The cultural shock came immediately after landing at the airport in Tokyo. After 2.5 years in Africa, India and Nepal, I was just no longer used to such an infrastructure. The prices are however quite expensive.
At the beginning I tried to stay on a campsite. But they soon became too expensive for me. Fortunately, wild camping in Japan is no problem at all. From this time on, I spent the next 3 months as a homeless bicycle nomad.
The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world (with a population of 36.9 million). It officially became the capital after Emperor Meiji moved his seat to the city from the old capital of Kyoto in 1868.
After a week I went off in the north direction and first visited the Nikko town. The temple complex of Nikko is enormously impressive. Especially the Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine is breathtaking. You almost can’t get out of the astonishment.
Tōshō-gū is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. It was initially built in 1617, during the Edo period. UNESCO listed the site as World Heritage in 1999. There are many more temples and shrines along the entire complex.
After a few relaxing days I soon got back into the saddle. From Nikko it went slowly into the Japanese mountains. The Japanese archipelago consists of 6,852 islands, of which 430 are inhabited.
The four main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Honshu is the largest and referred to as the Japanese mainland. From Honshu I wanted to go first to Hokkaido.
Flat stretches are rare in this country. Mostly you cycle constantly up and down. Especially in summer, there is another phenomenon here: typhoons.
A typhoon differs from a cyclone or hurricane only on the basis of location. Nearly one-third of the world’s tropical cyclones form within the western Pacific. This makes this basin the most active on Earth.
The first typhoon caught me almost at the end of Hosnhu. Just in time I was able to escape into a car repair shop. A summer storm in the Alps is peanuts compared to a typhoon! In cause of the many rain I tried to put my tent from now on in the dry.
With the ferry I drove from Oma (Honshu island) to Hakodate (Hokkaido island). Hokkaido is the second largest island of Japan, and twice as large as Switzerland.
First I visited the Shiretoko National Park. The park is best known as the home of Japan’s largest brown bear population and for offering views of Kunashiri Island, ownership of which Japan and Russia dispute.
I saw no bears, but it rained almost every day. My balance after a month in Japan: 29 rain days vs. 1 sunny day. Every day cycling in wet clothes is really no fun. At some point the fun then stops.
What I especially liked about Hokkaido was the nature. I have quite missed this green landscape in Africa and India. You can find street tunnels here like sand at sea. Usually these are several kilometers long. Meanwhile, I’m suffering from acute tunnel phobia.
After nearly two months I reached the port of Tomakomai. There I took the ferry back to Tokyo. In the capital I made only a short intermission to pick up a few spare parts (saddle, new credit card and brake pads), which my mother had sent me from Switzerland.
A few days later I reached the village Jukkoku, where there was a big reunion with an old companion. I had already met Clive twice in Ethiopia and Sudan. He invited me to visit his place of work, the Kakurinbo temple.
Kakurinbo is part of the Kuon-ji temple complex. Founded by Nichiren in 1281 it is today the head temple of Nichiren Shū. During my visit a Noh performance took place in the temple. Noh is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century.
After a few eventful days it was time for me to travel further. My three month visa ran out slowly and it was still a long stretch to Shimonoseki. On the way I made a short stop near Nagoya. Noguchi- san, an employee from the temple and her partner, had invited me.
After so much hospitality, it was not easy for me to continue the journey. With the many traffic here in Japan I had the most trouble. The roads are usually very narrow and with all the traffic there is hardly any space left for a cyclist.
Another problem are the many traffic lights. There are usually several traffic lights at a distance of 100 meters. The invention of a roundabout has not yet arrived in Japan.
The island of Honshu is fairly densely populated. Mostly I had great difficulty finding a place to sleep. Playgrounds are ideal for wild camping and Japan is one of the safest countries I’ve ever visited. Soon I reached the city of Hiroshima.
Hiroshima is best known as the first city in history to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped an atomic bomb on the city at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War II.
I visited the monument and the museum. It was interesting to get the Japanese opinion of the event presented. Some passages are quite different from our history books.
I had managed the last leg up to Shimonoseki after a few days. I reached the harbor with flowing rain and was happy to be able to take a ferry to South Korea on the same day.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people of Japan. Always when I was in bad mood, the people have motivated me with small gestures and if it was merely a smile or a high-pitched thumb.
Still rarely in my life I have met such friendly and great people. Every day I was totally overwhelmed by their cordiality. Nice that there is still a country on this planet where the principle „live and let live“ works.
Forever, I will keep Japan in good memory and hope to return one day. Arrigato gosaimas- you’re the greatest!