Japan is a surprisingly mountainous country. With all the major population centers shoved together along the coastal lowlands, the interior is blissfully empty. After all the hassles and headaches of navigating between Osaka and Tokyo (with a population of around 12 million in the metropolitan area) we were ready for some serenity. Even if it meant more lung-bursting climbs. We decided riding the spine of Japan was our best option. Anything, we reasoned, would be better than fighting our way through a tangle of super highways.
We made the right decision. Just two days out of Tokyo, the landscape unfolded into a procession of rugged mountains, deep valleys and rushing rivers (just as the guidebook promised!) And rain. Lots and lots of rain.
I can’t say it’s been easy. Daily drenchings tend to dampen morale. Those ancient Edo temples and shrines are more difficult to appreciate when you’re getting doused by yet another tropical storm.
But we’ve been lucky. On four occasions kind Japanese families have invited us into their homes. This is highly unusual, I’m told. The Japanese are intensely private people and even close friends are rarely invited into the family home. I’m deeply grateful for these experiences. In a few months time the memory of the miserable rain showers will have faded. But years from now, I’ll still remember Sammy, the retiree we surprised in his garden and who ended up inviting us to spend the night in his home. Take, the public servant and surfing nut who packed us up in his car and drove 40 kilometers so we could take shelter at his home. Yuomi, the young women cycling home from work who invited us to her beautiful home in a small village near Nikko. And then there was a man whose name I will never know. He spoke not a word of English but signed to us that rain was in the forecast. He opened up his small country home, got us settled in and then drove off into the night.
The kindness of these individuals is what I’ll remember most about Japan.