Sitting on the ferry to Japan I began to get excited by the prospect of an easy six days ride from Fukuoka to Kyoto.  A week of sensible, courteous drivers who are not addicted to resting their hands constantly on their horns, smooth predictable roads, beautiful scenery and I'd given myself an extra day to get there so I wouldn't have to push myself and could just enjoy the ride.  They even drive on the correct side of the road in Japan (although I didn't realise this until a car was driving straight at me).  As I wandered through immigration I spotted two customs officials in front of my bike on their knees with toothbrushes in their hands giving it a good clean. Such good service.  Japan is obsessed with cleanliness and even with my freshly washed kit on I already felt a little out of place (a feeling which intensified enormously over the week as sweat and mud encrusted my body).  With my sparkling bike I stepped out into the Japanese sunshine.

The first problem I encountered was crossing onto the main island.  Bicycles are banned from the motorway bridge which crosses over the water and also from the main road which passes through the tunnel under it.  After many wasted miles searching for an alternative bridge or a ferry I was finally pointed to a very poorly signed pedestrian tunnel.  Once I emerged on the other side, darkness fell pretty early leaving me camped in a slightly spooky bamboo wood, surrounded by large spiders casting their enormous webs ready for me to stumble into, among the patches of gravestones which took up most of the flat patches of land available, and with a slightly disappointing 100km for the day, some of which had been spent riding round in circles.

The following day began with a puncture and a broken spoke and I again struggled to get in a good distance.  More punctures following over the next couple of days and when I tried to change one of my inner tubes I realised that the hole that had been drilled in my wheel to allow two different valve types was not big enough.  Relentless rain ensued dragging nightfall quickly with it and I managed to allow my front light to be ejected from my bike while I was riding without me noticing.  I struggled to find somewhere to camp as it was all very built up so in my wet and thoroughly grumpy state, when I saw a bamboo wood alongside a river I jumped down and pitched my tent managing to slice though my little finger with a piece of bamboo in the process which generated a healthy amount of blood, however I was too fed up to be a big sissy and fall over as would be my usual course of action in this situation, instead just opting to stick a big plaster on my finger and get on with it.  Should maybe have paid a little more attention to it as a couple of days later I could still peer deep into the finger.  I fell asleep with the rain still beating down on my tent.  

I was rudely awakened just after midnight with soaking wet feet.  I heard splashing as I lifted them away and discovered a great pool of water at that end of the tent.  I thought the tent was leaking so I peered outside and to my horror I discovered the river flowing through the foot my tent.  Apparently rivers rise in times of heavy rainfall!  By the time I had thrown the few bits I had out inside the tent into a bag, I was sat in a couple of inches of water and the guy rope at the foot of the tent was a foot underwater.  I took down the tent in record time (three pegs short) and hauled all my soggy kit up onto the road and under an overpass where I sat like a hobo waiting for the sun to rise not particularly pleased with myself.

The following night I thought I'd try to be smart and head for the central train station in Kobe to enjoy a sleep on a seat where rain or rivers couldn't torment me.  Instead, I found myself curled up in a soaking wet sleeping bag camped in a park as there was nowhere for me to sleep in the extremely busy station.  It is fair to say that I wasn't enjoying my Japanese experience.

It was therefore with great relief that the following day I was united with my cousin John in Kyoto, enjoying a Japanese curry and sampling the delights of pachinko which is sort of like the Mecca Bingo of Japan for all ages.  Having a cousin educated in the culture and history of Japan at Cambridge University certainly has its advantages as we spent the next few days enjoying some of the local sights; eating horse, conger eels and sea urchin's ovaries; and enjoying the hot springs butt naked with 20 or so Japanese fellows.  During this time I also learnt that green tea ice-cream is delightful, John's girlfriend is an excellent cook and that pumpkin, marshmallow, custard, chocolate and sweet red bean paste pizza really doesn't taste as good as it sounds.

With a new kindle, bike spares and a full belly I cycled the few miles down to Osaka for a night at a hostel inside Nagai stadium (where England slightly disappointingly drew 0-0 with Nigeria in the 2002 world cup) before rolling down to the ferry port in he morning to relax for two days with my new found cycling friends Chris and Lucy who have also travelled from Britain.  I sampled one cup sake which is apparently the homeless mans choice of drink in Japan and found myself singing 'I want to ride my bicycle' in the karaoke bar with Chris to almost rapturous applause.  I have no idea what's come over me recently!
Paul T
29/9/2011 09:24:27 am

Ahhh Chris, another great Caper. And you're making such great progress! Makes our lives seem somewhat boring! Anyway, keep going and I'm really hoping to catch you in Australia, I'm hoping to be there about 5th-20th January!
P.S. hope ur getting to see some of the rugby? The Japanese team have just left Napier!

will rutherford
2/10/2011 02:56:48 am

HI Chris, this caper sounds like Japan has been quite a challange!!!
Sounds like your cousin came at just the right point. We are loving reading all your capers. Even Baby Roddy is enjoying. Well keep it up.
will you make it to New Zealend in time to see the Rugby Union semi final of england-ireland?
cheers will

14/10/2011 06:41:35 am

'liking' the japan pics!


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