One of the best parts about our ride was encountering a variety of fascinating people. In Hokkaido, we met a traveling Buddhist monk who had been walking along the coast of Japan for the past 6 years, relying on handouts for meals and sleeping on a thin plastic mat. He told us that it took him about 1 year to walk an entire loop around the country, and that he was on his 6th circumnavigation! We also met Saito-san, a 61-year old man who had recently retired from a career as an elementary school teacher. To kick off his retirement, he set a goal of cycling along the entire coastline of the country over 4 months. We hit it off, and Sho and I spent two weeks of our ride traveling together with Saito-san, who proved to be a wonderful traveling companion.
Sho with a traveling monk who has been circumnavigating Japan on foot for 6 years.
Sho and I with our cycling buddy Saito-san.
Many strangers helped us along the way. Some offered advice on interesting sites to visit or good cycling routes. Sometimes people yelled encouragement out of their car window, as they drove by. As Sho and I were struggling to ride up a steep mountain in Shikoku on a hot and humid day, a friendly couple pulled their car over to the side of the road, flagged us down and offered several bottles of water they had collected from a nearby mountain spring. In Toyohama (on Shikoku), we stopped at the end of a day of riding to ask a stranger if he knew of a campsite nearby where we could rest for the night. When we told him that we were cycling the length of mainland Japan, he stuttered in disbelief and joked, “That’s way too hard for an 8-year old. What kind of father would do that to his poor son?” He was a kind, gregarious man and offered us a place to sleep in his community center, drove us to the local bath house to clean up, treated us to dinner, and took Sho to a batting cage to practice hitting baseballs.
In Gifu, we stayed with the Kameyama family, who heard about our ride before we left for Japan and offered us a place to stay. We ate a delicious dinner prepared by Mrs. Kameyama of sashimi, fried chicken, cooked veggies, sukiyaki, sake and more before sleeping on wonderfully comfortable futons in a beautiful tatami mat guest room. Mr. Kameyama took us to an impressive onsen public bath house and indulged Sho’s request to visit a game room. He also arranged two interviews with reporters from local newspapers. The reporters were particularly interested in Sho’s perspective on the trip and why a 41-year old Intel employee would interrupt his career to do something like this. I explained that this trip was an attempt to celebrate life by doing something adventurous, an opportunity for father-son bonding, and a way to give Sho a deeper understanding of his Japanese heritage. Sho said that he loved the chance to sample Japan’s many game rooms, which he considered far superior to the options in the U.S. “There are no Pokemon Battorio or Kyoryu Kingu games in the U.S. I don’t know why. If I became President of the U.S., the first thing I would do is to order that we have to have these games!”
In addition to articles published in a number of Japanese newspapers throughout the ride, TV Japan produced 5 television news segments that followed us from start to finish. The parents of one of their producers hosted us in Matsumoto, taking us to see the famous castle there. And we stayed at the home of one of TV Japan’s anchors in Hiroshima, where we ate okonomiyaki, lit fireworks outside with the neighborhood kids, and talked on video for an upcoming news segment. Sho felt celebrated and asked me if we were now famous. I smiled, answering, “Not really, but a lot of people are amazed at what you’re doing.”
Junji Itami, who let us sleep in his community center in Toyohama on Shikoku.
Sho and I with the Kameyama family in Seki City in Gifu Prefecture
Posted on March 30th, 2010 by JNTO Staff
Filed under: -Adventure, 01-Hokkaido, 02-Tohoku, 03-Kanto, 04-Hokuriku, 05-Chubu, 07-Chugoku & Shikoku, 08-Kyushu & Okinawa, Announcement from VJC and JNTO, Blogroll, Destinations, Narita, Photos of Japan, Tips for Travelers