Osaka: The Nation’s Kitchen

Kyoto – Osaka

38 miles

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I awoke with the map book on my face and half a can of muggy beer by my side. I sat up and cracked my head-on the ceiling, forgetting that I was in a capsule bunk. Capsule hotels are commonplace in Japan, especially in the bigger cities where during the week employees may have to commute from rural areas to work in the city. With the long hours of work expected of the Japanese, returning home is not always an option. The capsules are a simplistic and cost effective commodity; roughly the size of a coffin and often with a TV featuring pay-as-you-go pornography, a reading light and a compulsory shelf in which to store bogeys.

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I’d stayed in a few in my time, they are quite soulless really and if I had to stay in one every night like many a commuter, I’d soon get depressed. It probably stands to reason why most salarymen and women spend their evenings getting wankered before going back to their shitty capsule to watch ‘Tug Hard 9.’

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The shift towards Osaka was a painless one, as I avoided the densely packed roads to straddle alongside the Yodo River for a vast swathe of the journey. If it was pre-1994, I would’ve been entering the country’s smallest prefecture; yet since the building of the Kansai International Airport – on an artificial island constructed in Osaka Bay – the prefecture had created just enough land space to beat titchy Kagawa Prefecture.

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Inevitably, I soon branched away from the river and into the metropolitan madness of downtown Osaka. Having now cycled through some of the most bustling cities in the country, tackling the country’s third largest with a population of some 2.5 million and the biggest economic powerhouse in the Kansai region, appeared to me now as nothing more than an unintimidating marvel.

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The city housed an explosion of life, with the roads and sidewalks choked respectively with vehicles and pedestrians. I did my usual combining of both road and sidewalk, in an attempt to try and take full advantage of the army of red traffic lights.

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The owner of my hostel – a smiley, middle-aged lady – was surprised to hear that I was cycling around the country and she instantly informed me that I would make a good husband! Now ordinarily that might have made me blush, but by this point in my journey I’d become rather accustomed, if not neutralised, by the completely and utterly random expressions that I would become subjected to. I thanked her sheepishly for her nice comment, before checking in. For the following few days, I traipsed the distinctively vibrant purr of Osaka. As with Tokyo, a new adventure waited around every corner, along streets you could spend an eternity investigating. From the city’s central districts that can be divided up into kita and minami (north and south) – one can’t miss the 173-metre tall Umeda Sky building, with its floating garden observatory that gives one scope of the cities sheer size. In the southern district, is the rambunctious Namba, featuring Dontonburi, a place that feels like the esoteric hub of the city. By night, the area is soaked in an orgy of neon with a procession of bars, restaurants and shopping outlets that rarely close their doors.

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Osakans pride themselves on their regional cuisine and one is never far away from a culinary treat. Takoyaki (Octopus dumplings), Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake), Teppanyaki (grilled food) and Kushikatsu (deep fried meat and veg) are all staple local dishes – or their own variations of other regional dishes which more than fulfil the most engaging of appetites. I beered and dined for three nights, in this amazingly diverse city. Yet, Osaka like Tokyo – with a plethora of attractions – rapidly allows one to be relieved of vast sums of cash. Things were getting tight and so was my time. I had to press on.

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For more info and exponential hot goss on my latest travelling endeavours please pay me a visit over at Travel Bloke, thanks for reading:

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

Tokyo to Tokyo: A Cycling Adventure Around Japan

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Kyoto: The Return

Miyazu – Kyoto

80 miles

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I‘d spend the night in an official and free camping ground alongside Miyazu Bay. I slept well, which was important as I knew from looking at the map that the journey south towards Osaka was going to be a mountainous trudge. In fact, my day began vertically, as no sooner had I ventured from the outer confides of suburban Miyazu, would I find myself staggering up Mt. Ōe in a light drizzle. It was a satisfying enough ascent though, with little traffic to share the road with. The peak of Ōe is meant to offer stunning vistas across the prefecture. Yet on this day, it was a wet, windy and dreary place, and due to the slippery road surface, I descended with caution. I’d nearly done 6000 miles by this point, without any hiccups, and I wasn’t about to start breaking any limbs now.

Reaching the city of Fukuchiyama (easy now!) I would rekindle my affinity with Route 9, which happened to be in fine hell-raising form. I wouldn’t expect anything less as I strayed back towards the Keihanshin area; one of the busiest regions in Japan. I branched away from the mayhem at one point with the idea that I might find a more docile country road, but was swiftly turned back by a road maintenance crew. I ended up being re-routed back in the direction of Kyoto. Buried amongst the mountains, Kyoto has to be one of the most difficult cities to reach via bicycle. Being shrouded the way it is historically gave the city its strategic advantage, as all passes could be monitored for enemies. And that’s exactly how I felt every time I cycled into this ancient city – like the enemy. It was a monotonously steep and sweaty climb, just as it had been some two months previously – when I’d entered the city from Shiga to the east.

Rain started to fall heavily as I descended down into the city. Being rush hour, the roads were heaving with traffic. I’d decide to spend the night in a hotel in Kyoto and head over to Osaka the following morning; the mountains and the rain had done me in for one day. I rocketed down the mountainside at 30mph, swerving in, out and around some tediously slow moving traffic; it was mad yet thrilling. I would’ve though been more than willing to put my hands up and admit stupidity, should I have ploughed straight into the back of a Nissan Micra and shattered a testicle. I was being cocky and letting the 6000 miles unbroken factor undoubtedly go to my head; I was feeling somewhat invincible. I was of course no superhero – and my approach thus far, although very successful, was a trifle haphazard. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, ‘Kids, don’t try this at home!’

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By the time I’d found a hotel in central Kyoto, it was absolutely lashing it down. The bags under my eyes felt heavy and upon looking at my reflection, I appeared destroyed. As well as darkened eyes, my hair was bedraggled and I had chain oil smeared across one of my cheeks. Also, my beard was horrifically unkempt and made me look like a sex offender. I felt that somehow during the course of one day, I’d managed to age at least nine years.

To rectify this, I had a long hot shower followed by a shave which let me claim a few years back. I then bought a couple of beers and waded over a map book that I’d found at the hotel. I tried to decipher my best route to Osaka for the following day. It seemed that it was almost entirely possible to cut out a bulk of traffic and traverse alongside the Yodo River for some 30 miles or so and all the way into downtown Osaka. I took a big hit of beer and then, finally content, I closed my eyes.

STATS

Dates: 23/09/2014 – 24/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 6,032 miles

Total time in the saddle: 606 hours and 55 minutes

For info and exponential hot goss on my latest travelling endeavours please pay me a visit over at Travel Bloke, thanks for reading:

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

Tokyo to Tokyo: A Cycling Adventure Around Japan

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Bridge to Heaven

Iwai – Miyazu

79 miles

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Passing through the mountains, I revisited both Hyogo and Kyoto Prefecture’s. The sun sat low in the sky first thing; advantageously out of my eyes and guarded by the towering mountain chain before me.

I passed several tunnels, some nearly 4,000 metres in length and, like all things tunnel-orientated, some were more fit for the taking than others. One truck passed so close that a strong vacuum of air tried to suck me under its wheels. Regardless of the danger, I kept pedalling towards that magnificent ray of light at the end of the tunnel, which brought with it an element of safety and refuge, until the next gruelling tunnel that was.

I’d eventually end up in the Kannabe Highlands, observing panoramic views of the final stages of the rice harvest; today not only would I witness the rice still being hung and dried, but the paddy stubble was now beginning to get burnt off in places. Reams of smoke poured out of an array of paddies – that made the area look like the set of a Francis Ford Coppola movie. It was dramatic. The golden crop would soon be feeding a nation.

Descending the highlands, I ventured back into the north of Kyoto Prefecture and ended up in Miyazu, where I found the third and final of Mr Hayashi’s three most scenic sights in Japan. Amanohashidate is a narrow 3km long pine forested spit that worms its way out into the Miyazu Bay, connecting a section of land from north to south. From the southern end of the spit I took a cable car to the summit of a stunted mountain; at the top of which I found a theme park with rollercoasters, a crazy golf course and a Ferris wheel. Amanohashidate means “Bridge to Heaven”, as it is meant to resemble a pathway between heaven and Earth, something that I’m largely unable to comment upon as I’d only ever witnessed Hell on Earth.

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Many tourists were bending over backwards and looking out across the bay through  between their legs – the spit from upside down apparently creating that Bridge to Heaven feel. I didn’t join in with such tomfoolery; instead I took a photograph and turned my camera screen upside down afterwards. As I suspected, the view was of a bay turned upside down. It was a nice view all the same, splendid enough, but one of the top three in the country? Never. My top three you ask? Well alright then, here you go:

1.  Mt. Fuji, from every angle

2. Hakodate, at night, and

3. Tokyo, from the Metropolitan Building.

And now you know.


For info and exponential hot goss on my latest travelling endeavours please pay me a visit over at Travel Bloke, thanks for reading:

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

Tokyo to Tokyo: A Cycling Adventure Around Japan

 

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The Dunes of Tottori

Yonago – Iwai

81 miles

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A cackle of crows woke me from my slumber. It was barely light outside as I exited my tent to see an old man doing some stretches,  just five metres away from me. We acknowledged one another with a mutual nod. Once I’d packed up, he came over to me and gave me an energy drink for the day ahead. I thanked him, as two older ladies then arrived and they all in sync walked off into some scrubland together. I asked no questions.

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On my way again, I trailed Route 9 easterly, buzzing off the ecstasy of the energy drink; riding almost blindly into the rising morning sun. The road lay sandwiched between an assortment of agricultural dazzle; rice being hung and dried in the fields, alongside other crops such as: watermelon, scallion, yam, persimmon and an abundance of pear, the prefecture’s showcase product.

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I would go on to lose a bulk of heavy traffic to a nearby expressway, as Route 9 became a more reclusive and habitable ride. The route eventually branching out towards a scenic coastline that rose and fell, very much like Shimane’s coastline – as it offered up a plenitude of pristine and scantily clad beaches.

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Tottori had an excuse for its complete lack of humans though, as with just a little over 580,000 heads, it is the least populated prefecture in all of Japan. Its capital city was a low-key affair; the only mild entertainment that I would stumble across was a collection of nattering local drunks, sat on a park bench; hands clasped firmly around their sake jars. What they were talking about I couldn’t have possibly of fathomed, but it couldn’t have been about anything that had actually happened in Tottori.

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The prefecture does however have a big hitter that sits just north of Tottori City; its sand dunes. Despite their being formed over 100,000 years ago, it does feel like the Japanese had somehow copy/pasted a vast section of the Sahara desert onto their very own doorstep. The dunes are quite surreal and span some 10 miles of coast; some dunes reaching up as high as 50 metres. It’s the only dune system of its kind in the entire country. I walked up the biggest one I could find, as a steady wind rolled off the Sea of Japan, casting tiny sand particles into the air that delicately bit the skin upon impact.

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From afar, legions of tourists were trudging up distant dunes; they looked like an army of ants returning to the nest. The area receives about two million tourists every year and not only can one paraglide and board down the dunes, but one can also ride a camel. I actually once rode a camel called ‘Dave’ in Mongolia – and he ate an entire tree, it was weird. Camels are weird. I made tracks.

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Heading inland towards the mountains of the Tajima Sangaku Prefectural Natural Park – Hyōgo Prefecture – I stopped off in the quiet onsen village of Iwami. It’s the kind of place where people’s jaws drop upon seeing a foreigner; they being extremely rare in these parts.

My clothes were stuck to my body by sweat and so I swiftly found the local bathhouse. It was a nice and spacious onsen, with only a few other locals about to look directly at my penis. Generally speaking, the ogling came from the older generation, as they like most old people didn’t really give a shit. I’m looking forward to this era I must say, not just for looking at penises from a distant land without remorse, but just so that I don’t have to give a shit about anything in general. It seems like something morally productive to aspire to.

Afterwards, I found a park right next to an old people’s home that ran alongside a narrow and gentle flowing river. Amongst the darkness, I set up camp, before inserting my newly clean body into my fetid sleeping bag. By dawn, I would be a filthy stinker again.

STATS

Dates: 21/09/2014 – 22/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,873 miles

Total time in the saddle: 591 hours and 11 minutes

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

Tokyo to Tokyo: A Cycling Adventure Around Japan

 

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Welcome to Shimane, 47th Most famous Prefecture

Yunotsu – Yonago

82 miles

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The temperature was dropping now, little by little, on a nightly basis, yet at 12°C it was still more than comfortable. Rising at 05:30am, I was packed up and ready to go by 05:45am, I had this tour cycling lark down to a T now… The other cyclist was still dreaming of bike pump porn as I began to peddle away from the tourist information centre. And, barely had my day’s cycling begun, before I was halted by the kind old lady from the previous night. ‘Ohayou gozaimasu,’ she said, smiling generously. ‘Ohayou gozaimasu,’ I replied, in turn. ‘Asagohan?’ she said, before pointing over to a little building which I presumed to be her home. Breakfast? I’d already refused her futon, so couldn’t possibly refuse her food and so kindly accepted her offer. I walked into an open plan room with tatami flooring, cluttered with hundreds of piles of newspapers. Behind one pile, a greying man appeared with a pair of spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his nose. The man squinted a little and looked a little confused by what he was seeing, before then looking towards his wife with caution. I quickly intervened and got to talking about the weather, this broke the silence and upon hearing me speak some Japanese, the man smiled broadly. I then went on to tell them both about my journey, after which I was truly accepted and invited to the breakfast table. For breakfast, I was served up a mean feast of marmalade on toast and a host of locally picked fruits and uber strong filter coffee – I ate until I was fit to burst. The couple told me that they ran a local newspaper printing business… hence the piles of papers. I was charmed by their kindness, so much so that we exchanged business cards, before shaking hands and getting on with our respective lives.

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I traversed easterly toward Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture. Farmers continued to harvest their golden rice crop as eagles soared high, in eager anticipation of exposed prey.

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The temperature would raise steadily through the day, making it nearly uncomfortable again. The last remnants of summer stubbornly refused to let go. Along the coast, the beaches were immaculate, yet empty. The roads towards the prefectural capital were also quiet.

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Just west of the city, sits Lake Shinji, Japan’s seventh largest. Still this didn’t appear to be drawing the crowds and neither did Matsue Castle – the country’s second largest. But this is nothing new, as the prefecture of Shimane has long been hailed as the country’s least visited prefecture. No one goes to Shimane, a place by no means horrible, but at the same time by no means particularly awe-inspiring. The prefecture’s mascot is also the most miserable mascot of them all! Sprinkled across the prefecture, you might find various posters and souvenirs featuring the scowling Yoshida-Kun – with his oddly reddish tuft of hair. He’s a stroppy teenager with nothing to prove and with no intentions of making friends with the general public, anytime soon. He is a far flung character from the lovable, if not quite sickly, Kumamon mascot of Kumamoto.

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One poster of Yoshida-Kun with his arms crossed and a face full of hate, reads “Welcome to Shimane, the 47th most famous prefecture.” Not a bad claim, if it wasn’t for the fact that Japan only has 47 prefectures. I liked the cut of his jib though, and found his irony appealing. However, irony was thin on the ground in Japan – and judging by the low numbers of tourists moseying through the streets of Matsue, no one here cared for it too much either.

I would settle some 20 miles to the east of Matsue, just across the prefectural border in Yonago. The city – of an evening – had a much more appeasing vibe to it than Matsue, as I cycled its streets in search of a place to camp. A group of youths formed outside a public hall and sang along with a guy sporting a mullet; he was banging out the tunes on his semi-acoustic guitar. Many gathered around to clap and jiggle. A number of aged shopping arcades were placed around the backstreets, and quirky cafes provided the late evening revellers with their caffeine fixes.

I found what looked like some sort of castle ruin with walls that rose up 10ft high, forming a protective cove that shielded me from a busy main road. Fifteen minutes down the line and I would be playing the part of a happy camper.

STATS

Dates: 20/09/2014 – 21/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,792 miles

Total time in the saddle: 582 hours and 41 minutes

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

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Stinkymon Goes to Onsen Town

As nightfall approached, any preconceptions about being stuck in the mountains after dark, were countered by finding the remote, backwater onsen town of Yunotsu. Up until the 17th Century, Yunotsu was used as a port to transfer silver, harvested from one of the country’s biggest mines, the Iwami Ginzan. The tradies used the town as a place to rest up and recoup as they went about their working lives. Today, mining has long since ceased in the area, yet the town’s quaint streets are a testament to time; remaining somewhat untouched by the onslaught of the 21st Century. There you’ll find a number of old-fashioned ryokans and bathhouses.

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I brought my bike to a halt outside one such bathhouse; a building dating back to the Meiji-era, known as Yakushiyu. I could hear the splashing of water inside, which made me exceedingly happy; my body really needed this. It had been a long few days in the saddle with nothing but wet wipes for comfort; my body odour becoming so intense that I would have no doubt been able to scare a corpse back to life. A middle-aged Japanese lady came rushing out to greet me, as I went about securing my bike. She probably regretted coming over to me, upon catching a whiff of my putridness. She smiled though, before giving me her business card and, in excellent English, invited me into her bathhouse. The onsen was a small yet cosy affair. As I submerged myself in its scolding hot, mineral rich waters, not only was I cleansed of the filth of everyday life on the road, but I was also pretty certain that the hot spring had eradicated some past sins too. After bathing for 3 minutes and 24 seconds, I rested on the building’s third floor, where I helped myself to tea, before nearly falling asleep in an overly comfortable arm chair. Feeling drained, I begrudgingly scooped myself up and ventured back out on to the far from mean streets of Yunotsu, to look for somewhere secretive to camp my clean white ass. As I was cycling along the chillingly quiet streets, an elderly lady emerged from the shadows on her squeaky mamachari. She stopped to talk to me, as we drew closer to one another, then she asked me where I was headed. I said some place close to the nearby lake – to camp. Instinctively, she offered me a bed at her home, but I felt it would be too much to invade her home at such short notice; also my head was completely dead… so, to converse in Japanese at such a late hour would have probably killed me. I confirmed that I’d be all right, as I had my camping gear with me. She then pointed in the direction of a tourist information centre – which was now closed for the night – but it had toilets and a small yard. These facilities were right next to the lake’s harbour, where I’d be able to camp for the night. I thanked her kindly for her information as she cycled off into the darkness; the eerie creaking sound of her aged bicycle slowly dissipating into the night.

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Upon finding the tourist information centre, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Another tour bike was propped up against the outhouse. Poking my nose inside the toilet area, I saw a man lying down, snoring away to himself contentedly. I tiptoed around him and brushed my teeth, did a couple of secret farts and then went back outside to set up camp for the night.

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

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The Monkey Rock of Yamaguchi

Hagi – Yunotsu

92 miles

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I don’t know what to do about my stupidity sometimes; it is hard to shake off. Heading north out of Hagi along the cracked asphalt road – that was sufficiently spurned by vegetation – spiders floated weightlessly on the breeze, annoyingly entwining themselves across my face and handlebars.

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As I tackled a repetitive procession of hills and tunnels, I switched off somewhat, my mind so numb that I couldn’t even be bothered to think of the voluptuousness of breasts. Whilst slowly scaling a coastal mountain road, I passed an extremely odd looking rock. Odd not by the fact that it was grey, like many a rock that I’d seen in my life, but because it was hairy. It was a hairy, grey rock – something which I’d never seen before. Without hesitation, I felt I had no choice but to reach out and touch it, as I cycled past. It was at this point that something completely unexpected happened, the rock suddenly darted directly up the cliff face, before turning around to reveal the angry red face of a Japanese macaque. I’d just figuratively groped a monkey on the side of the road and he wasn’t happy about it in the slightest. The monkey then went into a tirade of verbal monkey abuse, aimed directly at my person, which I found to be very offensive. Not only had he deceived me, but he also called me rude words with his sharp monkey tongue. I offered my sincerest apologies, but he was having none of it; he was disgusted with my sickening human behaviour. Feeling I had little to offer the angry little fellow, I pressed on through another lonely tunnel, deeply embarrassed by my sheer idiocy and slightly fearful of what the monkey police might make of it all.

Something told me that I wouldn’t be welcome back in Yamaguchi anytime soon.

STATS

Dates: 19/09/2014 – 20/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,710 miles

Total time in the saddle: 574 hours and 19 minutes

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For a more gratuitous insight into my journey please take a visit to your respective Amazon store or contact me directly for a signed copy and colour map:

Tokyo to Tokyo: A Cycling Adventure Around Japan

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