The true spirit of Japan

Good morning :) I have some catching up to do.

It's 7AM right now. I'm at a family restaurant downloading stuff to watch while on the ferry to Tokyo. I found out that the Docomo USB dongle has a bandwidth cap that lies around 150kilobyte/second. If you download more than that, the speed will drop instantly and will only get back to normal by reconnecting. Rather evil if you consider that they advertise with speeds of up to 7.2mbps.

Yesterday morning I woke up and I could hardly move my legs, left and right. It seems that during the hike I tried to use my left leg less because it hurt a lot, so my right leg took the hit. Result: nasty muscle pain in both legs. Yay me. I've been trying to move as little as possible ever since returning from the hike two days ago, but some things are hard to avoid. Things like getting to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Tokyo, for example. You can imagine my happiness when I stepped on my bicycle, cycled around a bit, and felt no pain at all! It seems that I'm not using the muscles that I hurt during hiking while on my bicycle, making small circular movements that don't stress the legs a lot.

I was planning to return, but my other three buddies were planning to rent a car and travel around the island together. I did a lot of verbal translating while hanging out with them because Miro did not understand Japanese, and my Japanese buddies' English was not that great either, so communication was a bit of a problem. Renting a car turned out to be more expensive than they thought, so eventually they gave up and each went their own way. We split up and I got on the ferry back to Kagoshima, but not after getting a flat tire. The pump that I'm carrying with me and used to praise so much failed today, and couldn't get enough pressure in. Fortunately there was a bicycle rental shop nearby with a proper pump that I could use. At least I didn't puncture it this time.

Yakushima port side youth hostel

Yakushima is one hell of a weird island! Did I mention that before? Even if I did, I really should emphasize this again. I have to admit that I was biased against Yakushima when I first arrived, for two reasons. The first reason is that everyone I met on my trip recommended Yakushima and said it was great. From past experience I generally know that I will be disappointed in such places. The second reason is that I've been to Yoron island, south of Yakushima. Yoron was a true tropical island with beautiful blue oceans and white beaches, and I had a great time there. It would be hard for Yakushima to live up to that experience, and when I first laid eyes on the coastline of Yakushima I was disappointed even more. It's just an island. It's just Japan. There's nothing special about it. There's the same towns, the same mountains in the background, the same ocean in the foreground. Plain. Boring.

Well, until you get to know it. Yakushima has a lot of character, and it's definitely worth it to dig a little bit deeper to bring out its personality. For one thing, all the people on the island are crazy. Crazy, but not in a bad way. There's a lot of strange people wandering around, and the impression they gave off made me reluctant to talk to them. Like suspicious old weird guy who gave us a ride two days ago: his manner of speaking when you first meet him immediately makes you want to get as far away from him as possible, but after you get to know him better he turns out to be a nice guy, and quite easy to get along with. The same goes for the old guy we met in the park who didn't stop talking for two hours, but also offered us to stay at his place and drink some sake with him. I guess it's the way things are done in Yakushima. If you're used to cold-hearted Tokyo people who are always in a hurry then the island lifestyle is quite a change, and a welcome change it is too. The people are great, the nature is great, the experience is great. But the outside of the island is just like anywhere else in Japan.

The pink ferry

Thanks to the people I met and traveled with on Yakushima it turned out to be an experience that I will not soon forget. I will always remember Yakushima as a place where I met great people and did crazy things, a true place of adventure. When I think of Yakushima my mind immediately flashes back to the second day of our hiking trip. Early in the morning, it was very cold, and we were hiking towards the highest point. Walking through small streams, soaking our feet wet and using ropes to climb the huge rocks on our way, we didn't say a word for almost an hour. Silently walking in the rain. A moment I will remember for a long time. I didn't expect such an event to happen, and to be able to hike Yakushima with my three buddies was simply amazing. When I got on the ferry back to Kagoshima I sat on the back deck, listening to music while Yakushima faded away in the distance. At that moment I realized that I had finally found the Spirit of Japan that I was looking for.


Approaching Kagoshima I had another surprise waiting for me: Sakurajima was erupting again! And this time the ashes were going towards the city. Everything, literally everything was covered in a thick layer of dark volcanic dust. I can imagine nobody ever bothers to wash their car any more in Kagoshima, because there's really no point. How can people live in a city like that? It's so hard to breathe that  you basically can't be outside when the volcano erupts. I'm sure that if nobody cleaned the city it would look like Pompeii within a month. I cycled a bit southward and caught another ferry to take me across the bay, cutting 20 kilometers off my journey. Cycling Sakurajima would have been a painful experience with such a huge ash cloud everywhere.

Ash cloud on Sakurajima
A city covered in dust

At the ferry port I had to wait and took some photos of the ashyness.

This car is white. Really.
That's not carbon fiber

The ferry arrived at a city called Tarumizu at around 6PM, and I started cycling. Usually I stop cycling well before this time. It turned out to be a pleasant change. I saw a great sunset while on the road, and enjoyed the cooldown that the evening brings. I had nearly two hours until it got dark, and I stopped at a random sushi restaurant which turned out to be delicious. Everything on the conveyor belt was fresh and awesome. It was dark when I went out again. For a moment I considered finding a place to stay for the night, but I thought it would be better to make a final race to the finish line. Well, it wasn't really a race, as I went slower than usual, but it felt like it.

Cycling at night is interesting! It's the first time during this trip that I've cycled at night, and it's quite an experience. Countryside roads in Japan have no lighting at all and my front light is rather weak, so at times when there are no cars near me I can't really see the road. All I can see is the white line, which was my marker for the whole way. At times the road would suddenly become bright and a car would appear behind me. I can use the car's headlights to go back to the sidewalk at times like that, but when the car disappears I'm riding blind and can't see anything, so I usually just stay on the road, slightly to the right of the white line. That's where I belong.

I arrived at Shibushi, where the ferry to Tokyo leaves from, at about 10PM, much earlier than I thought. I passed through here about a week before, on my way to Cape Sata, so I knew my way around. It was very dark though, but I managed to return to a park that I had spotted earlier, in the middle of an industrial area near the ferry port. With no one around it wasn't difficult to find a good spot for my tent, and I set up camp there. I slept better than expected, and woke up just in time to see the sunrise.

Good morning again
Nobody home

Perhaps I didn't mention this before, but I'm way too early! The ferry leaves 6 hours later, so I didn't really have to cycle at night. But I wanted to. It's the one thing I hadn't done yet on this trip, so I'm satisfied now. My knees are starting to feel better, and I think that after two days of rest they'll be okay. When I get back to Tokyo I'm planning to cycle to Yokohama, and from there along the seaside back to Atsugi, along the road that I used to train myself on. Taking that road as my 'victory road' is just something that I have to do. It's the only way to go back for me. Any other road would feel less good.

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