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A collection of tales from the road #29 - Japan

Considering my Mum lived in Japan for over a decade, I really didn't cycle much here. I’ve visited three times and enjoyed each one a great deal, but each time that we ventured away from her home city of Tokyo we did so by some other form of transport, my favourite; the ubiquitous Bullet Train.

Cycle touring here is becoming a big thing these days as the land is varied, the people are welcoming and there is good food at every corner. However, it is still only a feasible destination for those lucky enough not to have to worry about money. Communicating with often immensely polite and kind people can also be a real challenge. So too is checking you are in the right place and going in the right direction as the Hiragana script on road signs means you have to be a bit of a code-breaker sometimes, even with apps a plenty.

Recent accounts of touring here prove that wild camping is possible and safe, but the population density in some areas makes this awkward. Avoid the month of August if possible, as the high temperatures and humidity are almost unbearable in some areas. In contrast, the snow, especially in Hakuba near Nagano is the best I’ve ever felt for skiing. Given that Japan is about twice as big as the UK, an End2End here would be an exciting challenge, but tricky to time right.

My only real quality pedalling time was around the small city of Nikko in the mountains north of Tokyo. I took in views of the river valley from severely arched red bridges, stopped in the cedar grove to see the lavish Shinto shrine (1617) and visited a Japanese hot spring called an Onsen. All of these confirmed my imagined view of what Japan outside of a huge city would look and feel like.

Japan is seriously investing in cycling. More and more 'Cycling Roads' are opening all around this island nation. AirBnB's and 'Rider-Houses', especially on Hokkaido Island in the north, are becoming more common. They provide good options that are both cheaper than a guesthouse and more comfortable than a tent.

Travelling is all about seeing, feeling and learning about places and the way people live. Our commonalities that bind us as a species, and those quirks which make us unique. However, more than any other of the 70 plus countries I’ve visited, there are many things that totally bewilder and baffle me in Japan. Whether it is the self proclaimed 'Freaks' in the city parks dressed as Gothic Elvis', or the Air-Conditioned coats (just take a layer off), the special functions of their toilets (and the toilet museums), the coffin style rooms at capsule hotels, or the white-gloved officials on train platforms who are paid to push and squeeze people on to carriages.... I could go on and on.

I think my confusion comes from thinking that some things are familiar, when they are not. Why should they be? Many things in the country feel like they are quite westernised in many ways, but totally 'out-there' in the interpretation of some of these western things. Fascinating as long as you know that it's not an effect of any medication you might be on. Don't try too hard to understand things. Touring on a bike here is on my to-do list as it would certainly be a good place to come with family, take your time and enjoy the differences.

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