Japan in Retrospect

We spent almost two month in Japan. Plenty of time to cosily cycle the approx. 2,500 km from Tokyo to the westernmost bigger island of Kyushu.

We appreciated gratefully the lack of pressure and in fact didn’t make much kilometres a day, especially in the second month. There was hardly a day where we cycled more than 80 km. If not the scores of traffic lights and lack of reasonable cycle paths in the vast populated areas hindered us from making some fair progress then the numerous climbs in this surprisingly mountainous country slowed us down. These brake blocks were later joined by increasingly frequent rain (rainy season) and a little cold of Jela.

When considered superficially, Japan reveals two characteristic faces. We were either bumping along pragmatic and dense cities or we were meandering through largely forested hills and mountain ranges with not a living soul but some bear (well, supposedly), wild boars, and many snakes. However, since the populated areas never lay far apart, the next convenient store or supermarket was never far away. Usually we passed dozens of convenient stores in a single day.

This two different poles, the staggering metropolis on the one hand and the seemingly impenetrable mountains on the other, drives Japan’s road constructors to top performance. Japan’s road network is one of the most elaborate I ever came across. Alastair Humphreys writes in his book “Thunder and Sunshine”: “Soon Japan will be the most convenient country on Earth to get from A to B, with every hill tunnelled, every river bridged and every road a direct one.” Then he added: “The only hitch is that, as A and B will be identical, ugly sprawls of identical shops and identical overworked people, there will be no point in travelling from one to the other.”
Admittedly, his statement, however exaggerated, indeed contains a grain of truth. Many cities are impersonal concrete jungles and resemble one another. However, the multitude of ancient lovely temples, shrines and toriis, castles and gardens, villages and some old quarter still undeniably spread a unique though slightly concealed charm.

And, of course, the perception of a country is essentially determined by its people. We felt doubtlessly very welcome and the Japanese treated us very well. To my experience, they are the most polite people I have ever experienced, almost exceptionally. Although we clearly stick out from that highly homogeneous society most of the time – strangers are only found at touristic sites – the Japanese didn’t let us feel like that. They were either just following there own business or simply too polite to bother us. After Vietnam we pretty much enjoyed the reduced attention. However, if help was needed, they were on the spot at once. A few times we were even given some drinks and snacks, once even a 1000 yen note as presents. When not working hard Japanese love gambling and Golf as the scores of Pachinko & Slot places and Golf facilities (whole courses or just these tee-off places with meterhigh nets) testify.

With the prices for accommodations relatively high, although to a lesser extent than expected, we spent the majority of nights wild camping (34) which turned out to be pleasantly easy. Campgrounds are very sparse (5 nights) just as warmshower hosts (5 nights). In order to sit out some periods of rain or when we were simply trapped in the concrete jungle we also sometimes harked back to hotels (7 nights) or hostels (6 nights) provided we got a reasonable rate (usually about 15 Euro per person per night).

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