Okinawa : History & Beer

Naha

66 Miles 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

STATS

Dates: 24/08/2014 – 9/09/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,092 miles

Total time in the saddle: 512 hours and 29 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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Okinawa : The Possibility of an Island

Okinawa

Okinawa entailed the longest ferry ride of them all. Situated some 475 miles south-west of Kagoshima, I would have to endure a 25 hour journey to Naha, the prefecture’s capital.

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After buying my ticket at the Kagoshima ferry terminal, I stood and lingered next to my bicycle by the loading bay, watching the giant forklift trucks load various freighter crates onto the humongous A-line cruiser. With at least 2 hours from disembarkation, I was surprised when a guy came running over to me, to ask if he could see my ticket. I showed him and then was ushered aboard. Just like that. The rest of the other suckers passengers were still sat in their cars or in the ferry terminal, playing the meticulous waiting game. I was to be one of the lucky first on board.

Leaving my bicycle with the lads on the car deck, I proceeded up the escalators like a guest of honour. Now let me tell you, it’s exciting times when one happens to be the first to board a ferry, you really want to get to know the vessel in a lay of the land sort of way, without all the added interruptions of tripping over someone’s luggage or getting stuck in a conversation about the weather. I immediately found my room on the 5th floor; the carpet was snot green with 21 futons in rows of 7, and not a millimetre to spare between them.

I then scouted the deck looking for the usual amenities: toilets, restaurant, Street Fighter II and a bunch of vending machines containing food, drink and a plethora of mysteries. Next would see me do a quick and meaningless safety check of the outer deck, although I didn’t really know what I was looking for. But as far as I could tell, the vessel was a mostly solid steel affair with a hull that appeared to float well, this essentially made the boat feel all the more boaty. Satisfied I returned to my futon and abused the ship’s electricity supply something wicked.

My room would eventually become a full house as the other passengers began to pile on board. The room contained everything one would need to muster a successful sausage party. 21 males were packed tightly like sardines in a can; and an hour or so out to sea, all of my roomies were sleeping like babies. When the snoring started up, someone would close the cabin door, in an effort to contain one of the most persistently obnoxious noises known to man. And, of course, with the door being closed, the farts would also begin… got to keep those farts contained so that everyone can have a good old sniff. For the majority of the night, I’d stay awake having a Game of Thrones marathon on my laptop whilst sniffing 3rd party farts in the lacklustre confidence that I might just somehow nod off. I didn’t, but with a new dawn, a new hope would arise and an abundance of vending machine coffee would be quaffed.

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I spent the morning on the outer deck ocean, gazing and island spotting. The sea was a measureless void of turquoise, calm yet treacherous, breaching into the horizon and seemingly feathering up into the skies, before offering up a more translucent shade of blue. As the A-line surged forth, it passed a number of the 160 Ryūkyū Islands that dot a stretch of the Pacific for some 620 miles, from the borders of Kyūshū all the way down to Taiwan. Islands both inhabited and uninhabited, appearing as mere specs in any atlas. Thick jungle terrain hugged coastal hillocks as steep cliffs dived down abruptly and into the ocean.

Occasionally, civilisation crept out of the vegetation; as a cluster of homes with farming plots decorated with a life of self-sufficiency emerged. Life remote in the outer islands, being able to sustain a livelihood and also keep one’s health intact, was key. Not that health was a huge issue for the Okinawan’s – it is a well-known fact that these hardy islanders yield the largest number of centenarians of anywhere in the world. Five times as many Okinawan’s live to over 100 years than compared to the rest of the mainland. A fact no doubt accredited to the Okinawan’s graceful diet of fresh fish and tofu, along with local delicacies specific to the islands such as the bitter melon known as gōyā and the sweet purple yam. A diet low in fat and sugar and high in vitamin D… a longevity recipe for success. For me personally, I was still happy that I’d somehow managed to make it into my thirties, a fact that baffles me every day when I awake from the nightmares of my teens.

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At dinner time, I headed down to the canteen on the lower deck to dine on some lukewarm Japanese curry. I planned to stay and read for a while, but was surrounded by a bunch of excitably noisy drunks that wouldn’t leave me be, screaming and shouting for no reason. I was by this stage finding myself becoming increasingly irritable about the smallest of things: bicycle punctures, the humidity, a mucky camera lens, missing socks, a bogey on the wall next to me, being told ‘Nai’ constantly… shitty drivers determined to send me to my maker. I felt that all these definitive issues were somehow having a detrimental effect upon my general well-being and my mental health. Would Okinawa act as my cure? It was true I needed time out, a breather, I needed beer, to read a book, to do some normal things that weren’t cycling up and down mountains all day long and making myself feel sick from exhaustion. This much was certain. And so I urged Okinawa to be my refuge and place of sanctity, I hoped sincerely that it would fulfil my expectations.


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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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Yakushima: Land of the Giants

Yakushima

28 miles

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As my ferry from Kagoshima approached the Miyanoura harbour, I was greeted by some unusually clear skies, for in this part of the world – the locals will often joke – it rains 35 days of the month. The island’s topography consists of a wild and rugged interior, dominated by a number of mountains that rise up close to some 2,000 metres, boasting some of the most beautiful primeval forests on the planet. The island of Yakushima is almost completely circular in shape, with a circumference of 84 miles and was the basis of Miyazaki’s 1997 animated fantasy feature ‘Princess Mononoke’. This film was based on a story about the Gods of the forest and the plight of man hell-bent on destroying their home.

 

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Today, the bulk of the island’s forests are protected and for two days I would have the great honour of trekking amongst them; discovering a small portion of this beautiful island’s rogue interior. Under the cool, dense forest canopy a mystical world unfolds, the intense summer sun is filtered out, allowing one to really get lost amongst the dramatically aged cedars. Deer trample fearlessly on a forest floor littered in fungi and moss, fresh water drips from overhanging rocks as the bulbous tree roots run the forest floor like an aged wooden cabling system; appearing to bond the lifeblood of the forest together. It was clear to see where Miyazaki got his inspiration from.

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The prize of the forest however is grand master Jōmon Sugi; a cedar tree so aged and grandiose that it can’t even be dated properly with modern 21st Century technology, not even in Japan! From its size alone though, scientists believe it to be about 7,200 years old. And with a height of 25.3 metres and a girth of 16.4 metres, it is a true behemoth of a tree.

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With a lack of cycling during my time spent on Yakushima, it had almost felt like a holiday. As usual that feeling made me feel a little uneasy, but then I thought of my next destination, Okinawa. And having now cycled some 5000 miles, the sudden thought of a sun, sea and sand holiday didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. If anything it would be wholesomely rewarding, a chance to relax in a tropical paradise and recuperate, to drink cold beer and swim in crystal clear waters, to eat fine Okinawan tucker and learn the secrets of a long and fruitful life. Yes, actually Okinawa would be just the ticket.

STATS

Dates: 16/08/2014 – 23/08/2014

Total miles traversed: 5,026 miles

Total time in the saddle: 506 hours and 20 minutes

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Journey to Sata – Act III

Minamiosumi – Kagoshima

88 miles

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A storm passed through during the night, bringing with it a heavy bout of rain, yet come morning there was little evidence left; the sun casually baked and dried up all traces of damp within its sight.

Leaving camp at around 6:30 I convinced myself that I was getting used to the heat – but, even so, I mumbled and cursed my way up into the mountains along a jaunty rollercoaster of a road. The route was quiet and traffic free; the deep impenetrable jungles to the sides of the road saw macaques clinging to palm trees and eyeing me wearily as I passed. Cicadas occasionally burst into chorus:  ‘die, die, die…,’ as ample numbers of dragonflies darted past en masse, looking for a mate.

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In just over 2 hours I made it to the car park of Cape Sata, from here it was just a short walk to the Cape itself. A lonesome lighthouse about 500 metres off shore sat perched atop a rugged islet, beyond it a vast blue void. I’d made it. And in doing so I’d set myself a new milestone. It had been just a little over 2 months by this point since I’d left the country’s northern most point of Cape Sōya, in Hokkaidō. The 3,050 miles felt like a very, very distant memory. So much had happened in the time since Hokkaidō. The adventure I’d always dreamed of, had become a priceless reality, one that I wouldn’t have changed for anything. But it was all still far from being over. For many this would be the end of a long and successful journey from the country’s distant northern reaches, yet for me I still had 16 more prefectures to conquer in order to fulfil my goal. Feeling like a pint was in order, I turned my back on the Pacific and began the journey back to Kagoshima City, where it would most certainly be beer ‘0’ clock upon my arrival.

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Descending away from the Cape, I’d traversed merely 300 metres, before I noticed the tops of the palm trees that towered up around me swaying precariously. Cloud cover had also increased, as loose vegetation began to flitter across the surface of the road. As I rounded a bend, I was offered a view out to sea, an overly uninviting view. The skies were grey, merging into black and I could see a band of white spray at the forefront that was heading ashore in my direction. There would be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

I continued to peddle, hoping that the oncoming weather front might just skirt around me. Sadly, I was headed uphill on at least an 8% gradient and thus escape was futile. In mere moments, a gust of wind groped me from behind as a front of hard hitting rain succeeded it, lashing down furiously around me. It was freak and unexpected, considering how roasting hot it had been just a few moments previously.

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The polarities of the Japanese weather were a constant. Whilst traversing the country, I had heard people comment on the fact that the weather had been behaving very strangely this year – and they most certainly weren’t wrong.

Pulling over to the side of the road, I was able to take up some minimalist cover from an overhanging tree branch. The rain continued to gush down violently for a further 4 minutes, before suddenly petering out like someone had just quickly turned off a tap. The sun then appeared from out of the grey as if nothing had ever happened! Steam in turn rose up from the asphalt surface, as the water upon the road began to burn up instantly. Welcome to the sub-tropics.

To get back to Kagoshima, I again made passage alongside Kagoshima Bay, this time upon the opposite peninsula which would lead me all the way up to the southern base of Sakurajima. En route, I was pulled over by a pair of very serious looking plain clothes police officers. They showed me their badges and asked to see my passport. I did as I was asked. One of the officers spoke in pitch perfect English, with an American twang; much to the awe of his non-English speaking partner, who studied me up and down very carefully. The English speaking officer asked me what I was doing and where I was headed. He seemed quite impressed with my answer, as he translated this to his partner, who smiled. I was overjoyed to see them both smiling, as I had been wondering what it was that I might have done wrong. I asked the officer if everything was okay,  and he confirmed that they just wanted to let me know that there are a lot of crazy drivers in Kagoshima Prefecture. It was then that I realised that I wasn’t wearing my crash helmet. Quickly, I reached around to the rear of my bike and unclipped it from my baggage and proceeded to place it upon my head. Both officers found this act side-splittingly hilarious as they laughed directly at me, before wishing me a safe journey, in Japanese.

I was thankful for the concern from the officers, even if it was a case of one cop showing off his English skills to the other cop. I had actually noticed an increase in stunt driver wannabes within the area. On at least eight separate occasions I would nearly find myself maimed by victims of bicycle blindness. A majority of the incidents, like the incident back in Miyazaki, stemmed from people pulling out of junctions and looking directly through me – as if I was nothing more than an apparition. Being Obon weekend, I wondered if the locals thought that I was the spirit of a gaijin cyclist, but I doubted it. Regardless, I felt as if I needed a new approach to these drivers to make them more aware of their bicycle blindness condition.

Through the power of eye to eye contact surely it would be possible to relay a psychic message between cyclist and automobilist, thus making them completely aware of my presence. As it happened, it wouldn’t take me long before I got to try out my new experiment. An aged lady, driving a purple monstrosity, approached an upcoming T-junction onto a section of road that I was about to pass. I began to look directly at her. Correctly slowing down for the junction, she looked to the right, in the direction that I was coming from, and appeared to look directly through me. It was only when I branched my neck out a little further, converting my stare into something a little more in line with an obvious glare – that we were then able to lock eyes. A connection was thus made. And as we stared into one another’s eyes, I felt a mutual bond of recognition formulate between us. Almost spiritual. I smiled as she smiled back, surely sealing the deal.

For her, I was in existence in real time, and this was exactly what I wanted her to think. The very idea of her pulling out on me now would surely defy logic, in every possible sense. However, she pulled right out on me, regardless, nearly killing me. Miraculously, my split second swerving into oncoming traffic and then bumping up onto the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road would save me from the jaws of death. Eye contact obviously wasn’t the answer to this beefy conundrum.

As I approached the foothills of Sakurajima, rain began to set in; the volcano’s summit was swathed in gloom. The ground around the mountain’s 30 mile base was strewn with dispensed ash that, under the rain, was turning into black, gooey sludge. My lack of mud guards saw to it that I was getting rampantly caked in the stuff, and by the time I’d reached the ferry (that would take me across the bay, back to Kagoshima) I looked like I’d just crawled out of an old bonfire.

The crossing back to Kagoshima took a mere 15 minutes. And as the rain got heavier, I was relieved to have found myself a hostel for the night. Settling under a sheltered balcony, with a pack of beer, I watched the rain crash down in torrents over the city. I found myself devoid of thought, with very little worrying me, and that felt good.

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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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Journey to Sata Act II

Kagoshima – Minamiosumi

35 miles

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I trailed southerly alongside the shores of Kagoshima Bay, its lilac blue waters as calm as a grave. Reaching the tourist resort of Ibusuki, I would round Mt. Uomidake, its cliffs rising abruptly from the road side. The sun shone so brightly that I could barely look up towards its summit without wincing. Farther inland a wilderness of greenery spread itself across the mountains and far beyond the natural sight of any man.

Many flock to Ibusuki for its famed sand baths, where natural steams rise up through the volcanic soils, warming the surrounding sands and offering up an alternative therapeutic option. People here will be buried up to their necks in the sand, leading them to perspire  excessively, the act said to enable good blood circulation. Yet, in the current climate of 33°C it seemed about as necessary as a kick in the bollocks before bedtime.

Veering on towards the Yamagawa ferry terminal, I made the crossing over to Minamiosumi on the Ōsumi Peninsula. The crossing gave me scope of the land that lay between myself and Kyūshū’s most southern limit. A jagged backbone of mostly uninhabited mountains sprawled for just over 20 miles; resembling the spine of a sleeping dragon. Reports online invariably dictate that the ride from Minamiosumi to Cape Sata is a testing one, and from the middle of the bay it most certainly looked it.

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I wouldn’t have enough time to tackle the 40 mile round trip to Cape Sata upon my arrival in Minamiosumi, and so decided to spend the night in town. The only hostel was fully booked, so I opted for a small coastal park close by. Under the shade of a concrete veranda, I washed down with some wet wipes and then proceeded to set up camp for the night. The plan the next day was to rise early, in an attempt to beat the heat, which as always would try it’s very best to dampen my spirits. But only if I let it, as with my heart still beating, I knew that it would take a lot more than just weather to stop me now.

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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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Journey to Sata – Act I

Miyakonojo – Kagoshima

52 miles

It was a steady rise up into the Kirishima mountain range, away from Miyakonojo, where I would shortly cross into Kagoshima Prefecture.

Gliding down toward Kagoshima Bay, which nuzzles itself in between the prefecture’s two peninsulas of Satsuma and Ōsumi – I saw the symbol of Kagoshima filling a triumphant void between the surface of the bay and all the way up some 1,117 metres into the troposphere.

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I’d seen a number of volcanoes on my travels now, but the sight of Sakurajima was a striking one; an image that somehow I hadn’t quite prepared myself for. As from the exact moment that the gigantic mass of rock hit my line of sight, it would give me something of a mental jolt. ‘Woooaaaah!’ I’d proclaim, doing my best Bill & Ted impression. Sakurajima is considered one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, averaging some 500 or so eruptions every year; in fact my previous night’s Couchsurfing host, Seth, said that he could often hear and feel it rumbling away some 40 miles away, in Miyakonojo. The last major eruption though was back in 1914 and it was so big that it ejected enough molten material to connect it from its locale as an island in the middle of Kagoshima Bay to the eastern peninsula of Ōsumi. Deaths are rare from the eruptions of Sakurajima, but throughout the year, the locals of Kagoshima City will have to contend with the vast quantities of falling ash emitted from its vibrant crater. The ash blocks out the sun and turns the skies grey, as it falls down upon the streets like a nuclear winter. The surrounding streets often have to be ploughed as the citizens don umbrellas to protect their skin and clothing from the hot ash. Yet, for the local farmers, this comes as a prized gift, for the ash makes their lands extremely fertile – enabling the production of some freakishly huge, radishes. I picture the farmers walking around the countryside stroking their prized veg like beloved pets and mocking neighbouring prefecture’s for their ridiculously insignificant sized radishes. You call that a radish? Now – this… is a radish! Today however, Sakurajima was on its best behaviour. Cycling from the north around the glistening bay – towards the city of Kagoshima – ensured that the great beast would never leave my sights. A sick part of me wanted it to blow its molten load, just so that I could boast about it to my friends on the booze-scene back home down the pub. Shit! To witness something as raucous as that may well have just seen me well on my way to a free packet of pork scratchings, or better still, a rimjob in the pub car park from a human! Alas, Sakurajima would contain itself, there would be no full English rim-jobs on my return to Blighty. What a shame. With its prominent volcano and enchanting bay-side setting, the city of Kagoshima is often referred to as the “Naples of the East”, being largely similar to the famous Italian city with its prolific Mt. Vesuvius. In fact, the two cities joined forces in 1960 to become sister cities.

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Upon my arrival, the wide city streets were bustling with activity, serving up a positively flamboyant vibe. I had arrived during the Obon festival period, where families gather across the country to pay respects to the spirits of the dead. Amongst the festivities, lanterns are lit to help guide ancestral spirits in the afterlife. Graves are scrubbed clean, dances danced, food gormandized, alcohol guzzled and massive wads of fireworks are simultaneously spunked into the night skies. Because of the festival, I’d had trouble securing any accommodation, so opted for an Internet café – in the city’s outer suburbs. This would set me in a good stance for progressing along the inner thigh of Satusuma Peninsula, the following day. From there I planned to take a short ferry ride across Kagoshima Bay to the neighbouring Ōsumi Peninsula – as I advanced ever closer to Cape Sata, the southernmost point of Japan’s four main islands.


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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

Posted in Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Bicycle Touring, Cycle Touring, Cycling, Japan, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Puncture King of Miyazaki

Miyazaki – Miyakonojo

53 miles

Regardless of the Japanese public’s diminishing attraction to Miyazaki, it’s most famed prize of past and present, is Aoshima to the city’s south. A small island measuring no more than 11 acres, it is surrounded in a delicate white sandy beach and interior jungle, which attracts a bulk of the prefecture’s summer catchment of tourists. The island’s central shrine is said to bring good luck to married couples and those desperate souls looking for a spouse.

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Walking the perimeter. I dared not venture into the thick of the jungle; visions of marriage putting about as much fear in me as a huntsman spider in my pants copping a squeeze of my priceless crown jewels. No thanks fella, not today.

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And in not paying my respects to the shrine, I would become instantaneously cursed. Less than a mile away from the island, I received a puncture to my rear tyre. Under the shade of an overpass, I patched up the hole and then proceeded west into the mountains. Another puncture happened, 6 miles later! In the car park of a 7-Eleven, I would again fix up another hole in the rear tyre before continuing.

Just 3 Miles later – whilst ascending a steep mountain – puncture number 3 struck. In general disbelief, I began to unload my rig in order to get to the rear tyre once again. On the hilly incline, by the side of a busy road, with a complete lack of shade, the sun beat down upon me maliciously. I became saturated in sweat, making the task in hand all the more difficult. I angrily ripped off my wet-rag of a t-shirt, and threw it to the ground in an act of provoked frustration. A car pulled up whilst I was in the process of assessing my inner tube, and a man reached out and gifted me two ice cold bottles of pocari sweat – a popular nationwide isotonic drink. This act of kindness soothed me somewhat.

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Returning to the inner tube, I came to the conclusion that it was completely fucked, so I whipped in a new one and ventured onwards with caution. Yet this was to no avail, as 4 miles later another puncture decided to join the party, this time at the front.

‘Un-fucking-believable!’ I yelled, jumping off my bike and lobbing my crash helmet across the road in a strop.

I felt truly cursed, finding it bizarre that I’d managed to cycle for some three months at the beginning of my journey – receiving just the one puncture – and yet today I had traversed little over 15 miles and received four! Rotating the tyre, I noticed a big fat drawing pin embedded into it, a true classic. I wondered if I should have gone to visit the shrine on Aoshima, after all. Alas it was all too late to turn back now, the only way forward being westward in the direction of Miyakonojo.

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The rest of the day’s journeying would go without incident and by the time I’d pulled into Miyakonojo, my puncture grief was behind me; a distant memory from a questionable curse. My arrival in this border city (with Kagoshima Prefecture) was somewhat fluky, as the heavy rain and thunderstorms that had been due all day, were now just about gearing up to play their part.

I tracked down a Californian by the name of Seth and would become his first Couchsurfing victim in Miyakonojo, a city famed mostly for producing traditional archery bows from the area’s abundant resources of bamboo.

Our greeting was short and sweet, for Seth had big plans for us. After I’d showered, we headed over to a local izakaya, there I would meet a vast contingent of his international English teaching counterparts. It being a Friday night – and the end of the schooling week – it seemed only natural that they should all get bladdered and talk utter smack, and that I too should become part of that said process.

Outside, an indignant yet fantastical storm unfolded, as thunder shuddered through the very foundations of our surrounds. A vast congregation of lightning bolts blitzed the skies; one bolt cracking off so loud and so close that it would make everyone inside the izakaya scream out like a bunch of end of day’s mentalists. The rain soon flooded the streets, as, like my new found friends, I drank deep into the night.

I awoke with little memory of the night before. A notion that I’m led to believe is how any good solid drinking session should be orchestrated. It was nice to be part of these relatively normal transactions from time to time; the pressures of the road being eased somewhat by partaking in the traditional art of going down the boozer for a skinful and talking a pile of absolute dross. Even if the time spent was with complete strangers – it just didn’t matter. That night we had a distinct narrative and purpose, and what better place to exploit that than down the pub.

 

STATS

Dates: 14/08/2014 – 15/08/2014

Total miles traversed: 4,823 miles

Total time in the saddle: 486 hours and 47 minutes


http://www.facebook.com/tokyototokyo


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

Posted in Adventure Travel, Bicycle Touring, Cycle Touring, Cycling, Japan, Japan Travel, Travel, Travel Blog, Travel Writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment