Japan act-1

Traditional fountain found outside the local Jinja (Shrine) in Fukuoka. The Japanese practice a washing process similar to that of the Islamic tradition

Traditional fountain found outside the local Jinja (Shrine) in Fukuoka. The Japanese practice a washing process similar to that of the Islamic tradition

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My first impression of Japan was exchanging Korean Won for Japanese Yen in the ferry terminal. Asking for small bills, the Japanese teller apologetically handed me a stack of older notes. Through the intercom she told me that these bills were over 20 years, and that she was all out of the newer notes. Passing a white envelope beneath the glass I looked inside to see what  20-year-old year Japanese yen looked like.Besides a crease in the center, none of the bills seemed to have any wear, and were all clean and free of any grime or graffiti. To my eye Japanese money that had been in circulation for over 20 years looked brand new. Little did I know that I was about to step into a country unlike any of those I had recently traveled to.

Screened entrance in traditional Japanese house, Hagi

Screened entrance in traditional Japanese house, Hagi

Traditional Japanese screen

Traditional Japanese screen

In the west we struggle for what seems to come so naturally in Japan. Everyone seems to take responsibility for their own actions and understands their input on society. Public transportation, renewable energy and reusing products is prevalent throughout the land, and there is an underlying sense of unity never before observed. It is almost as if everyone is working together to make Japan their home. I my 4 days I have witnessed so many random acts of kindness and generosity that it has rubbed off on my nomadic every man for himself mentality. In the countryside I watch elders playing with grandkids or sitting on stools in the yard while their son and daughter rake leaves. There are many villages that have literally been left untouched, with the older style homes, sometimes several hundred years old, with porcelain tiled roofs covered in decades of moss. Simple yet elaborate wooden entryways and sliding glass doors. The beauty of the past blends so well with cultures minimalist lifestyle, that I have trouble distinguishing between the old and new customs.

Old iron hardware outside ancient house of Samurai, Hagi

Old iron hardware outside ancient house of Samurai, Hagi

Houses on the canal, Hagi port

Houses on the canal, Hagi port

In contrast to Korea, I am completely in awe of the landscape and scenery of the southern regions of Kyushu and Honshu. I feel as if I am cycling through the scenic epitome of Asia, watching thick fog encapsulate lush green bamboo forests, and clear turquoise water slowly wearing away large smooth boulders. But it’s not only beauty, there is so much style and taste that go into the architecture and landscape that really separates Japan from the other Asian countries.

Limestone plains of Akiyoshidai

Limestone plains of Akiyoshidai

Extremely tasteful sign found on the hiking trail at Akiyoshidai

Extremely tasteful sign found on the hiking trail at Akiyoshidai

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not a bad country road for riding

Besides having no litter, there are literally no trash cans. “Trash” is a word that belongs to the developing world and to us in west, but in Japan all discarded items have their place; plastics, compostables, combustibles, recyclables, etc. Rubbish bins are segregated by material, and I have often had to carry around different forms of waste until finding the right place to dispose of it. In America we generally only have two bins; trash and recycling and most of the country can’t even get this right. I can’t count the amount of times in America that I have seen all sorts of materials dumped in to  recycling bins.

Lot of a few hundred bikes supplied to employees at a steel factory, Kitakyushu

Lot of a few hundred bikes supplied to employees at a steel factory, Kitakyushu

Walking to the shrine, Fukuoka

Walking to the shrine, Fukuoka

Similar to Korea there is very little confrontation but I have found it very obvious as to what is considered “right and wrong behavior”. Since arriving I have broken the law many times (mostly at stop lights) and I often receive the look of shame. Nothing will be verbalized but you can quickly tell by the look that you are doing something that is considered wrong. It can best be described as a look that says “your parents didn’t teach you that what you are doing is wrong”. The look coupled with the fact that no one else breaks the rules has a drastic effect, and I will often now just wait for the signal to turn green.

Lime stone ore in Akiyoshido cave

Lime stone ore in Akiyoshido cave

Old fashioned grain grinder found in village near Hagi

Old fashioned grain grinder found in village near Hagi

Jizzo, Bodhisattva statues dressed for the winter

Jizzo, Bodhisattva statues dressed for the winter

Shopping is also an interesting experienced where one can literally enter and exit a store without paying. In grocery and large department stores the emergency exit in the rear of the store is often times another entrance with no employees or alarms to keep one from stealing. In parking lots discounted items are often displayed on large tables where items could easily vanish unnoticed. In the countryside the honor system is in full swing with unmanned fruit stands selling overly priced super fruits (extremely large apples and oranges) with yen collected in plastic jars, sometimes containing up to $100 dollars’ worth. As a boy my parents would always keep a jar full of money on the counter which was used for errands or trips to the grocery store. This seems to be very similar to how the system works over here; where trust is not an issue and there is more responsibility on the individual.

Royal cemetery behind Toko-ji temple Hagi

Royal cemetery behind Toko-ji temple Hagi

Wooden sliding glass doors

Wooden sliding glass doors

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Sunset Hagi Castle, Sea of Japan

Sunset Hagi Castle, Sea of Japan

At first it was quite shocking, because I have not felt this way since leaving home. It is completely opposite western culture; where we need locked doors or policemen to stop us from breaking the law. Here everyone already knows what’s right and wrong.

So during my stay in Japan I will often have to remind myself not to be so “American” which will mean the following;

1. Don’t ride on the right side of the road (traffic drives on the left like India, Britain and France)

2. Remember all the lessons my parents taught me as a child.

Everyone is polite and respectful until discount sushi time. 5 pm at supermarket everyone jams and grabs 1/2 priced sushi

Everyone is polite and respectful until discount sushi time. 5 pm at supermarket everyone jams and grabs 1/2 priced sushi

Kanmon Tunnel connecting Kyushu to Honshu

Cycling through Kanmon Tunnel connecting Kyushu to Honshu

Moat at Hagi castle

Moat at Hagi castle

Heading now towards Hiroshima, looking forward to visiting ground zero and seeing the peace memorial museum.

Touch base again soon!

Airline Bureaucracy and a change in itinerary

A quick reflection of the difficulties of traveling with a bicycle

I reflect upon the difficulties experienced at the Tel Aviv airport in Israel, and look for any alternative to avoid a similar experience

It’s any and all a travelers nightmare, dealing with jet lag, lay-overs, and strange foreign airports. However most avoid the worst: An oversized, cardboard bicycle box weighing close to 50 lbs., carrying your only method of transportation. If you call most airlines, and ask about their bicycle policy, you will be transferred to several different customer service reps before someone can finally give you a straight answer. It is then always a good idea to have the agent email you the policy so you can print it out and have it as a backup at the check-in desk. Before traveling to Israel I have had extremely good luck with checking Gabriella, where most if not all the time oversized/overweight fees were not access, and Gaby traveled safely with the rest of the luggage in the bowels of the airplane free of charge! Then came my experience at the Tel Aviv airport which, in retrospect turned out OK, but since then I have tried to avoid a similar experience.

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Two Asians with a similar packing style, my bike probably weights 20 kilos less than Kei's.

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Two Asians with similar footwear and packing style prepare for the unknown. My bike however without the movie projector, color printer, 2 kilos of condiments, 20 feet of x-mas lights, 4 iPhones and 2 computers probably weighed 20 kilos less.

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Local kids play hide and seek in my tent

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Local kids play hide and seek in my tent

It should not come as a surprise to most that I am a frequent flyer mile packrat. Always applying for new credit cards that offer tens of thousands of travel miles upon first purchase, then burying them deep in wallet to avoid the occasional spendthrift. My ticket to Sapporo was nothing out of the ordinary, a cheap, 30 hour, 4 lay over flight stopping in Mongolia, China, and Malaysia before making its way to Japan. On, Tuesday Oct 21st, I called the airline to inform them that I would be traveling with a bicycle (most airlines ask for a 24 hour notice). After give the agent my confirmation number, I was told that since I was flying on 4 separate airlines I was required to check and re-check my bicycle at each stop along the way, subsequently paying an oversize fee each time! “Can’t the airline check my bicycle all the way to Japan” I asked. After a brief hold the agent returned and informed me that each airline could only check the bicycle for its leg of the journey. This was a first. In all my travels this had never happened before, as usually once luggage is checked it arrives at your destination, this was not the case in Central Asia with bicycles. I quickly did a search of the 4 different airline’s sports equipment fees and determined that it would be cost me close to $500 to check Gabriella all the way to Sapporo! With all the help from sponsors, my bicycle doesn’t even cost that much, let alone could I afford it. The other big problem was that many of my lay-overs were less than 30 minutes, making it impossible claim and re-check the bicycle before making the flight.

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Snowy mountain tops and headscarves

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Snowy mountain tops and headscarves

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Yuki pushes Kei's bike to no avail.

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Yuki pushes Kei’s bike to no avail.

I had no choice but to change my ticket, unfortunately to avoid flying on the 4 separate airlines I had to change my departure and arrival location. I am now headed back to Kazakhstan, and my destination is also no longer Sapporo, but rather Fukuoka in the south. As much of a hassle as it is, there are benefits. I can now travel to South Korea immediately upon arrival and hopefully avoid the extreme cold, before traveling back into southern Japan. Here we go. A new reservation, departure and arrival! Tomorrow I head back to Kazakhstan for a 250 km journey to the capital. My health has made a full recovery and I am already itching to hit the road! If all goes according to plan my next post will be from Korea!

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Boiling water for a "Yu Tampo" Japanese for hot water bottle in sleeping bag

Lost pictures from Song Kol. Boiling water for a “Yu Tampo” Japanese for hot water bottle in sleeping bag