- We left Taiwan and arrived after skipping a night of sleep in our third and last country on this biketouring trip.
Until now we spend more than three weeks cycling, bathing and camping in Japan. After Taiwan the transition to Japan was an easy one, although every country had its own challenges.
Time to share how we experience Japan so far. A small spoiler, it is awesome!
A sense of relief
Our first feeling after arriving at the airport and assembling our bikes was a sense of relief. What a calmness and quietness in comparison to the hectic and noizy Taiwan. Also the cleanliness and care of everything was immediatly noticeable.
The first challenge we encountered was getting a simcard with some data. At first it looked easy as multiple options were available at the airport, but after learning of our trip and its duration a helpful lady adviced us to get it in the city centre as it would be way cheaper.
After a two day simcard hunt, visiting a lot of different telecom shops and being directed from one to another and getting ‘no’ as an answer every time, we cycled back to the airport to get online.
During our simcard hunt we allready noticed that using enEngli wasn’t an option. So thankfully we can use Google translate to somewhat communicate with the friendly Japanse people.
Sometimes resulting in suprissed looks, then you know something isn’t translated correctly. Other times resulting in an answer or follow-up question, being the proof that you’re one step further in a conversation. We try to speak some Japanese but it is limited to konichiwa (hello) and aregato (thank you), combine that with ‘camp’ and ‘cycling’ and that’s all we need. The Japanse that can speak english are 99% of the time from Tokyo or have worked their we noticed.
We left the airport and were suprissed when we saw the beautiful sakura (cherry blossom). We thought we would be to late for it, but nothing could be further from the truth.
After day one our conclusion was: Japan is stunning.
It has beautiful old villages, modern cities, beautiful valleys and magnificent mountains. Combine that with the care and cleanliness of the Japanese and you really have natural beauty.
However, Japan is also positioned in the ring of fire and that means that it is inseparably linked to nature violence. We experienced the remains of the 2011 mega earthquake and tsunami as we cycled from one tsunami inundation area to another. We also experienced our first earthquake (in Taiwan we had a few but didn’t notice them). It was a small and short 4.3, but if you’re not used to it, it’s still a bit scary.
What Japan also has is bears, on the main island the black bear and on the northern island the brown bear. So when we cycle through a forest area we talk or sing out loud to make sure we don’t startle one. Fortunately we haven’t seen one so far. In general it is more our fear for the unknown than a real threat.
Despite the fact that the language barrier makes it difficult to really experience Japanese culture, there are things that clearly stand out for us, as we skipped the big cities and haven’t met a western tourist in 3 weeks.
The Japanese are very respectful and humble. You notice that they don’t like to be a nuisance to others and that makes that every day feels like a sunday to us as it is so peaceful and quiet overall. We love it!
It also sometimes causes some uncomfortable situations. For example the length of me is sometimes a remarkable and impressive thing apparently. So when I arrive at the coffee machine with my 1.9 meter it has happened that two elderly women crawl away and get stressed while nodding and bending. Or that I dropped 1 Yen (0,008 euro) underneath a machine and tell the cashier it’s no problem, but that it’s still returned 5 minutes later by the lady of the store.
They are just etremely helpful and friendly. Although communicating is difficult, they try to help you anyway. Other campsites were called to help us, we got a lift because it was raining and getting dark, we have gotten drinks or candies several times from complete strangers and we were helped to master the use of the onsen (hotspring) by a local.
Japan also has a clear mix of traditional and modern. Clearly visible for us when we end up in the middle of the party noise of the Takayama Spring festival at the Niko temples! Lucky us!
Some fun facts
- They love small cars, the so called ”Kei cars’ or as we like to call them ”’dinky toys”. They are high, small, come in all kind of colors and shapes and are everywere. The best one we saw was the Suzuki Twin with a Pixar smile.
- We think the Japanse invented glamping. They are just fond of camping and when to can they set up beautiful camps, with bamboe tables, beautiful stoves, lanterns, blankets, fire bowls and small kitchens. And all that sometimes for just one night!
- Toilets are extremely clean in Japan, but the toilet seat itself is the noteworthy main attraction. It is preheathed most of the times and comes with a console with all kind of buttons and options. The best option is that you can play a flushing sound to get some more privacy and mask your own sounds 😂
Eat, sleap, bath, repeat
In general our daily routine consist of waking up early (around 5am), enjoy Japan by bike, take a bath in a onsen / hotspring, have dinner and go to sleep!
And that is what we will keep on doing for the 4 weeks that we have left as we complete our loop on Honshu.
We decided to stay on the main island and skip Hokkaido. As it can still be really cold there and after sleeping most of the nights tucked away in our mummy sleepingbags with our winterhats on, we prefer to end our cycling trip with some warmer weather.