The story of our 2016 Japanese cycle tour


It’s been five weeks since we’ve returned from our Japanese cycle tour, but it already seems like a distant memory. We were searching for some adventure, to break away, to change our daily routine and that’s exactly what we did. We’ve cancelled our rental lease, we’ve sold most of our stuff, gave it away and stored 4 boxes and some furniture at friends’ places.
As we really wanted to be able to soak up a different culture we wanted to stay in Japan for quite some time. Being warned that Japan is expensive we decided to cycle it and stay at campsites or wild camp, to cut down on public transport and accommodation costs. So we bought some second hand touring bikes in The Netherlands and off we went. 

A day later we set foot in Japan - the long-awaited adventure had begun. 

And from here on it’s really difficult to explain what we’ve seen, what it was like and how we’ve experienced it.

We’ve cycled and camped for 7 weeks, every single day except for one. We’ve cycled between 17.5km and 130km per day. Through a lot of mountain passes, through dark tunnels without cycle paths, just below volcanoes and along the most amazing rivers. We’ve seen a lot of foxes and deer and were warned about bears all the time, but (un)fortunately we didn’t see one. We’ve been super hot and so cold that we had to take our emergency blanket out.  We didn’t expect to camp on the snow line. The label of our sleeping bags states ‘comfy’ at 15 degrees Celsius and ‘danger’ below 5 degrees Celsius. It was definitely way below 5.

Deon’s book had been eaten by a fox and we’ve roped our bags up a tree when we were in ‘bear country’. We’ve also cycled though melon country, crab country, mushroom country, corn country, grape - apple - pear and peach country, flower country, tea country and all the time through rice field country. 

The first days we weren’t able to load up the Japanese map onto our GPS and finding our free campsites - which were always based somewhere up in the mountains - ended up being extremely difficult. We’ve ended up cycling until 1 in the morning, sleeping on the stairs of a Buddhist temple, sleeping on the side of a farmer’s field, on a dead-end bushy path, even in a playground which had a great obstacle to put our sleeping bags down.

We’ve used the most amazing supersonic toilets, spent most of our money on food - being Japanese rice balls called onigiri - coffees and snickers at all the 7Eleven’s, Lawson’s, Seicomarts and Familymarts. Nobody tells you how hungry cycle touring makes you.

We’ve eaten our very first Miso Ramen in the home of miso ramen itself, namely Sapporo on the Northern Island Hokkaido. We are now scared that we will probably always be disappointed if we ever eat it again somewhere else because it might possibly be impossible to top that dish. We didn’t eat the famous melon, didn’t eat the famous crab but we did try Hokkaido milk and ice-cream. Next time you find yourself around Lake Toya, do yourself a favour and visit the ice cream shop Lake-Hill Farm and order the flavour milk and cream.

Once we were able to load maps onto our GPS the trip got a lot smoother but it did lead us up to a stairway and while we were discussing the best way around it, Brian - originally from Ireland, but based as an English lecturer in Hokkaido for over 15 years now and living together with his Japanese wife and their son - invited us over for dinner. We’ve chatted about rugby, surfing, our first-time cycle tour and teaching in Japan - after dinner Brian let us to his favourite surfing spot and we’ve camped next to the ocean on a piece of grass in front of the cliff. This was one of our best experiences of the whole trip. 

So we recommend that you do get lost, that you do research the weather, and that you get a solar power unit to keep your phones charged, that you bring spare spokes, and that you buy food and camping gas before it’s finished, that you try as much different foods as you can, and that you use the onsen/sentos/public baths as much as you can. 

It really was a trip of a lifetime and we’ve laughed a lot, but also cried, had to bite our lips a lot, we’ve been frustrated and super tired, and as Deon says it, we’ve been grumpy at least once a day. But all this made it super special and rewarding. We’ve never done anything like this before and were super inexperienced but we can recommend anyone to do it, you’ll feel very proud of your accomplishments! Being out in the open for 7 weeks is the best thing we’ve ever done. 

The following photographs are taken on film and at random moments. We mainly just had in mind that we wanted to be able to show our families what it was like and to portray the ‘feel’ of Japan. The most beautiful scenes and moments haven’t been captured as they just couldn’t fit in a little rectangle. Instead we’ll always carry these moments with us.

And to give you a real idea of how much we cycled, please see our google maps of our trip attached. It's pretty accurate - we started in Osaka and ended in Osaka.  From Maizuru we took a ferry to Otaru in Hokkaido. There we looped around the center of Hokkaido and ended in Hakodate. This next ferry took us to Aomori instead. The rainy season had started by now and we quickly made our way down to Akita where we jumped on a train to Matsumoto passing Niigata and Itoigawa Station. We cycled straight down to Mount Fuji and visiting the beautiful Kiso Valley along the way, When we started planning our trip, I didn't really care where we went, as long as I could see Mount Fuji. When we parked our bike literally in front of Mount Fuji it was covered in clouds and unfortunately not visible at all. I didn't even take a photo. Somehow I can't really remember the end of the trip, but we made it to the last ferry connecting to Toba and from there we trained it to Osaka as we were running out of time... 

Looking back on it now it was a real whirlwind and I still can't believe that we've actually done this, I think we just have to get back sometime...

 

Anneri & Dewald on Love and marriage

 
 

Reni: Did you guys talk about getting married?

Anneri: We didn’t really talk about it…

Dewald: Well, we kind of knew it was gonna happen. I knew that I wanted to… We went away to Cape Town, we went on a little road trip and then on the way home - it was on the 3rd of December - I decided I’m going to ask her to marry me. And then, we didn’t really talk about it, but we both kind of knew it was going to happen.

Anneri: We both knew the other one knew, but we didn’t talk about it. And then he just completely surprised me, which is really hard because I’m so curious, I always know when something is up and he completely surprised me. In fact, 100%, did not know a thing. Which is quite impressive.

 
 
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Reni: I always find it very interesting when you first don’t know each other and then you meet each other and then you just decide that you spend the rest of your life together… that’s such an amazing thing.

Dewald: The crazy thing for me, what I always notice is you always have a perception of what you want in your head. You always, for me, from a youngish age, you kinda see characteristics in people that you like. I like someone who is artistic, I like someone who is well spoken, they look good after themselves, they’re beautiful. It’s not all characteristics, or they remind you of somebody you know, they remind you a little bit of a characteristic that your mom has or certain things that you like. And then someday, somehow – it’s actually quite amazing that something like that happens – then you meet somebody and all of a sudden they start ticking those boxes. Then you’re like, Okay this is quite interesting… yah I think that’s how our relationship initially started.

Anneri: So we did actually meet when I was 16. I was an exchange student to Finland. There was only one other South African that was also going to Finland, so we met up beforehand. Like 'what are you gonna pack, it’s Finnish winter, we’ve never seen snow'. And then we kinda became friends and when on the airport – so that’s his sister now –

Dewald: Yeah, I didn’t go to Finland.

Anneri: I met him, but I couldn’t even remember it, to be honest I was so excited like 'AAAHH let’s go!'.  A long story short, there were a lot of tiny things that would happen to him or his sister, which would come across my path. Like in the smallest and strangest ways that I actually told my mom. It’s so weird that someone, connected to them,  will have some meaning in my life because it’s just that you don’t get that amount of coincidence. Like we don’t have any of the same friends, we don’t have anything tying us together but they just came on popping up, one example was a guy who I dated previously, we used to go to Mozambique every year for Easter weekend. The one year I asked 'who’s going this year?' And my previous boyfriend said 'oh my sister is bringing a friend, but I haven’t met her yet'. When we got there it was Dewald's sister. You know, the strangest things… And when I had broken up with that boyfriend I told my mom that I was tired of breaking up with guys, didn't want to have a relationship and just wanted to travel the next year. It was my last year of studies and didn't want to focus on men ... then I ran into him again. I remember, literally my mom asking me 'What do you want in a guy?' And while I was talking to her - we hadn’t even held hands then - I was like 'aaah Shit, it’s him'. Without a shadow of a doubt… okay cool, I’ve found him. Which I found really cool because I’m a very indecisive person, and I try to always weigh up the pros and cons and maybe I should and maybe I shouldn’t and with him it was just like BOOM! Don’t want anything else, which I found very reassuring because I didn’t want even a shadow of a doubt when I’m marrying someone. Then I rather just not get married. … {in a soft voice} Can you believe it?
It’s nice to talk about it.

Dewald: Yes it is. Brings back good memories

Anneri: mmmm

 
 
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Reni: So did your relationship change? Is it different being married?

Dewald: The big thing for me is – I’ll relate it back to the construction industry – the very important part of the building is the corner stone. And that’s the one thing that I found after we got married is, that’s the one thing I have of her. Is that connection part, that doesn’t matter what happens, in our life, or my life or situations that kind of throws everything out of control. I can still always come back and there is that consistency, that reinsurance that I know. Okay, Anything else can be, you know the world can be thrown upside down and I have this one thing that’s consistent. I think that really makes a huge difference. And that also relates back to your previous question about going out with somebody or being married, I think that’s really the big difference that you have. Because you have that binding.

Anneri: It’s cemented together.

Dewald: Yeah, nice one.

Anneri: Let’s go on with the building metaphors.

Dewald: Yes I think that’s the big thing for me. Just having that support.

Pause.

Reni: Is there something you want to say?

Dewald: No I was hoping for another question.

Anneri: I think the only thing I thought of now that I was saying, which I think is really remarkable about being married is another witness to your life. You have someone… I mean you have a lot of other people that care about you, who love you, but to have someone that’s witnessing all the small things. They know all the tiny, insignificant things that happen and they can celebrate it with you or they can be sad. The tiny things are always the best things. And it’s the insignificant things that make your life spectacular or quite average I feel. So having someone like revel in that with you or celebrate that with you or will be sad with you about that – I think, that’s quite remarkable.

Dewald: I think a lot of times people that that marriage is about the big things, is about the grand gestures.  But I definitely agree with you, it’s just the little things. And I actually just realized not too long ago… your partner is really your best friend. And I know it sounds a bit corny, but it actually really is like that. It’s the smallest little things that happen in your day-to-day life that really does seem so minuscule that you don’t really necessarily say to someone else, but it was a big thing for you and you shared with them and they shared the excitement with you.

Anneri: And also I would have gotten married earlier if I knew how frickin’ epic this was. I had this thing about getting married early and I was like 'no, I don’t want to get married before 30 and I just want to travel and just want to enjoy life'. And I wish that people would talk more about how fun being married is. Like it’s flipping fun. It’s like the best adventure ever, you don’t have to be a boring married couple. Like it’s the exact opposite, it’s your favourite person in the world and everything is shared and you have all these adventures together. I feel like, I don’t know, it’s because a lot of marriages fail or the way society is been put together. I feel like there is so much negativity about the old ball and chain and don’t get married and become one of those people. But people need to talk about the fun stuff – never mind the romantic – just flipping fun. I wish people would talk about that more. I can’t count how many times the past year and a half that we’ve been married I like belly laughed, can-not-breath laughed because of some weird shit.

Dewald: It’s normally random stuff. See if we can do cartwheels.

Anneri: In our very big apartment. {laughs}

Dewald: At half past 11 on a Sunday.

Anneri: Yes stupid things like that ... I think that’s all that I wanted to say.

Dewald: Good answer.

Reni: Cartwheels.

 
 
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Anneri & Dewald - 27 & 27, have been married since the 12th of December 2015

Katrin & Matthew on Love and marriage

 
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Katrin: I'm 32

Matthew: I'm 5.5, 6 months older than you.

Katrin: You love being older than me.

Matthew: Well okay, I know we’re the same age.

Katrin: No you love being older.

Matthew: I’m going to be older than you again in September.

 
 
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Matthew: So how's it different? After making the step and actually been married, how's it different from anyone being in a committed relationship? I don't know, because ultimately what is marriage? In my opinion, it is the commitment that people make.

Katrin: It's naming it in quite an official way.

Matthew: It's a verbal agreement, it's a contract. It's a thing that you declare, but something quite profound happens when you do that in front of each other. You make that same commitment in front of an almighty, a God and then your closest family and friends and then you actually put it in front of the law as well. It's almost like a reference to go back to. Like the ceremony, you did something that other people witnessed and it kind of makes you accountable in a way.  I don't know... When you do something and you share it with other people it almost makes it more real.

Katrin: Yes like you planted something in the ground and you go back to it.

Matthew: It's the thing that you do and other people saw that. Other people almost remind you of that. There is something amazing, and I don't know what it is, you could call it sacred, you could call it some sort of spiritual...

Katrin: You could call it blessing

Matthew: ...profoundness, you feel covered in some sort of other reassurance of security. Once it happened it's not some magic thing that now you are committed and it's done. You still have got to live out that commitment. That's the real work of marriage.

 
 
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Reni: Did you have a vision marriage would be different?

Katrin: No, I thought it would be the same, and I thought the ceremony to honor that decision was very important but I didn't think it would be a big difference between before and after. And yet there is a very nice new layer of something. I still kind of think of it as mystical.

Matthew: I felt like my best self on that day.  I don't know what it was. I felt just so at peace and I felt like my best self. I even said that to you.

Katrin: That's still my favourite thing about our wedding, you saying that. I was like wow.

Matthew: I think when you put it out there, you are opening yourself, and you are pledging to other people that you are going to treat each other well and it's a constant reminder of 'I did that'... But it's like I promise, promise, promise. We always break promises. So things fall apart. It's not to say that it doesn't, because people do end it. I know, because my parents ended in divorce. So I know that it's not final but I think for me.... I think we've done a lot of work before and we kind of understood each other and we didn't go with unrealistic expectations and we didn't think that suddenly marriage is going to be this perfect happy ending, happily ever after love story.  This is the start. I think we're quite clear that this is actually where through the mess of life, at least you're together. And we formed this bond and you have this person on now you've created your own new tribe.

Katrin: Yes, that was very nice to do.

 
 

Katrin & Matthew, both 32, have been married since February 23rd, 2013

Louise & Riaan on Love and marriage

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Riaan: The older I get the more I see how this works. We are selfish creatures, we are born being so selfish and so self-focused and the whole world is set up to 'how can I assert myself? How can I do better, how do I feel comfortable, how can I reach my best potential?' In marriage, if you are going with that mindset - like how can I get served - everything will fall apart. You have to swap it around.
For instance, I serve Louise out of love, all my focus is on her and the kids and in that it frees me from that selfishness and self-centeredness. That stuff disappears with age, but also if that’s the core of your relationship then you can practice it with each other. You can do it with the rest of the world also.

 

 
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Louise: I think also if you make that commitment to one another there’s a shared thing of no backdoor. For me, in every relationship that I was in before, there was a backdoor. I thought if this gets too hectic and I have to get out, then I’m safe – it’s not something that you deliberately do – but somewhere in the back of my mind there was always some kind of backdoor to get out. And for me, marriage is a thing which closes that backdoor.

Riaan:  The D-word doesn’t get mentioned.

Louise: This is it. If people actually knew what they were promising on their wedding day they wouldn’t stand there so happy - “For rich and for poor, in sickness and in health”- because, it does happen.

Riaan: Shit gets real

Louise: It’s not if it happens to you, it’s when it happens to you. The longer we are married, the more we kind of awaken to that reality. Things can get really hectic and when they do, the security of knowing that there is someone else that shows that he closes that backdoor with you and to be in this together. I think that is the difference for me.

Riaan: Yes, that’s cool....yes.

 
 
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Louise (34) & Riaan (37) have been married since March 27, 2010 

The poetic image

When we start editing a wedding we join both folders of all our images taken. Then separately we make our first selection out of all these photos. After that we put both those selections together and we discuss which photos should make the final edit. This last process will take us a whole day. So we talk about photography, a lot. We basically have to defend our selection, give good reason why we should add it in, and convince the other. You win some, you loose some and you make compromises. But the big question is 'What makes a photo a good photograph?'. Something we have focused on a lot this year. The answer can be formulated as 'It's when form and content come together.' We don’t seek the beautiful in the romantic moments only, but are rather on the lookout for all the beautiful things that happen throughout your day. Little delicate moments, a split second that captures the feeling or atmosphere, which we try to make tangible.

All the photos below are taken over the last year and a half. They are not all taken during the 'significant' moments of a wedding day - but we hope that you can feel something when you'll look at them.

Brasil: Travel

Three months ago we were invited to photograph the wedding of Luiza & Paulo and Chloe & Marco in Brazil. It was great to have some time in between the weddings to explore. Trusting everyones advice we didn't take our big camera with us whilst roaming around Rio. All the following photographs are taken by our trusty Fujifilm Quick Snap disposable camera. 

And by the way, Rio and the other bits of Brazil we've seen, were totally amazing! Although the landscape is mind blowing, the people absolutely made our trip. Everyone was so down to earth - yet passionate at the same time, approachable and just overall super friendly. An amazing culture. We totally plugged into the Rio lifestyle and didn't want to go home in the end.

Clara & Benedikt: Langebaan

Lately we've been searching for a sense of realness in our photography. Not trying to take impressive photographs, but just trying to capture the ambiance of what's happening around you. Clara and Benedikt really let us in to the family. Two beautiful families. We didn't really have to search for that 'realness', it was already there. Right in front of us. All we had to do was be present and soak it all up.