Thursday, 18 June 2015

last but not least

"Hokkaido isn't Japan" Rob tells us.  We had already noticed that life here looked a bit rougher around the edges.  You sometimes get the impression that everything in Japan feels orderly and tidy and manicured.  Cycling from the port up to Chitose along the main highway we notice the overgrown verges, the cracked road surface, the crumbling kerbstones.  The buildings look weathered and so might they.  Winter here is long and hard.  The bus shelters have sliding doors.  The public toilets are the first we've seen with doors, and in the men's side at least, ashtrays.  Smoking is not allowed in public places in Japan.  But Hokkaido is something else. Something wilder.  At least we hope..... This is the last of the main islands for us to visit.

Haidee and Rob both have university jobs and have lived in Japan for several years.  In their spare time they head out and explore the back roads of the island.  We are welcomed into their appartment with a wonderful meal and good conversation, the kind that we struggle to find here in Japan because we are rarely meeting other travellers or any locals with good english.  Full of insights and information, they are able to answer all our questions about the island and recommend places to go.  When we met Freddy in Kyushu he reminisced happily about cycling around Hokkaido "because it's so flat!".  Flat is a relative term.  Compared to the geography of the other main islands of Japan, Hokkaido offers up much wider valleys and vistas, but it ain't Belgium.  Right in the centre are a clutch of dramatic-looking mountains and we aim to ride around them.

We knew of Rob before we contacted him because back in October we were asked to contribute to a new edition of Trailfinders' Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook.  We asked the editors and writers, Neil and Harriet Pike about contributors for China and Japan, because that's where we were heading.  Rob wrote the information for Japan.  The book is aimed at inspiring cycle tourers and to suggest good places for adventure cycle touring.  We're not 100% sure how to define adventure cycle touring, so we are particularly interested to find Japan included, as it seems the easiest place in the world to tour.  In fact, we would recommend it to anyone considering going further afield than their home country.  Rob puts the case for Japan well - a different culture, language and environment.  Maybe coming from the UK we would find more contrasts, but after cycling through Central and East Asia, Japan still has a 'westernised' feel to it.  There is so much here though that is not like anywhere else and the big one is the sense of safety.  Ironically, the Japanese are also, as Haidee and Rob put it, "risk averse".  Perhaps one comes with the other.  Back in a temple in Kyoto, Gayle had spotted a sign that read: 'Listen, Think, Accept, Practice, Believe'  and this kind of doctrine may partly explain the general sense of conformity in Japan which sometimes baffles us.  But this conformity is what shapes society here.  As a visitor, Japan seems like a pretty good place to live.

Rob and Haidee


  1. Nice article. I have been making a point of visiting Japan every year since 2007. Had 4 backpacking trips and 4 cycling tours. Just back from my latest tour , Tokyo to Kagoshima and back to Tokyo by ferry from Tokushima then as far north as Takahata, Yamaguchi and return to Tokyo via east coast, all up 4300 klms. Total to date for cycling tours 11,000 klms, hope to be back in 2016 to cycle to Hokkaido and back, from Tokyo. As for conformity, have met so many young people who are changing the way they live and think as well as earn a living. Change is gradual but is good.

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  3. Thanks for the fun stories! It was a pleasure to host you both!