Japan is not Asia – at least not Asia we have experienced so far.
Leaving Southeast Asia for Japan came with a multitude of minor and major reliefs or momentarily welcome changes. It already began with entering the country: a nice border official issued us a free 90-days tourist visa within less than a minute!
The greatest relief, however, was the moderate temperature. We tremendously enjoy the mild climate here that allows us to cycle more freely without having to sweat heavily all time. Pleasant 20 to 25°C during the day and a minimum of 10°C at night so far at a higher altitude. Consequently, camping is now a real joy again. And for the better, because the prohibitive high prices for accommodations here don’t leave us with many other options.
Another very welcome change is the great variety and availability of all kinds of food. We feel like in the land of milk and honey that leaves nothing to be desired. Fresh, clean, tasty, and at supermarkets still affordable, i.e. maybe just a little more expensive than in Germany. Very common are prepared meals one can get in every single supermarket, even smaller convenient stores (like 7-eleven). These so called Bentos comprise salad, noodles, sushi, meat, fish, etc., and cost about 2 to 5 Euros. Since Japan is quite densely populated – at least in the valleys of this surprisingly mountainous country – the next convenient store is never far away …
Another thing we don’t miss too much in Japan is the sometimes annoying attention we received in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam. Here we are just ordinary tourists on bicycles and are left alone most of the time. What might sound boring for others is a relief to us, at least for now. Consequently, the number of encounters is reduced – also because many Japanese don’t speak English. One of the few encounters so far was, for instance, this young photographer we meet in his hometown who asked us to take some photos of us (that we are going to ask for, of course). Usually he is travelling a lot in his job and has recently been to Afghanistan.
Since we and our bikes don’t attract so much attention, we also don’t feel the urge to watch our stuff closely anymore. Nobody will bother and leaving it somewhere unattended for some time is no problem at all. Japan is an extraordinary save and secure place.
Well, I could go on with some more few things we’re enjoying, like drinking water from the tap, occasional cycle paths, fixed prices in general … . Honestly, Japan pretty much offers many merits – and feels similar to cycling in Europe – but at the same time appears still different (e.g. temples and shrines). We love it.
Now, how did we actually spent our first couple of days in Japan?
After the first night camping next to the airport we followed narrow but busy roads into Tokyo where a warmshowers-host was awaiting us: Richard, a pilot working for a domestic airline, who lives in a small apartment in the outskirt with his Japanese girlfriend, two sons and varying number of guests. Including us, we then were ten people. Thanks to Richard, we had very pleasant two days that also gave us some time to explore the interesting, efficient and stunningly clean Tokyo. Some temples and shrines, parks and gardens, buzzing quarters with neon signs all over, many modern buildings etc.
After we left the planes of Tokyo, the way we took became pretty mountainous and we simply enjoyed riding with the sun all day and camping wherever we liked. Passing nice lakes, many forested hills, a pass of 2,000 m, numerous tunnels, nice towns (e.g. Nikko, a little town hidden in the mountains famed for some temples – unlike me, Jela gets never tired of temples – admittedly, they are a bit different here), less appealing cities (like Nagano, apart from another nice temple there; here I was also able to replace my broken air mattress) etc. Now, we are going to spend one or two days in Kamikochi to do some hiking. That’s what this place is well known for. Fortunately, here is even a campground – first one we came across – embedded in a beautiful alpine scenery. After 7 seven days of wild camping we really enjoyed the warm shower and can finally also recharge our electronic devices 😉