I’ve always liked bicycles. You can find them all over the world, and though there might be a few differences, the riding them is familiar in a comfortable, second-nature way.
Plus, they’re a great way to see places a bit faster than walking, and they offer a good compromise between speed and green sustainability.
So when my friend Andrew sent me a message from Japan inviting me on an epic, South to North bike tour of the 4 main islands, I really wanted to say yes, and then work out the money and timing after.
Epic Japan Bike Adventure
So I did. Fast-forward five months, after a bit of work getting funds and time together, I am in Japan with Andrew, and we’re about to set out.
We managed to lure another brave soul with the promise of adventure and Japanese sake, Scott, so it will be the three of us with our bikes and our panniers, taking on Japan.
The first and biggest challenge we faced, when we all committed to the trip, was coordination.
This trip has been planned, almost completely, with the three of us living in different countries.
Andrew has been in Japan for the last 2 years, teaching English, Scott lives in Boston, and I was in Montreal.
This meant our trip was planned mostly through a hodgepodge of email and Skype and even an attempt at a Google Wave.
Another kink came up in time zones. Andrew was 13 hours ahead of Scott and I, making his 5pm our 4am.
To make matters worse, I was working nights and Scott was working days.
This meant that, whenever the three of us were chatting or talking in real-time, one or more of us was only half-conscious.
Somehow, we all managed to get to Japan safe and sound, although not without some trouble (and some more trouble and as I write this, we are about 6 hours away from setting out on our pre-trip, 3-day hike on a little island near our start point, called Yakushima.
As for the route we’ll take, much of it will be decided on the road, but the two fixed points are the southernmost and northernmost points of Japan’s main four islands, Cape Sata in the south and Cape Soya in the far north.
However, recent events in Japan have made us reconsider some of the bits in the middle. So far, our plan is to keep abreast of the latest news, and make final decisions as we approach them, perhaps taking a train or ferry to avoid any danger.
Recent events also made us reconsider our own motivations for taking the trip, and what bike-touring Japan right now would mean.
We decided that, while we didn’t want to just cancel the trip and ignore the devastation, we could not simply go on as if nothing had happened.
Instead, we decided to turn our trip into something to benefit Japan’s needy, in whatever small way we could.
To that end, we have begun a donation campaign for Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse, using our trip as a motivation for others to give.
Our goal is to raise $1 per kilometer per person, and since we should each be riding at least 3400km, we have set the bar at $10,000.
I am happy to say that we are almost pennies away from halfway, and considering we haven’t even started yet, that is amazing.
I am even more excited about the idea that we could exceed that goal. If you have thought about giving to relief in Japan, we encourage you to take the plunge and give.
Why Autumn in Japan is Better
Especially in autumn, Komyozenji Temple in Dazaifu, Japan is the epitome of refined, quiet beauty. Sitting in the calm environment of the zen garden behind the temple always invites introspection.
In the same spirit as the Springtime cherry blossom viewings that are popular in Japan, people flock to temples, shrines, parks, and gardens such as Komyozenji to enjoy the changing and falling leaves of Autumn.
Photographs taken by travel photographer Andrew Marston who currently lives in Japan and runs a daily travel photography blog where other photographs from this trip will also be posted over the course of the coming weeks.
Winter in the Japanese Alps
Winter in the Japanese Alps
The inviting subtropical climate of Kyushu Island was driving me crazy!
With hot summers and mild winters, I needed to escape this “paradise”.
I grew up in frosty Maine, USA! We’re talking a place where November to April freezes your bones and makes even the toughest woodsman don an extra layer of flannel.
After some research, the Japanese Alps in the heart of winter sounded just the snowy get-away I pined for.
After one of the most enchanting train trips I’ve ever taken, I arrived in Takayama.
From there, it was a short bus ride through the switch backs of the Hida Mountains to Shirakawa Village.
Well deserving of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this village prides itself on being a time warp back to Edo period traditional Japan, complete with farm houses built with thatching.
It also happens to be one of the snowiest places in Japan (measured in annual snowfall) and certainly lived up to the title.
Lori, my fiance, and I spent about 4 hours walking around snapping photos and soaking up the handsome historical vibes before it was time to take the bus back.
If ever you visit Shirakwa Village, I highly recommend walking up the path behind Wada house to Shiroyama Viewpoint (the last picture shown was taken from there).
Don’t forget your hand warmers and camera either.
For more of my escape to Winter in Traditional Japan, the trip starts here.
Andrew Marston is a Japan based travel photographer.
He likes slow train rides through rural areas, cameras with lots of buttons, and sharing his adventures with others.
Checkout Andrew’s Climbing of Mt Fuji