In the summer of 2009, my 8-year-old son, Sho, and I set off on our own to ride connected bicycles the length of mainland Japan, covering about 2,500 miles in 67 days. We visited 9 World Heritage Sites, cycled over mountains, along coastlines, through virtually uninhabited stretches of countryside, and in major metropolitan areas. Japan offers some incredible places to explore by bike. At the end of this article, we compiled a list of recommendations for anyone interested in cycling Japan. It’s a great way to see the country!
My wife, Eiko, is Japanese, and works for the United Nations. I am American (born in Nashville, Tennessee) and work for Intel. We live in New York City with our son Sho and 3-year-old daughter Saya. Sho and I can speak Japanese fairly well, which was a big help on the trip. But you do not have to speak Japanese to bike around the country, since many people can speak some English.
Calling the ride “UNite to Combat Climate Change – Ride Japan,” we created a website (www.japanbikeride.com) and used publicity from the effort to raise awareness about the need to address climate change and to raise money for the United Nations’ Billion Tree Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to plant 7 billion trees worldwide in 2009. The United Nations Environment Programme named us “Climate Heroes” for this effort. As a result, our adventure was featured in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Sho and I started riding on June 25th at Cape Soya, the northern tip of Hokkaido, and arrived at Cape Sata, the southern tip of Kyushu, on August 30th. As far as we know, Sho became the youngest person ever to ride a bike the length of Japan. Many people we met were shocked that an 8-year-old would attempt such a thing and equally suspicious of me for encouraging him to try it. We just told them, “A kid can do a whole lot more than many people think!”
Cape Soya, the northern tip of Japan, on the first day of the ride
On a typical day, we rode for a total of 6 or 7 hours, taking regular breaks to eat, make friends with strangers, explore interesting sites, throw a ball or just rest. We usually did not know where we would sleep that night, preferring to allow for impromptu course changes and discoveries. We often slept in our tent, but sometimes stayed in ryoukan (traditional Japanese inns), small hotels or a Buddhist temple. One time, we reached the top of a mountain in the Japan Alps as the sun was setting, and found an empty hiker’s hut to provide shelter for the night. We also slept in the homes of friendly locals, who treated us to delicious meals and lively conversation.
To be continued in the next issue…