Thursday, 30 July 2009

Where have we been in Japan?

I just realised that I wrote a lot about travelling in Japan, but did not talk a lot about places were we have been. So here comes an update on the most important stations of our trip:

After Hiroshima we cycled across Honshu to its northern coastline from where we cut down to Kyoto and Nara. Kyoto is Japan's tourist highlight: Temples over temples, so many that you end up in some sort of temple overload. On top of all that there are also the imperial castles and various gardens to see. We stayed 5 days and still had not seen all. Close to Kyoto is Nara, with even more temples and - believe it or not - a lot of tame deer. They are everywhere, right in the centre of town. And I hope I did not forget to mention: More temples!

Tokyo at night
Then we had a big change in plans. Instead of heading further north and going to Hokkaido, we opted to go to Tokyo and take the ferry from there to Kyushu and on to Korea. The reason for that? I could not get a cheap ticket out of Japan and so we decided to stay a little bit longer and go to Korea. Why not?

Tokyo was good and bad at once. Tokyo is huge - it took us almost a day to cycle into it through urban sprawl. Once in it it was not as bad as expected but there are masses of people everywhere. Living in Berlin I am used to big cities but compared with Tokyo Berlin is a village. One of the main subway stations in Tokyo - Shinyuko - has 60 (!) exits and 2 million people passing through the station every day. Of course I got lost every time I went through it. For me the most impressive building in whole Tokyo was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. This huge complex was built in less than 2 years. It is 400,000 square meters big and has twin 48 floor towers including free observation decks and a wonderful cafeteria for the 13,000 bureaucrats working there. Berlin's Potsdamer Platz is chicken shit compared with it.

But after 4 days in Tokyo I could not stand the masses of people any more and we took the 34 hours ferry to Kyushu where I unfortunately had to realise that I can get quite sea sick which was not a very nice experience considering that we spent part of my birthday on the ferry. Japanese ferries are great: Beside a free microwaves and kitchensinks, a TV room and all sorts of cheap vending machines they even have a free onsen!!!! (But don't try an onsen when you are sea sick - it makes matters even worse!)

Quiet road on Kyushu
Kyushu had some of the best cycling in whole Japan, but also the very worst weather. Imagine cycling in a steam sauna and that is pretty much what Kyushu is like in rainy season. Every day it is hot, hot, hot! I am very much used to heat from hiking but there I got only dry heat. Kyushu is humid, humid, humid. Even at night you are sweating buckets by just sitting there not doing anything. Combine that with a double wall tent and myriads of mosquitoes and you are in for some horrible nights. If the sun is not frying your brain, then it is raining. It is so hot that you should not bother putting on a rain jacket.

Rain here is not like 'our' rain - rain here means the sky opens its gates and it just buckets down. I thought that the rain on the AT was bad, but that was before I came to Kyushu! One weekend it rained 608 mm in 2 1/2 days - subsequently 7 people died in mudslides. Of course we were right in the middle of it and got nearly flooded 2 nights in a row. We were considering taking a hotel room on the second night but we both thought that it could not possibly rain that much 2 nights in a row.... How wrong have we been.

Looking down Aso-San volcanoe
On the positive side Kyushu had some very nice attractions for us: We saw two very active volcanoes and one even mini-erupting when we were close by in photo position! What an experience! And with all these volcanoes comes a lot of thermal activity resulting in some wonderful hot springs! Unfortunately you feel clean and fresh for only 2 minutes after leaving the onsen.... then the heat makes you sweat again.

Memorial in Nagasaki
Last highlight in Kyushu was Nagasaki with another very moving A-bomb museum, but also some very interesting exhibits on Japan's contacts with the Western world. For more than 200 years Japan was a closed society and the only contacts with the Western world came through an artificial island in the port of Nagasaki where there was a Dutch enclave. No other nationality was allowed and the Dutch could not leave their island. The island has been reconstructed now and made some very interesting and unusual sightseeing.

So now we are in Fukuoka on our last day in Japan and will take the ferry to Korea tomorrow. We are looking forward to a new country, but also feel very sad about leaving Japan. Japan has been a wonderful experience with some extremely friendly people, loads of interesting sightseeing and some very challenging cycling. I will definitely come back!

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