My grandparents emigrated to Brazil after the 1st World War. My dad’s first language was Japanese in the Brazilian countryside. It was only when he was 8 that he reached out to learn Portuguese. The impression that I have of my grandfather, a poet and a language teacher who I only ever met briefly, from what I am told is that he moved to Brazil in the hope of making money and then be able to move back to Japan. He never adapted to this new culture and suffered tremendously. He was an alcoholic for most of his life, leaving the weight of the family on my grandmother’s shoulders and subsequently on my father’s as he was the second eldest child.
I was never taught Japanese and even within the Japanese half of my family Brazilian culture prevailed. One of the strongest links were my grandmother, she would always rent out Japanese cartoons for me to watch whenever I was in her house. Doraemon was my absolute favourite.
This year, I set foot in Japan for the first time in my life. It happened as I had always planned, it was a trip I wanted to do with my dad. I have always anticipated this moment of my life, always imagined the feeling of recognition, the sense of “returning” that I would get. Strangely, it was not like that at all. Weirdly the 50% of my genetic makeup didn’t shout “I’m home” in my ears but as we moved from the city to the Japanese countryside I was definitely moved and the land did pull at my heart strings nonetheless.
As always traveling to me means making contact with the local tarmac with my two wheels and to be propelled by my food fueled motor, so it may be a hassle and an extra expense but I took my bike with me. Traveling on the Japan Rail was immense and dreamy but being on the bike is just like having a thinner condom on and contact is that much closer and pleasurable.
Thanks to the generosity of local friends, Christoph and Kenji who share our love for bicycles, our first real ride (none of that alongside the river bs- just kidding the ride alongside rivers in Osaka and Tokyo are great escapes from traffic, great for training in the city) was the most beautiful misty mizzle (and hard) ride from Osaka to Kyoto. Japanese roads have amazing tarmac and once you are out of the stop and start of the cities’ traffic lights the flow is so enjoyable! There is a heck of a lot of climbing to be done but with vending machines with hot and cold drinks everywhere you are pretty much sorted in a land of convenience. Hot teas were a life saver when we were up on the mountain soaking wet and freezing getting ready to descend.
-Jonathan, Kenji and Cristoph
Figuring out routes in a foreign country can be tricky so inside knowledge is absolutely invaluable. Kenji and Christoph not only took us on an awesome ride, got wet through together but also lent and helped us rinko our bikes while what all of us could think of was a hot bath or Onsen!
In Japan to take your bike on one of their amazing trains you have to lightly pack it in a shell. It is a bit of a pain in the ass but it makes complete sense not to muck up the spotless trains or the suited city workers that pack a train to the brim in rush hours. It seems to me that to be a cyclist in Tokyo and to escape the limit of the traffic lights a rinko is a ticket to freedom and if you have a good one, like Christoph has, the Fairmean Rinko you are rolling and laughing.
After landing in Narita from London and spending a few days in Tokyo we made our way to Odawara Station and took a bus to Hakone to see Mount Fuji. We spent two days in Hakone in a traditional Ryokan (Japanese Inn) which was a super amazing experience. The weather was super overcast and got progressively worse as it snowed pretty much the whole time we were there so we didn’t manage to see not even a hint of FujiSan.
We carried on travelling, not always with the bikes available as I was couriering my bike to the next big cities and Jon was renting. It is a bit of a luxury to be travelling by train and couriering your biggest luggage so that you don’t have to carry it around! In Japan they have a service called the Takkyubin and they deliver your bag to your next destination for you. As we were not in a cycling exclusive holiday- I was travelling with my family and fitting riding whenever I could- it made sense to use the service.
We made our way through Takayama, Kanazawa, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima and back to Tokyo. As we were back in Tokyo all we wanted to do was get out to the countryside to ride! We took a train to Odawara at around 2pm, desperate for a little climb and to see Mount Fuji. We knew we were cutting close but threw ourselves anyway. With 4km to the lake where we knew we might have a view we were against the setting sun so reluctantly decided to turn around and head back to the train station. Jon came across a blog called http://positivo-espresso.blogspot.co.uk/ which helped a lot in figuring out where we were going to ride next.
Apparently there was a good ride from Takao station to Lake Yamanaka-ko. Not only was it a ride not to be missed but there would be the chance of finally seeing Japan’s postcard volcano! We set off early and got rinko'ed up- I got myself a mont-bell rinko, that after having experienced the Fairmean rinko I felt left loads to be desired and Jono had an Ostrich rinko which RCC Tokyo kindly let us use.
Holy Moly were we pleased we went on that ride. Gentle gradients meant we were climbing for a looooong lovely time. The weather was a little unstable and we were worried that we weren’t meant to feast our eyeballs on the famous FujiYama on this trip. As we arrived in the village of Lake Yamanaka-ko as a game of optical illusion clouds overhead turned into the snowy peak of a giant volcano towering over the electricity cables of the road we were riding. It blew my mind and heart and I started crying like a baby! Finally! 3rd time lucky! A sight like that makes life alright again, it makes everything worthwhile - especially if you sweat your balls or ovaries off to get there. That’s the beauty of cycling…it gives an even deeper and more connected meaning to the reward that the natural beauties of the world are to the eyes. I love Japan and feel that I only caught a spec of what the country is. Traveling is always one of two things- a brand new experience or a sense of return. Both are beautiful sensations and bring expansion to the being. I definitely want to return to Japan and have brand new experiences there. Its like the world is a wants to be explored but it only reveals itself when it feels like it…that’s part of what makes it magic.