The story of our 2016 Japanese cycle tour
* *This post was originally written in August 2016, but I've added some new pictures to the post and you can now find our maps with our cycle route at the bottom.**
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...