After leaving Kyoto, we finally entered the last stretch to Tokyo. It was a road in the future towards the future. We decided to cycle the 550 km along route 1, the road that connects some of the biggest industrial zones in Japan. We could've certainly chosen a quieter road along the countryside with a little bit more nature, but we had a commitment to be in Tokyo at a certain time and we had neither many days left nor the will to continue much longer.
Japan is a cutting-edge country, it seems to be a couple of years ahead of the other rich countries and light years ahead from the rest of the planet, but only technologically speaking. In terms of human touch, it lags light years behind most of the economically poor countries, which one really starts yearning with every step on the pedal in this country. Respect, honesty, and politeness are values that abound here, and that is very positive, but indifference and apathy also abound as well. With the exception of our friends in Osaka and that really unique man we had met in Fukuoka the first day, we haven't really had any true connection with any single person. We are pretty much two ignored human beings that pass mostly unnoticed riding along the roads of the future. It is fascinating and hideous at the same time.
The days along route 1 were long and boring, passing industrial cities with lots of traffic. In them, highways stack up in multiple levels to let the traffic flow incessantly day and night. It might as well be the most silent and orderly traffic that I have every experience but it was still traffic. Added to this Scalextric of cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and bicycles, there's the star of Japan flying by silently below, above, on the side; it's the shinkansen, better known as the bullet train. Just to see it passing by is already impressive. Their design, their quiet ride, their fleeting passing are really striking. The Shinkansen "accompanied" us all along our way to Tokyo, appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. It takes the shinkansen 140 minutes to travel the ride it takes us 7 days. By the time we reached Nagoya, already sick of so much traffic, we were already daydreaming of hanging on to a Shinkansen and in only 70 minutes be done with the boredom.
In all countries, the arrival to the "big city" is the time of most stress, but along route 1, one never needs to enter a city because you virtually never leave one. One after the other, Nagoya, Toyota, Hammatsu, Shizuoka, Fuji, Yokohama, Kawasaki, a long list of cities that even sound familiar, since some of them have given names to some of the most famous brands of cars and motorcycles that we see all over the world. They are few the moments in which route 1 separates itself from the urban congestion and follows along the ocean, giving us a time to breath and enjoy relaxing views of vast empty beaches where the roaring of the engines is temporarily isolated by the sound of the waves crashing and the hissing of the wind.
Before Tokyo, the national landmark
Like a pimple, it comes out of an almost flat plateau, it is found in most postcards of the country, including those of Tokyo, it can be seen from more than 150 km away from all directions and let's be honest, it is truly beautiful. Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san as the Japanese call it, is the national symbol. We saw it for the first time, 150 km before reaching Fuji city, sitting on its eastern side. Instead of passing by on that side alone and continue to Tokyo we decided to go all around it.
Until Fuji, the weather had been progressively getting colder, especially at night, but it mostly remained like the typical weather of autumn, tolerable. The detour to the west side of Fuji-san is an easy but very long, 40 km-climb until about 1200 m high. When the sun goes down, the snow cap of Fuji-san starts taking the different colors of the descending sun. Despite the road being filled with signals and having zero adventure, like in the rest of Japan, the views are really nice.
What was actually hard to imagine though, was that sunset would make the temperature plummet and in combination with very strong and continuous gusts of wind would reach -7C. It was a freezing night in which coming out of the tent for 20 minutes to take photos left me shivering for another 20 already in the sleeping bag.
The final descent across the mountains from Hakkone brought the last beautiful autumn views. As we descended, thousands of Japanese tourists were ascending. It was Sunday, possibly the only day out of many Sundays when some Japanese decide to quit workaholhism and come out of the office to see some nature. They are lucky enough to have Fuji-san only 100 km away from Tokyo so they can actually do the return trip in one day.
30 of November 2013. 15.800 km. A year on the road
The day to arrive in Tokyo had finally come. We would take a 45 days break combining resting and working. Without planning it at all, I would reach Tokyo on the very same day I was leaving Chengdu a year ago. That day set the beginning of this new trip. That day I left once again the certain for the uncertain. That I day I left in search of Julia, who was waiting for me 2400 km to the southeast, in Guangzhou, to join this journey. After 16 years of traveling alone around the world, it would be the first time for me to attempt sharing this adventurer's life of uncertainty with somebody by my side. A year later for me, 11 months for Julia, we were riding into Yokohama, Japan's second largest city, looking up, turning our heads as much as we could, in complete awe, trying to find the way to Tokyo in this crossings of multiple levels of highways.
The arrival in Tokyo couldn't have less impact. It was well into the night when we were riding across the exquisite commercial district of Ginza. The lights were blinding, the colors, the luxury, the obscene display of technology for which Tokyo is famous. Along Ginza, a series of multimillionaires who were evidently trying to draw people's attention, decided to get together and park their Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other UFO-like things whose names I have no idea of, so that the rest of the mortals can see them and take photos of them.
Machines that were tuned with the worst of the tastes conceivable, turning these masterpieces of engineering of hundreds of thousands of dollars into these tacky cheap brothels on four wheels. I confirm this over and over the more I travel the world. There isn't any worse mess than that coming out of the rich with bad taste.
We were finally in Tokyo, it couldn't be more real. 365 days had passed, 15.800 km, 8 countries and uncountable adventures and we are just warming up.
When reading "45 days of resting in Tokyo" the first thing that will come to mind to most people is to think that we are loaded and very well-off. To the surprise of many and the disappointment of a few resented ones, be it Tokyo or be it in the Gobi in Mongolia, this trip's budget stays at 10 usd a day. Luckily in Tokyo, it is even cheaper. Throughout our whole journey across Japan we have adapted more than ever to a very simple lifestyle. We have not paid for accommodation even once, camping for free every night in public parks. We have cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner 95% of the time, reaching costs as low as 7 bucks a day for both of us. In Tokyo, finally, we have free accommodation in exchange of 3 hours of work every day for 5 days a week, working at a chain of hostels in the city. We are maids, we make beds, clean toilets, vacuum the rooms, etc together with other 20 some guys from all over the world who come to take advantage of such opportunity. Easy work and the huge benefit of staying for free in one of the most expensive cities in the world, where one bed in a shared room of any hostel costs and average, the outrageous sum of 32 usd per night. Although "easy work", might as well be something you just say. The first 3 days I made more beds than the times I made my own bed in 35 years of existence, hahaha! In any case, it is a work that also has its downside. Regardless of the fact that hostels in Japan are spotless and immaculate even when they say they are "dirty", I have come across a couple of times, the remnants of a night of passion in solitaire from some horny traveler, glued within a bunch of hairs stuck in the shower drain. Sticky bundles in the shower aside, one has to be able to do everything in life, thus one day I'm an architect and the next I'm a photographer and the next I'm a hostel's maid and I'm very happy either way. That's how I got to travel around the world and chose the life and want and lead the life I like to live, 52 countries so far and a lot more to come.