Before we have set up for such a long trip and even earlier before making the decision about it, we had many questions and doubts. We were sure about two basic things, that we want to go and that we would travel on our bikes. The rest got its shape during our arrangments, and along the trip we verify our expectations, knowledge and vision. Japan has turned out to be a wonderful choice, as you already know, but how does our trip really look like?
We don’t want to glorify cycling and write that this is the only proper way of traveling, as everyone looks for and expects something different. We are sure though, that we wouldn’t change two wheels for anything else. A bike means for us great possibilites and the feeling of being independent. We don’t have to hurry for a bus, try to read train schedules or spend money on fuel. We choose the road we want to take, well, usually… The distance and points on our map are the indicators of our trip and we have to verify them sometimes not to get on the express road or into bamboo forest. Time, it always wants to rule. The only restriction for us are the visa dates, as the rest: when and where we get, depend on us only. These are decisions of course. When you pedal up the hill 4 hours and it was only 20 km, you stop thinking about hanging around in another temple or visiting a waterfall 3 km further up. Not once, have we resigned from getting to a place we had heard or read. Nothing to complain about, these decisions lead us often to wonderful places that we wouldn’t read in any guide book. This is just fighting your vision, expectations, that we try to have as little as posssible because they generate problems and change the perception of reality. And the reality is something you feel with your whole body. Rain, snow, first sunshine after cold night in a tent, wind blowing, bird sounds, road elevation, pain of your muscles, sweat, loud trucks. All the impulses you cal feel in much more sensitive way. The direct contact to the surroundings and the possibility to meet people, are the most precious things that cycling can offer.
Taking a tent was an obvious idea for us, and let’s be frank about it, sleeping in hostels is expensive, especially when you think of a year long trip. Camping in Japan is legal and obviously free. We had heard about urban camping, what we actually do as well, but we try to follow some rules. Where have we slept so far and how do we spot the best places for camping?
We usually try to find a proper place before it gets dark, right now around 17:30. Important (but not the most crucial) is also the access to nearby toilets or a shop, where we can warm up and eat something in the morning, especially when temperature at night goes below zero and we are not keen on cooking outside.
Ideal places close to the cities are various parks and sport grounds, probably our favourites ones. At least we are doing kind of a sport and cultivte an outdoor activity. Anyway, the morning joggers are quite surprised of two ‘gaijins’ in a frosted tent. We are surprised of the Japanese being so active so early in the morning. At 5:40 the life begins, and we also follow this schedule. Many would probably ask, if we are not afraid of camping in public places. In Japan we are not afraid of stupid jokes or unpleasant behaviour. If there is any intearction, it is always exchanging a few sentences (if possible), smiles and sighs of amazement and surprise anf formal expressions and bows.
We avoid camping close to shrines, buildings, crowded parks and showing off our way of travelling, because we don’t want to cross a given boarder. What doesn’t mean that we haven’t slept once in central Kyoto by Imperial Palace 😉 We always put a tent at night, in a hidden place, to set off in the early morning.
There is also Warmshowers, a sort of social media site, but first of all a group of cyclists who offer accomodation for one another. After few days of camping it is wonderful to stay inside, meet other cyclists and have a shower. We don’t see it as an option of free accomodation, it is something more, something that changes our trip and vision on people. But later more about that 🙂
This time I will omit the metaphysical sphere and will describe the way as a piece of ground used for transport 🙂 Japan is one of the top in that ranking for us. Shoulders, lanes, understanding drivers, very well maintained roads make cycling easier, even on busy ways. We haven’t come across any local, gritty lane, or cycling route going through the woods, what would be reasonable actually, when the most of the country is mountainous. And we love the mountains, not only to look at them or walk through with the backpack, but also to cycle there. Of course, we curse sometimes another uphills and serpentines, but there is always way down after the uphill. Yes, our breaks need to be changed 🙂 Sweat, tears and hardship of cycling is rewarded with beautiful views and satisfaction. Also at the coast, a variety of landscape adds the harmony and peaceful moments to our way.
Our biggest fear were and still are the tunnels. The shorter ones, in which you can see the the end, are fine even if there is no shoulder. But if the tunnel is 1,5 or 3 km or even more? Sideway makes it easier to cycle there, but inside it is very loud, dark and airless what increase the level of adrenaline. Many times we have come across seperate tunnels for cyclists and pedestriands; otherwise we can take alternative road.
Leaving bicycles in front of the supermarket or at the car park for few hours with all the bags on in nothing unusual and doesn’t mean that someone would check what is inside of your panniers 🙂 Of course, as everywhere, there are thieves, but the Japanese trust the others and respect the privacy.
This is not a secret that thanks to mentioned solutions, we can save some money and spend it on food, museums or other attractions, that allow us to learn about the culture and everyday life of this country. As what would that Japanese trip be without eating okonomiyaki, matcha ice cream, sake tasting, visiting Korakuen gardens, castle in Himeji, having a bath in an onsen…