Andrew Marston: Cycling the Length of Japan

Nara

What do you do when your two years teach­ing Eng­lish in Japan are over and you still want more? You decide to cycle the length of the coun­try… despite not being a cyclist! What do you do when an earth­quake, tsuna­mi and a nuclear melt­down hap­pen just before the trip? You press on and turn the jour­ney into a fundrais­er, make a movie, ebook and a devel­op a web­site about it. And that’s exact­ly what Andrew Marston did. Inspired by the doc­u­men­tary Kin­taro Walks Japan, he recruit­ed two friends, Scott Keenan and Dylan Gun­ning and set off.

bikes


Derek Pet­tie: The earth­quake and its fall­out hap­pened just a month before you were set to ride; how did it affect your trip?

AM: We turned our trip into a fundrais­er with a goal of $10,000… and end­ed up rais­ing $13,500. I talked with a rel­a­tive of mine who is a nuclear engi­neer con­sul­tant and helps decom­mis­sion nuclear reac­tors in the States. He was fol­low­ing the sto­ry pret­ty close­ly and let us know it was safe to go along the west coast. Orig­i­nal­ly we want­ed to go through Tokyo, and that would have led us along the east coast where the earth­quake hap­pened. We had been toy­ing with skip­ping Tokyo any­way, because it’s such a met­ro­pol­i­tan area that bik­ing through is extreme­ly slow and tedious. We end­ed up tak­ing a route through the Japan­ese Alps. We did­n’t see any earth­quake dam­age en route because we steered clear of the area, but every­body we met was impact­ed by it.


DP: Is cycle tour­ing a pop­u­lar pas­time in Japan?
AM: Not real­ly. We did encounter sev­er­al oth­er cyclists on the road, and at one point we camped next to a group doing a sim­i­lar tour. In gen­er­al, self-pro­pelled trav­el is a revered pas­time in Japan, so cycling fits in with that, but is a more recent phe­nom­e­non. Also the Japan­ese typ­i­cal­ly don’t have enough time off to take a big tour. We did encounter sev­er­al “cred­it card cyclists”, peo­ple who take the week­end and don’t pack any­thing except for their cred­it card. They hop on their road bike and go as far as they can — just buy­ing every­thing they need when they stop, to make the most of their time.


DP: How did peo­ple react to your trip?
AM: Most peo­ple were impressed and sur­prised when they heard where we were going. Espe­cial­ly at the begin­ning, when we were the fur­thest from our fin­ish line and telling them we were going to bike the whole country!

SchoolI think some of them did­n’t believe us, but as Japan­ese peo­ple are ultra-polite, they would nev­er say that to our faces. I think they were appre­cia­tive we were still inter­est­ed in their coun­try, right after the earth­quake. Right around that time, the Japan­ese board of tourism was des­per­ate to get tourists to come back because of the radi­a­tion scare. They were real­ly grate­ful that we were giv­ing them some good press.


DP: Did you have any unex­pect­ed hap­pen­ings along the way?
AM: The morn­ing of day two, we were wok­en up by the police and were kind of freaked out. We had been camp­ing on the beach and were pret­ty sure it was okay to camp there, but you nev­er want to wake up to the police. They asked us a few ques­tions and estab­lished that we were the peo­ple they had seen last night near the con­ve­nience store before they got to their real point for wak­ing us up… they had found a large bot­tle of sake near where we had been hang­ing out and they want­ed to know if it was ours so they could return it to us just in case we had for­got­ten it. That is the only time the police have offered me alco­hol. The bot­tle was­n’t ours, but it made for a com­i­cal situation!

Day 27 to day 28, we were cycling to stay with a friend who lived near Mt Fuji and we thought she lived near Shizuo­ka sta­tion. We got there and real­ized that not only was it 10 o’clock at night, but she lived 30 kilo­me­ters fur­ther.  Also, a typhoon was approach­ing from the North­east and we tried to race it! We end­ed up los­ing that race and get­ting hit by tor­ren­tial rains. It was mid­night, and we saw a short­cut on our map that looked like a straight shot to her house. Turns out it was the express­way, with big semi trucks zoom­ing past us and every­one get­ting soaked. It was just crazy. We got off as soon as we could. That was one of the more nerve-wrack­ing times of the trip.


Matsumoto

DP: Any advice for some­one who dreams of doing a sim­i­lar trip?
AM: Allow your­self more time than you think you need, because we did­n’t have enough time in the places we were tour­ing or with the peo­ple we met. Our 3500 kilo­me­ter trip took 43 days and, I would rec­om­mend 50 or 60 days (depend­ing on bud­get and avail­abil­i­ty). The real joy of tour­ing Japan is in the details of the cul­ture, includ­ing the hole in the wall ramen shops and the peo­ple you meet along the way. You have to take the time to real­ly ben­e­fit from the experiences.

Also, the rea­son I made the movie and the ebook is so that hope­ful­ly oth­er peo­ple real­ize that they can do some­thing sim­i­lar! The three of us aren’t extreme adven­tur­ers liv­ing a wild lifestyle; we are real­ly just three aver­age guys who decid­ed to do some­thing big. Any­body, if they put their mind to it, could do some­thing just as big or bigger.


You can watch the film, down­load the book and research trav­el­ing to Japan at Andrew’s web­site japanbybicycle.com.