.

The heat was a struggle in South East Asia, reaching Bangkok felt like a milestone.  I had four thoughts, carry on cycling the busy highways all the way to Singapore in the high humid climate, fly to Cuba before it becomes part of the American empire, fly to New Zealand because it sounds awesome or fly to Japan to see the cherry blossoms.  I write from Japan; when your life gets to the point where your biggest decision is where to enjoy yourself more, life is easy.

I booked a cheap flight with Jetstar, a budget airline with good bicycle flying rules.  Direct to Fukuoka on the southern of the three main islands of Japan.

I haven’t been here long, but I felt compelled to write a quick post before I leave Nagasaki this morning.  Japan is an amazing place, pretty closed off to the outside world and very much a monoculture where conforming is a way of life.  There is almost no sound in the street, no music, no car horns and the people are very quiet and polite; to me it feels like you could never get in an argument with a Japanese person as they would simply apologise and say thank you if you offended them.

My first few days have gone very smoothly, I have arrived at the perfect time to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and they are, without a doubt, spectacular.  Like yoghurt coloured fireworks they explode once a year to delight the Japanese and the lucky tourists that get their timing right.  Here are some pictures.

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Cherry blossonms in Fukuoka

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As I arrived in Nagasaki, I met with Junko, a lady who had accepted my request through the Warmshowers (cyclists couchsurfing) network to be my host.  I met with Junko and her friend Akiko in Tateyama park for lunch under the cherry blossoms.  A pretty magical place where hundreds of Japanese flock to during the blooming.  Akiko told me that her family had been in Nagasaki for the last four hundred years and her great grand father had worked with Thomas Glover.  She studied English literature at Tokyo university and loved James Joyce and William Shakespeare and was excited to tell me that western literature made her understand different dimensions of herself and emotions; two very interesting women.

Naturally as I was in Nagasaki I was keen to learn more about the atomic bomb explosion so I visited the hypocenter, the Atomic bomb museum and the Peace Park, here are my thoughts.  A couple of weeks ago a man blew himself up in a playground in Lahore, Pakistan.  Lots of casualties, mainly women and children, at the time I had a conversation with a fellow tourist, both of us couldn’t understand the thought process behind the attack. On August 9th 1945 at 11:02am America dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, almost 75,000 people died, almost 75,000 more were injured and the majority were women and children because many of the men were fighting in the War, I could not understand the thought process, despite numerous theories about showing force in preparation for the Cold War, Japan not surrendering, reducing casualties for the allies, it still seems incomprehensible.  I always think that Americans are stupid because of the lack of gun control and the incredible statistics that come from it, but it appears to me to be the same thing as having nuclear weapons, which the UK have.  If everybody got rid of their nuclear weapons, then this type of atrocity would be impossible, there is only one solution that makes any sense.  I wonder whether I would rather be in the blast radius of the nuclear bomb or the one that pressed the red button.

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The human stories from the museum were extremely sad and brutally honest.  You should visit Nagasaki.