Isahaya – Nagasaki

23 miles

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The ride into Nagasaki from Isahaya was short; climbing over the mountains to the east I would descend down into the heart of the city for breakfast. It’s a city that rarely needs an introduction, being only the second ever city in history to face nuclear demolition. At 11:02 local time on 9th August 1945 – just 3 days after the bombing of Hiroshima, the American B-29 Bomber Bockscar released the ‘Fat Man,’ a plutonium bomb with the critical impact of 20,000 tonnes of high explosives. The bomb would incinerate 40,000 people instantly, another 40,000 would follow in due course from the side effects. These ranged from severe burns, radiation sickness, leukaemia, malnutrition and a whole array of varying other chronic and debilitating injuries.

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The bomb, although more powerful than the ‘Little Boy’ dropped on Hiroshima, did less damage, due to the area’s uneven terrain. Locked in amongst the mountains – visibility from the skies at the time of the bombing were poor and the actual bomb itself missed its mark by some two miles. Yet the bomb would still cause damage on an unprecedented scale, flattening whole neighbourhoods, torching crops, blitzing the dock yards and destroying many remnants of the city’s once cosmopolitan past.


Six days later, on August 15th – Japan surrendered; marking the end of World War II. Cycling through the city in the glorious sunshine and around its affluent port area, with its scenic backdrop of Mt. Inasa, I again struggled to come to terms with the fact that this vibrant city – like Hiroshima – was once turned inside out.


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Heading over to the Peace Memorial Park, the site of the hypocenter of the bomb, would spell things out a little more clearly. Here one can find remnants of Urakami Cathedral, a solid stone structure that, at the time of the bombing, must have been tossed around like a child’s teddy bear, in the jaws of a rabid Rottweiler. The cathedral was also a link to Nagasaki’s longstanding relationship with the West that dates back to the 16th Century, when Portuguese Jesuits first came to its shores, to spread the word of Christ. They also traded produce, thus making Nagasaki one of the first cosmopolitan cities of Japan.

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To see the city flourish like it clearly once did – walking hand-in-hand with the West, signifies the epiphany of peace and reconciliation that was and still is so important to Japan and the rest of the world post 1945. The past cannot be erased but the future can be altered, so that we never have to see a repeat of that fateful day, back in 1945, for rest of eternity.

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Just off the coast of Nagasaki was a place of great intrigue to me. Gunkanjima, a.k.a. Battleship Island. It is a small rock just 10 miles from the port of Nagasaki that was once heavily mined for its coal reserves. In its heyday it was home to some 5000 inhabitants, it housed apartment blocks, schools, bathhouses, shops, restaurants and a hospital. The island measured just 480 meters long by 150 meters wide and was so built up that from the sea it looked like a gigantic, fortified battleship. In 1974, however, the mining operations ceased and the island was abandoned, leaving it to the ruinous wrath of both time and Nature.



For over 35 years the island and its decaying buildings have sat as ghostly relics in the East China Sea. But, in 2009, tour operators began to run tours to the island and I was more than interested in paying a visit.



After securing my bike at the ferry terminal and stuffing all of my belongings into a coffin-sized locker, I was joyfully whisked away on the 50-minute ferry ride to the island.



Gunkanjima also featured in the bond movie ‘Skyfall,’ to where many like myself would also associate the island. I expected no Bond-esque shenanigans today though as the ferry waded docilely through the calm ocean waters toward the island. On the approach, the first thing that strikes one is the high-rise almost communist style era apartment blocks, an eyesore upon the horizon. Dull and weathered looking buildings with blown out windows that looked as if they’d felt the full force of a thousand typhoons.



When the ferry docked, a number of tour guides split people up into groups, before leading them around the island. Unfortunately, you can’t roam at will, as many of the structures are considered unsafe. Most of the scenes in Skyfall were filmed in the special effects green room back at Pinewood Studios, England. But just from walking along the stable sections of the island, it was enough to soak in this edificial graveyard of former habitation. Rubble lay strewn across the ground, whilst rustic steel framework protruded out of the decaying buildings. Vegetation grew out of the cracks in the ground and smothered everything in its path. It was an eerie place, a place where one definitely wouldn’t want to find oneself stranded for too long. It was most definitely the perfect Bond villain hideout. I happily snapped photographs for an hour or so, amongst fellow tourists and Bond fans alike – before taking the ferry back to Nagasaki.


On the way back, everyone on the boat seemed to have had their energy zapped from them, myself included. After a couple of mild days, the weather had now chirped up again and the temperature was pushing back up into the thirties. In these sorts of climes, it doesn’t take long for one to lose energy. I looked around the boat and saw a contingent of people with their heads down, or nuzzled upon a partner’s shoulder, throwing out a merciless supply of ‘zzzzzz’s.’

I tried my hardest to fight the curse, but before I knew it, the ferry had docked back at Nagasaki harbour as I found myself jutting awake suddenly – as a group of passengers piled past me, each one of them looking at me like I was some sort of bleary-eyed smack addict.


It was early evening when I met up with Couchsurfer, Richie, a Kiwi teaching English in Nagasaki. Richie and his Japanese friend, Jin, took me out for some sushi, before we headed up 333 meters to the summit of Mt. Inasa. The city below was a hive of activity, glistening with a flurry of lights, all the way up into the darkness of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley.


From the ashes, this great city had risen again, to prove the worth of existence through belief, courage – and some seriously hard fucking labour. Nagasaki was back on the map; here to stay.


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 Golfer Extraordinaire of Isahaya


The ferry across the Ariake Sea to Shimbara took about an hour, by design I was the last man on and the last man off the vessel. Mt. Unzen leered dauntingly over the city upon my arrival, as I prepped my bike for the road. I headed through the busy town’s high street and out into rural Nagasaki prefecture. The rice crops – a mixture of greens and yellows – illuminated the surrounding landscape as the background was eaten up by the dark and menacing outline of a fearsome set of mountains. Straddling the coast, I avoided these harbingers of doom as I made for Isahaya in the centre of the prefecture.


Arriving just before nightfall I was in a good position to make it to Nagasaki City in the morning – just some 20 miles away to the south-west.

For a Saturday night, Isahaya was about as lively as a morgue. Cycling through its uneventful streets in the darkness, I stopped off at a supermarket to get some late night deli counter deals, and in doing so, I happened across some much needed light entertainment. Propping my bike up against the supermarket window, I noticed an elderly gent who was practising an imaginary golf swing. On a nearby bench sat an open jar of sake. He wobbled as he sliced the invisible ball into the night sky. I quickly snuck past him and into the supermarket, just as he was looking to the skies to see where his invisible ball was going to land. Throughout my life, I’ve always had this massively talented ability to attract the eccentric… and the drunk. So as I escaped the drunken night golfer – on this occasion – I knew deep down that it wouldn’t be long before he inevitably caught up with me, for it was fate, plain and simple.

At the deli counter, I grabbed a couple of discount boxes of sashimi and went to exit the store. Just as I was about to leave, I felt the sudden urge to make small talk with the urinals, so I headed over to the toilets – an instantly regrettable idea. Inside was the aged drunken golfer extraordinaire. The problem was there was only one urinal and it was in use by the said drunk. Upon noticing my presence, he instantly turned towards me. Now I didn’t look directly at ‘it’ per se, but I was more than aware of a certain fleshy item peeking out from between his legs that appeared to be leaking fluids. I jumped instinctively backwards into the wall, to escape its dribbly wrath.

‘Oh, so sorry,’ said the golfer.

‘Err… err… that’s okay… I guess,’ I uttered, meekly.

‘My…my power swing,’ he continued, as he began to demonstrate his technique.

It was then that it dawned on me that he wasn’t actually apologising for nearly pissing on my shoes, but more so for his lacklustre imaginary golf swing. I mean he had every right to be concerned, as he wasn’t arching his back enough for my liking – but considering the circumstances that wasn’t really the point.

‘Ok, well  err…ganbatte ne!’ I left sharpishly, nearly tripping over his bottle of sake on the way out, suddenly not needing the toilet so much after all.

It was a bizarre incident, just when I thought I’d seen it all. I cycled round the corner – laughing it off – before finding a set of swings in a dark and weed infested playground. I sat on one of the swings and scoffed my sashimi, looking over my shoulder from time to time to make sure that there weren’t any drunks around, practising their slice or any imaginary golf balls heading in my general direction. Thankfully there wasn’t and I was very much alone.

After my late night dinner, I set up my tent atop a disused skate ramp. And as I lay in the black of night, the tree tops around me began to rustle and creak as a steady wind set in. When I closed my eyes, I saw drunken Japanese penises everywhere and they were coming straight for me. I slept uneasily.

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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Leaving Kumamon Country

Aso – Isahaya

68 miles

The descent from Aso was dangerously dicey, and because I’m a ridiculous person, exciting. I blazed along the heaving Route 57, mere inches from self-destruction; the accelerating speed only adding to the intensity as I shot past trucks and slower road vehicles like a man possessed. Coming down from the mountains with the aid of speed, allowed me to make my mark at a greater rate, making it down to the flats of Kumamoto in a little over 2 hours – almost halving the time it took me to ascend. From the city I rode further west towards Kumamoto Port. There, a ferry to Shimbara, Nagasaki Prefecture would await me.

As I reached the ferry terminal at 13:32, I saw a notice board indicating that the next ferry would be departing at 13:40. Once again, I was cutting it fine as I raced into the terminal and over to the ticket counter. Initially, there were no queues, but then suddenly a man appeared from nowhere. We both ended up awkwardly approaching the ticket counter at the exact same time. We then had a silent stand-off, glaring into one another’s eyes, my determination to go first rife, as I knew that I was about to miss my ferry and I’d have to wait another 2 hours for the next one. And so for a solid 3.2 seconds we eyeballed one another intently, before the man no doubt sensed my desperation and urged me ahead of him. I nodded a thanks and stepped quickly forward, only to find that I’d completely forgotten how to speak Japanese. The lady at the counter asked me what I wanted and as my jumbled brain failed to recollect any words of relevance, I simply pursed my lips together and made a weird, mostly sad sounding noise. I needed to take a few moments to collect my thoughts and question whether or not I’d just had some sort of stroke.

I took a step away from the counter and ushered in the man who had kindly let me go ahead of him. He nodded in kind and asked for one ticket to Shimbara. ‘Shimabara made ichi-mai kudasai.’ He was served his ticket immediately and left the premises with his dignity intact. Mine in tatters and smeared all over the waiting room floor, I stepped up to the counter for another shot.

‘Shimabara made ichi-mai kudasai,’ I said, like a boss. And, like the previous customer, I was served a ticket within seconds, yet when the lady behind the counter handed me my ticket she tapped her finger upon her watch to express that I didn’t have much time left. Then she grabbed a walkie talkie and shouted into it something about an alien wanting to come aboard.

I dashed outside and into the car park where one of the ferry crew would greet me. He also tapped his watch. I hastily jumped onto my bike and as the crew member raced ahead of me, I followed him all the way up and into the glum hull of the ferry. Within seconds, the drawbridge was raised and the hull secured, and at 13:40 – on the dot – we were off to Nagasaki.


Dates: 10/09/2014 – 13/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,327 miles

Total time in the saddle: 535 hours and 2 minutes

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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Big Aso

Kumamoto – Aso

28 miles

I didn’t quite get as much sleep as I’d intended. My heart palpitations were bothering me,  so I ended up surfing the Internet deep into the night.

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After which, I headed off into the mountains of the Aso Kujū National Park.

I’d start out in the dark just before dawn, the air cool and crisp. And even as the sun broke upon the horizon directly ahead of me from the east, the climes would reach an accommodating 18°C. The ascent along Route 57 however was far less accommodating and more borderline frightening with vast stretches of road undergoing maintenance, allowing for meagre gaps between myself and the hefty deluge of passing traffic. Occasionally, I’d get held up by traffic lights, that were allowing the flow of a one-way traffic system along some tight sections of road. A safe and precautionary measure for motorised vehicles no doubt, yet for the budding cyclist not so much. When one starts out on an ascent through a green light and doesn’t quite make it out at the other end – before the lights go green for the oncoming traffic – this will always lead to an assortment of capers.

It was all very ugly to say the least and I could tell that the construction workers clearly hadn’t thought that there might be a halfwit with a bicycle ascending the mountains. This was more than noticeable as I passed through one such section, much to the bewilderment of a construction worker who began to rapidly scratch his head in confusion, before commenting to me ‘Abunai yo!’ It’s dangerous!

‘No shit,’ I confirmed.

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By late morning, I’d made it to the city of Aso, where I’d pre-booked a night’s accommodation in a backpacker’s hostel. There, I dumped my bags and tied up my steed in the stables – before jumping on the next bus to Mt. Aso.


Mt. Aso looms grandly over the city, the largest of Japan’s active volcanoes with its highest peak at 1,592m above sea level and a caldera with a circumference of some 75 miles. It has five actual peaks, of which only one is active, Naka-dake. The land unravels into a natural spectacle the closer one draws to the summit. It has a mixture of rolling green hills and rich fertile plains that are grazed by both cattle and horses. Random clumps of rock lay dispersed across the park from eruptions that date back as far as 300,000 years ago. The giant mountains are claimed to be one of the most ancient and active bad boys in the land.

IMG_8945i Looking up toward the barren and craggy crater of Naka-dake, would reveal that it was almost excessively rampant with life as smoke bellowed up furiously into the atmosphere. This however led to disappointment upon reaching the Aso-Nishi base station, as it meant that both the walkway and cable car ropeway to the summit were currently off limits. Just 2 months after my visit, the volcano would spew its guts up for the first time in 22 years, projecting lava, smoke, debris and plumes of ash up to half a mile high. The ash reaching as far away as Kumamoto City – some 25 miles to the west – this in turn also led to significant crop damage in the area and the cancellation of flights. IMG_8925


I was though in need of a trekking fix, and so walked back in the direction of Aso City to scale the summit of the inactive Mt. Kishima. Its cylindrical crater was paved over by  a lush coating of grass and would’ve been the perfect locale for an exotic baseball pitch. Views in the direction of Naka-dake were now limited by a smoky haze, it was like trying to look at something incredibly sexy through steamed up spectacles. Even so, it was still incredibly sexy.


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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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Origin of the Bear

Minamata – Kumamoto

63 miles


It was a crimson dawn, just as beautiful as the previous night’s sunset. Layers of heat were already beginning to ripple off the surrounding mountains, as I ventured over to a 7-Eleven to carry out my morning ritual of causing absolute anarchy in the toilets. Without my iPhone now, I could no longer get casual GPS updates at convenience stores, my route was becoming holistically devised around hand written notes and my untrustworthy ‘Made in China’ map book of Japan – complete with incomplete pages. Today though there would be no qualms, Kumamoto City, being the prefectural capital would be well sign-posted and easy to find.

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It is a city that in recent years has seen a spike in tourism; largely associated with the prefecture’s cutesy mascot ‘Kumamon’. In 2011 Kumamon won the mascot equivalent of ‘Pop Idol’ or ‘The X-Factor’ by being voted the country’s most favourite mascot. And he certainly is a rather infectious character, a big, well-rounded and clunky black bear with big red dimples, that would make the most ardent of badasses go ‘Awww, kawaii!’(Awww, so cute!) One can’t go far around the bustling city of some 700,000 inhabitants without spotting an image of him with teenage girls, and fully grown hairy men alike, posing by his side whilst throwing out the V’s.


He’s got the masses under a spell, that much I’m certain of. But what his true underlying intentions were, I just couldn’t pinpoint – I suspect it to be something baleful and untoward. Citizens of Japan, don’t say I haven’t warned you.

I’d find little in the way of parks or covert places in which to camp, so found myself heading easterly into the city’s outer suburbs to a Manga Café. In the dim and seedy glow of the Café, I filled up a bowl with ice cream and sauntered off to my private booth to infiltrate the world of the Internet, or as my Nan would call it, ‘The Interwebs.’ I love Nans, they’re great.

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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Back on the Ol’ Two-Wheeled Wagon

Kagoshima – Minamata

76 miles


The alcohol shakes had just about subsided upon disembarkation at the Kagoshima ferry terminal. It was now time for a more straight edge approach as I headed north-westerly out of the city and along the lugubrious Route 3, towards Kumamoto Prefecture. The drivers of Kyūshū back to their old tricks of trying to turn me into mincemeat, I would cling to the sides of the roads like a squirrel clings to his prized nuts, but even then I wasn’t safe. At one point in the afternoon I met a Scottish cyclist coming from the opposite direction, both of us stopped for a quick chinwag. He’d only been cycling around Kyūshū for a few days, but couldn’t quite believe that he wasn’t dead yet. I confirmed that I often wondered myself whether or not I was invisible, judging by how many near misses I’d had on the island. But the fact that my fellow Brit had noticed my very presence and was talking to me just about cleared up any anxieties that I might have been having at the time. We wished each other God-speed before both going our separate ways. After two weeks of pissing my life savings up the wall in Okinawa, there was some small hope that as I started back out on the road again – it being September – that the climes would have simmered somewhat, yet at a baking 30°C there was no such luck. Not only would I continue sweating from where I last left off but my pace had also slowed considerably, making me feel lethargic; my weaker right knee beginning to ache again just as it did when I first started out cycling at the beginning of my tour. And to top it off, my weird heart palpitations continued to worry me. All a bad omen. Yet, despite these physical setbacks, I did still manage to make my mark by reaching Minamata by early evening.


Minamata Bay is a place with a grim past. During the 1950’s and ‘60’s a series of residents from the local fishing community began to fall mysteriously ill, their nervous system’s breaking down. They began to lose their sight, their hearing would become impaired, their speech and movement would degrade as chronic fatigue and severe headaches would also set in – before ultimately leading to death. The cause was mercury poisoning. Mercury was being deposited into the surrounding bay by a local chemical factory; a factory that despite being aware of the damage it was causing, didn’t actually stop releasing harmful metals into  the waters until 1968. By this time, Minamata Disease affected the lives of some 2,265 people – 1,784 of which would lose their lives. Chisso, the company behind the disaster, is still in operation but has long since fessed up to the damages caused, compensating thousands of local residents.

A vast section of the bay was dredged of its contaminants at great expense to Chisso and the national government. And then on an area of reclaimed land, a substantial eco-park was built. The park’s grounds are beautified with a collection of ornate gardens, memorial sculptures, a museum, a scientific research centre, a playground, an athletics field and a splendid bayside esplanade. I sat on a bench along the esplanade with a box of wet wipes, removing layers of thick black gunk from my legs.


The sun looked like a giant enflamed peach as it slowly sunk behind a set of islands dotted unevenly across the bay. People happily walked their dogs and did laps of the esplanade. It was unquestionably a beautiful park, it’s just a shame that it was born out of the death and misery of others. Shame on you Chisso, shame on you.

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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Okinawa : History & Beer


66 Miles 


My hostel in Naha was run down and grubby, carrying with it the feel of a random backpacker’s hostel plucked straight out of the back streets of somewhere in South East Asia. In fact, the city itself had a very different vibe to the Japanese mainland. Being one of the country’s poorest prefectures, it had buckled and sand swept sidewalks, ramshackle buildings and city parks that resembled nothing more than small pockets of wild, mosquito infested jungle. But this by no means detracts from this outgoing city, if anything it gives it an underlying quality. The Okinawan’s themselves have quite a different ethos to that of the mainlanders, with their bronzed skin and tattooed bodies; they are a people that throughout the course of history have been noted for being extremely accommodating. This was clear to see when the receptionist at my hostel offered me a beer upon arrival, something that would soon become a problem.


With beer in hand I took a leisurely stroll into the city centre, along Kokusai dori, International Street. For just over a mile the road stretches: buzzing and vibrant with cafes, bars, night clubs, restaurants, souvenir shops and department stores. A number of sheltered shopping arcades also trailed off from the main strip, meandering around the capital’s backstreets. Here I made a new friend; on a small market stall a dear old lady served me some home-made bento for the meagre price of just ¥200, about a quid.


I paid her a visit most days and every time she would chuckle joyously upon my approach to her stall. I would tell her how good her cooking was, in my worst Japanese, and she in turn would burst into further hysterics and tell me to stop.

Settling some place for just the briefest of time allowed me to familiarise myself with my surrounds and develop a new pattern. I got to meet local people and eat and drink where the locals would dine themselves – and I was always welcomed. It felt very humbling to be in this situation – even if it was just for a short while.

On this beery evening, I took in some more beers and walked the streets at random, soaking in as much as I could before I forgot which way my hostel was, and when such a time came… I just drunk some more.


I woke face down in a sweat drenched dorm bed, wondering how many others had sweated out their alcohol juices into the very fabrics of my mattress. Sitting up, my head consequently began to throb. Food would have been an appropriate resource, but as I wondered out into the open furnace-like streets, I instinctively walked in the direction of the coast instead. Just some 200 metres away from my hostel sat Naminoue Beach. Situated in a small cove, it was far from the island’s most attractive beach; its view obscured by a vulgar high-rise bypass rammed with noisy, trucks whipping back and forth from the nearby docks. Yet the beach appeared clean and tidy and its waters were clear and inviting. Submerging myself into the cool relief of the ocean, considerably numbed the pain of my hangover.

Feeling better I noticed a vendor sat in a deckchair close to the shorefront who happened to be selling cold beer, hair of the dog I thought. My empty stomach condemned the idea, but I refused to listen to it, and after a few more beers I wouldn’t feel the pain any more anyway… so what did it matter?

The older I get, the worse my hangovers get, the August heat was unforgiving too. Instead of lingering about feeling sorry for myself and dripping sweat all over the hostel furniture, I thought I’d let my sweat roll all over the island’s roads instead. Filling up my water bottles, I grabbed my bike and went for a little excursion around Southern Okinawa.

As the biggest island of the chain of Ryūkyū Islands at only 70 miles long and 7 miles wide, it wouldn’t take me long to explore the southern reaches of the island. Sadly, this would be about the full extent of what I would be able to achieve during my time on Okinawa. As romantic as the notion was to visit further islands, time and money restraints just wouldn’t allow. And in the 100% humidity I was also quite relieved as just a few short miles to the east of Naha I‘d find myself getting vaporised by the sun’s relentless rays.

Yet, had I been here between April and June 1945, the intense climes would have been the least of my worries. The horrors of the last ground-based battle of World War II on Japanese soil became more than apparent as my day progressed. I visited a number of sites across the island’s south. The Battle of Okinawa or the ‘War of Attrition’ as the Japanese would call it, was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II; one that would scar these islands for years to follow. At the time, surrender was not an option for the Japanese, for if the Americans took Okinawa, then they would be only one small step away from the mainland. Capture wasn’t even considered for the heavily outnumbered Japanese troops, and in such an instance it was common for the Japanese to either die martyrs or to commit the ancient samurai ritual of seppuku. And in no place would this be more evident than my first port of call at the ‘Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters’ – in the outer suburbs of Naha. Here, by foot, I descended down a gloomy flight of stairs into a network of doom-clad tunnels that stretched claustrophobically for about 450 metres.



The atmosphere sombre and the air stale, this was a site initially used as a command bunker for the Japanese Navy –eventually becoming a tomb for over 4,000 soldiers.

In early June 1945, Admiral Ōta, along with his men, found themselves cornered by the American advances. Ōta, knowing that all was lost, would sign off by sending one last telegram to headquarters, ‘There are no trees, no grass; everything is burnt to the ground. The food supply will be gone by the end of June.’ He then turned a gun on himself, many of his men following suit, some using hand grenades instead of bullets – this was evident by the shrapnel-splintered walls of the tunnels.



Exiting the tunnels back into the light of day, I suddenly felt very sober. I continued south in a heat unparalleled to anything I’d experienced back on the mainland, all the time thinking about the war, thinking about how lucky I was to be able to be doing what I was doing.


By the coast, I found Heiwakinen Park, home to the Peace Memorial Museum. Here an even more sobering account of the grim realities of the Battle of Okinawa are remembered, in the shape of an informative museum – its timeline of events leading up to and after those grim months of 1945.



The park and grounds were immaculately kept, as expected, with a cenotaph listing the names of the fallen soldiers and civilians from all sides. The Japanese military lost some 70,000 men and the allied forces 12,000, yet the greatest casualties were those of the Okinawan’s, where it is thought that over 100,000 citizens perished –  almost a third of the island’s population at that time. It was thought that the Okinawans would welcome the American’s as liberators, but anti-American propaganda from the Japanese military soon saw to it that the Okinawan’s would not side with them. They were told that if they fell into the hands of the enemy that they would be raped and tortured, many stories speak of fathers killing their wives and children through fear of what the enemy would do to them if they were captured.


Just a short ride away from the Peace Museum was a much smaller memorial dedicated to Hime-yuri no to, The Princess Lilly Girls. The Japanese under heavy attack had little in the way of medical assistance and so 222 local high school girls were selected from local schools – to aid the wounded and crippled infantry. They would do so with little or no experience in dire conditions, amongst caves and uninhabitable swathes of jungle, whilst a relentless shower of mortar shells rained down around them. It isn’t possible to enter one of these caves, but you can peer down into one. It was dark, dank and craggy, a nightmarish, foreboding sort of place. Here, girls were forced prematurely into becoming women – women of war. I’d like to say that there was a happy ending for all the girls, but of course for many there wasn’t, it was war, and war will always be spiteful. During the actual 3-month-long conflict, it was thought that there were just 19 student fatalities, it was only when the Japanese had officially surrendered the islands that the death toll would raise to 123 student deaths. The girls had been told by their superiors not to surrender to the Americans… and so many students in a state of panic would jump off cliffs to their deaths, whilst others pulled the pins of hand grenades issued to them by broken bodied soldiers.

These museums, cenotaphs and memorial sites are a constant and important reminder of the horrors of war that once plagued these islands; horror stories that I hope, first hand, that you and I will never get to experience. Yet, despite all I’d seen and learned today, as I cycled around the island’s southern tip – amongst the most idyllic of tropical paradises – I still found it hard to believe that such atrocities ever took place here. But they did, they really did.


I awoke the following morning without a hangover, this would be the first and only such instance during my entire stay on Okinawa. The previous days’ sombre outing destroyed that sensual holiday vibe. Today, however, I planned to get back on track, but not before exploring a little more of the south.


Cycling south-easterly out of Naha, I hit Mibaru Beach. There a quiet and secluded portion of coast greeted me, its waters calm and its beach pristine. I slung down my bike, peeled off my sweat-soaked backpack and hastily immersed myself into the wet stuff as if my life depended upon it. Coming from England it will always be a surprise to me when I look down into crystal clear waters and see my own feet planted firmly upon the sea floor; a complete polar opposite to the shivering cold, murky depths of the North Sea. Casting my mind back to Skegness 1992, I’ll always recall two red-headed children playing catch in the sea with a used condom; a truly tragic day for gingers.


My fun would be spoilt when a series of rain clouds began to encircle me, the weather in Okinawa not to be trifled with, as multiple tropical storms and typhoons often play havoc with the island’s annually. It just so happened that through my own supreme timing, I’d arrived during the middle of typhoon season.



Exiting the sea, I jumped straight onto my bike wet and journeyed back west towards Naha. With the searing heat, I’d be dry in minutes. Weaving in and out of the rush hour traffic, along a selection of horrifically destroyed roads, I’d just about make it back to my hostel before a ferocious rain storm broke. Relieved, I plucked a cold beer from the fridge and pitched a seat on the tatami floor, next to a passed out drunk. A man after my own heart. Pulling back the ring-pull of my beer let forth that unmistakable and expected hiss, a noise that for me would also signal the beginning of an unwarranted 12-day binge.


Once the beer started to flow, I knew it would be difficult to wean myself away. For when it comes to alcohol, my genes are extremely susceptible to its poisonous wrath. On a nightly basis, I would meet up with an eclectic contingent of characters, some strange, some beautiful, some dangerous. And where each consecutive night would lead I felt that not even the god’s could have fathomed. From the night clubs, to the karaoke bars, to the house parties, to the back streets – each morning, afternoon or evening that I awoke, my head would be a scrambled and dreary mess. Some of it I remembered, some I didn’t, and what I did remember I mostly just wished that I didn’t. Why did I chose to drink to complete and utter excess each night? I really don’t know. It was only when I woke up in the foetal position on Naminoue Beach early one morning, feeling a series of abnormal heart palpitations, that I realised I was beginning to lose sight of my actual goal. For each day I wasted on the piss, was a day that both punctured my health and crippled my chances of making it back to Tokyo in an able-bodied state. I stumbled to my feet with difficulty and brushed myself down, my body pouring with sweat. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my iPhone to check the time. Steve Job’s little brother was shattered and dysfunctional, I sighed before instinctively skimming the phone into the Pacific Ocean. I sighed again. Now, why did I just do that?


It was time to leave these shores.

Returning to my hostel, I vomited a little and then gathered my belongings, before taking a brief cycle ride to the ferry terminal. I’d enjoyed the buzz of Okinawa, worlds apart from the mainland, it had a completely separate country-feel to it. A little like Hokkaidō, but with a slight edge. I felt I’d merely scratched the surface however, and not completely done my break here justice, for obvious alcoholic driven reasons. However, I had reached and just about survived my 32nd prefecture. Grabbing a bottle of water, I toasted to just 15 more, and then vomited on my arm.

The 25-hour ferry ride back to the mainland was a choppy one that certainly did no wonders for my dicky stomach. I shook and sweated out like a junkie, as the mother of all hangovers took a grapple hold on me. I’ll never drink again.


Dates: 24/08/2014 – 9/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,092 miles

Total time in the saddle: 512 hours and 29 minutes

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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