Byline: Daniel Doughty
The only arguments you are going to have are going to be with yourself! In which case you’re always inevitably both the winner and the loser!
Japan has always captured the sense of wonderment of many people. From being the first nation that catches the rising sun to the rich history, heritage and the sometimes awkward social practises, Japan has much to offer.
33 year old Daniel Doughty thought just that to himself when he started out on his 11000kms journey across Japan starting in Tokyo heading north first to capture Hokkaido in the summer months and then south towards Okinawa, the country’s southern most limit before returning to Tokyo. Dan shares some of his experiences and how he got where he is right now, Hokkaido!
Rewind to around a decade ago, I’m staggering to climb a bus, well because I am 20 something and extremely drunk, I still can’t remember which it was. Much of my travels in my 20’s involved a back pack, a lot of drinking and actions based on pure whim.
I have now spent close to two months in Japan in an endeavour to ride across all the 47 prefectures, on a bicycle, alone! My journey to experience all of Japan started in 2007 when I first got here. Then in 2009 when I employed myself into the Japanese farming scene as a volunteer, putting in manual labour growing rice in exchange for food, shelter and a real slice of rural Japan. After I got back to my hometown of Cambridge, UK, I continued work for a nature conservation charity called the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). There I would carry out habitat and livestock management in order to help maintain ideal habitat for wildlife, predominantly birds. Work for the RSPB was seasonal and so at the end of my summer contract it allowed me to begin preparations for my cycling trip to Japan and here I am with a one year Visa, a bicycle and a tent, doing what I was always dreaming of.
As a kid I rode around a BMX to crash it the first day and almost be emotionally and for sure be physically scarred. I had a desire to get out of the rut I was stuck in and my previous incomplete journeys to Japan kept calling to me.
My journey began by saving up a lot for the trip. Although my careful calculations indicated that being on a bicycle was the most economic option in an expensive country like Japan, I still needed to prepare a trust fund I did not have. My decision to travel to every one of the 47 prefectures of Japan was fuelled by the thought that no Englishman had done this before, making me the first and putting an end to my sub conscious telling me that I am no longer built to achieve greatness. To add to this, I was travelling solo. Because, sometimes the best company is one’s self, dictating your own pace and route means the only arguments you are going to have are going to be with yourself! In which case you’re always inevitably both the winner and the loser! Plus having grown up working on remote farms and nature reserves solitude is something that comes as no oddity. Sometimes the solitude makes the adventure all the more real.
I saved for a year and the desire to be back in Japan kept me going. I did a few practise rides back home on my old MTB to know the nuances of bicycle touring. And know I did! I had to break my bank and get myself a vessel good enough for now and bought a Ridgeback tour. A £500 bicycle to keep me alive and moving. Having ridden it for this far in the trip I’m confident that I made the right choice and this bike can accompany for any other adventure I might want to have.
Just before I left home, everyone was really supportive, a few people thought I was a bit mad and my mum was scared that I might get eaten by bears but as a whole I was encouraged. Or maybe most of them just wanted to see me get eaten by bears for a laugh. It would certainly be an interesting way to go. As I discovered, Japan as a whole is an incredibly safe country to travel in, it’s people friendly and accommodating and as whole the nation’s grizzly bears keep to themselves.
Since this journey is based on low to no budget, I have my choices of spending my nights narrowed down to Manga cafes, Hostels, Couchsurfing and Camping. I like to think I’ve gone pro in the matter of pitching a tent. I have to stealth camp in cities and throw a tent up in the dark as not to draw attention to myself before arising early too creep away undetected. I think after unloading my rig I got it down to about 8 minutes to pitch it and be inside of it. But it never helps that I have a snapped tent pole that I have to duct tape back together most nights. Oh and my tent stinks of swamp. Rock ‘n’ roll!
Being on a cycle limits the number of souvenirs you can pick up and for me, mental memories are the strongest souvenirs a traveller can have. The memories of my travelling experiences for me are just as rewarding as photographs, as long as I’ve got my mind I’ve got my memories. For now I trudge on, with a slight reminder that when this is over I’d have to get back to England in engage in being a slave to the wage but I will be lying in wait for my next big adventure wherever it may be. India? Kazakhstan? South America? Rest assured my lust for cycle travel is as strong as ever.
#getoutandride, catch updates on Dan’s journey on his site