We embark aboard the Camelia, passenger transport ship, at 7pm. The boat will only leave four hours later, but the port closes in the meantime… The crossing will take all night. We’re dining on the deck, observing the tingling of machines and men on the dock, moving huge containers like bricks of Lego.
In the early morning, we land in Fukuoka, on Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. It is nice and warm, the cherry trees are in bloom, we pedal in flip flops, there is like an air of holiday!
Wild camping has never been easier than in Japan, if you are in the country, a square of grass will do the trick, if you are in town, the park in the centre will be very comfortable. No need to be discreet, we don’t disturb anyone. The only interactions we have are friendly greetings from the Japanese or short discussions with some curious.
Since South Korea, we have been in contact with Thomas, a French cyclist travelling for two years. We finally get together in Hiroshima and we decide to cycle a bit together. With Thomas we have the same rhythm. We take our time, we pedal little, we cook a lot. We had not rode with somebody elsa for a long time and we missed it. We love to discuss material and organization. Thomas does not hesitate to buy lots of food and doesn’t care having ten extra pounds to wear. But at least he’s having fun cooking some really appetizing dishes. We imitate him and we end up with a kilo of flour, ten eggs, two kilos of pasta, a kilo of wheat, two litres of oil… it’s heavier, but no need to shop every two days!
We are heading to Shikoku, an island strongly recommended by many of our contacts. Actually, it’s worth a visit. Imposing green mountains form a canyon. To access it, we pass a first pass a little steep, then we take advantage of three days of descent on a gentle slope on the road that runs along the river. During these few days in the mountains of Shikoku, we cross only a few villages, far from the dense and teeming life that I had imagined to find in Japan.
After two weeks of great weather, we glimpse our first black clouds. We’ll have to find a shelter, the sky is threatening! Thomas quickly spotted an underground parking lot on a ‘ Michi no eki ‘ (sort of resting area) at the canyon flan. We decide to put our tents between the cars. We enjoy a roof and have a breathtaking view of the canyon! We are a little afraid to get out of here… but the employees do not seem to be looking after us. After dark, the atmosphere turns out a bit murky, but we take a look outside, it always rains ropes, and we say that we are still better inside!
The next day, our paths separate, Thomas stays on Shikoku to enjoy a little more of the mountains, we leave the valley to head to Kyoto where we will find my cousins who came to spend their holidays in Japan.
To leave Shikoku we have two options: take a boat or the highway. The boat is paid for and the highway is not allowed for cycling. We choose the bonus option, hitchhike! We are located on the ramp to the freeway of the city of Naruto, we hope to find a truck that will head towards Kobe. Then we can pedal to Kyoto. We read that hitchhiking in Japan was not a small business, so with two bikes… But we’re pretty lucky, after forty-five minutes, a refrigerated truck stops! We put the bikes in the back and we embark! Our driver goes to Kyoto, superb, so do we!
We spend two days in Kyoto with my cousins and take advantage of our lending to a rare exercise: visits. Walk in the city, in the parks and among the temples, it changes and it feels good!
We are back in the saddle to head towards Nara, this city is reputed to house a large population of fallow deer that circulate freely in the city. Our host, Seiya, takes us to see them. The city literally seems to live off tourism based on the presence of these animals! All trade signs, signage signs, municipal posters, seem to be talking about them.
Pedaling and camping in Japan seems to us to be a disconcerting facility. Everything is quiet, cars drive slowly, can wait for miles before doubling us safely. We find water, clean toilets and often showers on our way! The only point we find to deplore is the difficulty of meeting locals. So when the opportunity arises, we don’t hesitate for a second. One day, around 5:00, we take a little break in a park. An old gentleman in tracksuit ‘ basketball ‘ cap stops at our height. We talk a little bit with him and then he resumes his walk. Like most elderly people in Japan, Hisao, 83 years old, regularly rides a park by walking a determined step. So he goes back to us a few minutes later:
“I live an 8 minute walk from here, do you want to come to dinner at home?”
The Japanese seemed rather reserved, we had very little opportunity to exchange with them! We accept. Hisao is still doing a tour of the park and we are in the way. Kemiko, his wife, and Teruhito, their grandson, are waiting for us. Hisao and Kemiko have travelled extensively, Hisao has long worked for a large international group, at the time he spoke fluent English, but now that he no longer practices, he forgets a little, so he is glad that we are there. With his wife, they bought the 6th level English textbook. Every day, they make a page of the notebook together. They’ve already bought the 5th grade manual for the sequel. Kemiko and Hisao have the fishing, they spend their time laughing and have complete control of their latest generation smartphone!
A few days and a hundred kilometers later, we plant the tent in the industrial zone of the port of Osaka. The next day we will take the boat towards Shanghai, China!