I feel a mix of sadness and excitement as I set off into the morning sun on the final day of my bike ride through Japan. I’ve got the hang of cycling here now. I know what I like to eat for breakfast and when to ride on the footpath instead of the road. I recognise the road numbering system and can usually tell when a road will be hectic and when it will be quiet. Only 27 days ago these things were all new to me but I’ve adapted and come to like the Land of the Rising Sun.
I follow the cycling path along a canal down and then some quiet roads along the river until I am almost at the coast. There’s something about a cycling path and a canal in the morning. It’s not yet hot but the shade from the trees is still welcome. The sun glints off the water and there is a sense of possibility about the day.
Rice paddies and vegetable gardens slip past as I ride. I have become used to these sights over my past eight months of traveling through Asia. The seasons have shifted almost full circle and I have been privileged to see them changing from the comfort of my bike. Rice has been harvested, fields have been left fallow and rice has been planted again. The seasons and methods differ depending on where I am but the rhythm of a nature-bound landscape have remained the same. The other crops too have changed. Some are easy to recognise like potato, cabbage and strawberries. Others are incomprehensible to my eye. It’s a lovely landscape to cycle through.
I reach the sea at Oarai. It’s Sunday and the beach is packed with Japanese surfers. There are hundreds of them sitting out in the sea patiently waiting for waves in the way I’ve seen fishermen patiently waiting for a catch. Is this part of the Japanese psyche? To be patient. Every so often a small set of little rollers comes in and the surfers work hard to catch them. The waves have little power and it is clearly tough work pick onto the waves. The waves are similar to those we sometimes get back home at the beach near my house but I’ve never seen anyone surfing there. In fact, I think you’d get laughed off the beach. But here, it seems to be the cool thing to do. I am sure the surf kicks up here when the winds and tides are right. There are many surf shops and the car park is huge. All day I will see cars driving along with surfboards on the roof. I can see why so many Japanese tourists take surfing lessons along the Australian coast; clearly the sport is popular here.
Another popular activity here is motorbike riding. I finally get a chance to take a photo of some of the cool bikes that I have seen here. This whole set up with the high back seat is so cool. When the bike is in motion it looks like the seat back is pinned on with velcro the way it bounces around. But it does look so comfortable for the pillion when they are using it. It is also used as a backrest for piles of camping gear. The customisation of bikes here is fantastic too. As a motorcyclist this really attracts my eye. It’s custom everything: paint, seating arrangements and even engines.
Of course I have to stop and enjoy the flowers while I still can.
Near Kashima I start to cross the wide rivers that started as streams in the mountains all those days ago. There is a lake network here that looks like a huge inland sea. There are even waves and everything. Bicycle paths lead off around the edge of the lakes. I don’t know whether they go all the way around but it looks like a nice cycling option.
I follow route 51 until I reach the Tone River. The road now starts to get quite busy and unpleasant so I check Google Maps and find that I can follow some more local roads through riverside farmland almost all the way to Narita. It’s going to add 10km (6 miles) to my ride but the decision to reroute is worth it. Instead of my final hour or two being hectic highway footpaths I enjoy one last spin through the rice fields and Japanese villages.
About 10km from Narita I reach a gorgeous temple and shrine. It reminds me of the ones I saw on the Kii Peninsula. This place has spirit and soul. It’s what I’ve been seeking in the shrines I’ve been cycling past and now, on my final day, I find it again. I bow before walking through the entrance. I wash my hands at the hand washing station. I offer a prayer of gratitude to whoever might be up there listening. And I leave feeling content.
I’ve booked a cheap hostel in Narita. It turns out to be delightful with friendly owners. An hour after arriving I have found a bike shop who give me a box for my bike. The box is massive and will need to be cut down to size but at least I have a box and will be able to just enjoy tomorrow: my final day in Japan.