April, 1 st Ōsaka
No April Fool. Today I signed my official contract. I will definitely live in Japan for the next twelve months. Today was a very special day: Japan reveals name of new era ahead of Emperor’s abdication. The new era’s name will be “Reiwa (令和時代)”, the first character represents “good fortune,” while the second can be translated as “peace” or “harmony.” Each era has run the length of an emperor’s reign, the new era will start on May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the Chrysanthemum Throne following the abdication of his father, Emperor Akihito, a day earlier. The arrival of the Reiwa Era will in turn end the 30-year run of the Heisei Era, which began in Jan. 8, 1989. Traditionally a new term started at the beginning of April, new students came and we held a small Ohanami picnic together at work.
April, 6 th Osaka
Mankai. Since our Ohanami picnic at Osaka castle park was cold and wet I decided to go there again to enjoy the “mankai” (full bloom) and makes some nice seasonal shots of the castle. My flatmate Mat was going to join a Ohanami picnic organized by the local game developers and publisher scene in Kansai also at Osaka castle park, so we went there together. The weather was perfect, the sun was shining warmly and the sky was clear blue. Spring has arrived. We entered the park and it was overwhelming. The white flowers of cherry blossoms created a landscape white as snow. Under the trees there wasn’t hardly any square left. People were sitting traditionally on blue blankets and enjoy Sakura while having an opulent picnic. It was amazing. For sure it was crowded, but the atmosphere was full of happiness and everybody was relaxed and in a joyful mood. We arrived at our Hanami place and it seemed that almost everyone who is working in gaming developing industry is American around Kansai. I was thinking if my friend Cat might be interested in this event and only minutes later I suddenly saw her. I was really happy to meet her. In the afternoon I went to take some pictures of Osaka castle with cherry blossoms, which was quite difficult, because unlike all these (obviously photoshopped pictures) the cherry blossom trees aren’t next to the castle. But I managed to take some nice shots, in my opinion. At least I enjoyed. After sunset I went back to the Hanami picnic and I honestly I really struggled to catch up with the people. I still struggle to understand native speaker, especially Americans (I don’t know why), and I just didn’t understand what they are talking about. I felt kind of excluded and unfortunately it seemed that any time a one to one conversation was starting it got interrupt after a short time and I was left behind. It was the first time I felt isolated by language so for, but I admit my mood was also very special. Today and during the last week I was helplessly homesick. I miss my family and I miss my friends. I miss that we can just meet up and having a good time. I missed to just can be myself. I’m living my dreams and Japan makes me very happy, but while time is passing by I can feel the price I paid to that dream. I don’t regret anything and I’m pretty sure I will miss Japan desperately if would live somewhere else. It is a trap. I figured out a common problem people who are living abroad suffering about. If I left Japan, I would desperately miss the country and cry, but today when I was at home, I cried because I desperately missed my beloved ones.
April, 7 th Osaka
Hiking along Katsura river. Breaking all the rules. This weekend was peak of Sakura and I was thinking about today’s trail a lot. I still couldn’t find a perfect spot and was tired about crowds, so I decided to go Kyoto again, but this time into the very mountains. My very first hike in Japan, I did in autumn when I was in Kyoto and it was one of the most beautiful ones. I was keen to hike it again in a different season. It was also a backup hike, if I’m running out of ideas. I extended the trail along Katsura river, so we would end up in Arashiyama and being still able to enjoy Sakura there in the afternoon. So was the plan. I published the event very late, so as expected there were not many participants. In the morning I missed the train and skipped the meeting point. I just arrived in the train, where Sayaka was awaiting me. We met the others at Saiin station in Kyoto. Since Tomal was late, we took one bus later and had enough time to chat and relax. We started hiking in sunshine with blue and surrounded by mountains. Today was supposed to be an easy very enjoyable hike along and inside the river. The trail is very beautiful and definitely one of Kansai’s hidden treasures. I already wondered that there were no hikes during Momiji (autumn) and this time we were alone again. The trail guided us to a temple and continued along the river, which was within the greenish mountains spotted by white and violet Sakura flowers. I could feel my body calming down and enjoyed the trail, river, mountains and the people around me. The temperature was perfect today, warm, but not hot. So I’m used to walk barefoot and started season and took my shoes off. It is such a different and intense feeling to hike barefoot. At the beginning of the season it is very hard and only possible for a few kilometres, but I enjoyed every step. We had a lunch break at the place I had last time. A nice place in the river bank beside clear turquoise shining water pools. After a refreshing picnic we continued along the beautiful river. And than it happened. A scream resounded through the mountains. It was mine. There was a long ugly snake directly on the way. The snake slowly disappeared, but the shiver it left stayed. Don’t forget I’m coming from a country without any dangerous animals or natural catastrophes… We soon arrived at the point where Katsura river was merging into another one and got big and wild. Up in the mountains there is an amazing viewpoint and we could see the huge torquise river surrounded by mountains. This is one of my favourite places. This time we didn’t went to Hozukyu Station to take the train back. Since Katsura river is flowing to Kyoto’s famous Arashiyama and right next to it was a hiking trail, I decided to walk back to Arashiyama. We crossed a bridge to the station and when I was planing the trail, there were 50 m of connection between train station and trail missing. I just wanted to give it a try, otherwise we could take the train anyway. We couldn’t find a trail, but a station guy sent us along the river and told us that after the big typhoon last year the trail was messy, but he already sent two foreigners there today and they didn’t came back! Great! The trail was heavily damaged, but they already created a new one with marks and guidance ropes. We had to climb up the mountain and it was hard and kind of unexpected. From the peak on the trail got wilder and wild wilder. With each step it went harder to continue. We passed a railway bridge and few meters after it the trail went that messy, that it started to be quite dangerous. There were paths appearing and at the same time they disappeared guiding us into canyons. Due to all the fallen leaves it was extremely slippery. We were fighting for each metre and we had still 4 km to Arashiyama left. It went dangerous and I arrived at my borders. Slightly the same feeling I had at Ponponsan and I just wanted to leave the situation as soon as possible. I guess this feeling is a kind of fear. It was getting dark soon as well and my brain was working hard to find a solution. We were trapped. We couldn’t cross the river, going back was already too far and also difficult and the trail wouldn’t get better, especially in darkness. Sayaka suggested to cross the railway bridge and since the other river shore looked very nice this seemed to be the only solution. Obviously, without being able to read and understand any Japanese it was strictly forbidden to cross this bridge and if we got caught we would be in serious trouble. As a foreigner it was even more risky to loose the visa. We climbed the bridge, walked and arrived at the other side. I was relieved and the others as well. I don’t care about breaking rules, as long as they are not that important like skating in Tennoji park, but this was a different level. We walked along the railway tracks, which made me feel uncomfortable as well, but at least we easily make kilometres. We split a little bit away from each other and lost side contact. Yoshi, Tomal and Bidhya were behind us. I was walking with Sayaka and a few meters in front of us was Yumi walking. Than it happened. I got a message from Yoshi “Train is coming”. Panic. I shouted to Yuji and jumped down the steep river shore sliding behind some bushes. Sayaka directly behind me. We sat at the shore and could hear the train. These railways are no public operating trains, it was kind of a nostalgic panoramic line for tourists, so the train was slowly and then it stopped directly above the place we tried to hide. I could see the railway engine. Could they see me? I was close to a heart attack. What happened? Why did they stop? It couldn’t be coincidence that they stopped here! Did they see the others walking on the tracks? I was sure they saw us, stopped and would come out to pick us up and bring us to the police at the next station. I’m a coward and yes I was afraid. How could we get into this situation? We waited. And waited. Nothing happened. After a few minutes the train slowly continued and disappeared. We waited for the others behind us, they were walking at the river shore, which wouldn’t be forbidden. Later they told us the train was also stopping next to their position. What an unbelievable coincidence. We continued walking and it went dark. On the other riverside we could see a Ryokan (traditional hotel) and it was one of the most beautiful sceneries I have ever seen! We arrived at a railway tunnel and this time I was sure we couldn’t pass it. I went down to the river. It was dark. Nobody was there. The others texted they passed the tunnel. The river shore ended abruptly. There was a wall of rocks. We had only two options: Crossing the tunnel or swimming. Swimming would also bring us into life danger, so we climbed up to the tunnel. I was extremely afraid. The tunnel was tight and only fitting a train and we had no idea how long it was. There was no option, now in darkness the way back was blocked. Sayaka and me were counting down and running. Running through the tunnel and praying. The tunnel seemed not to end and suddenly we ended up at a station where the others were awaiting us. We were safe. No more violating rules. How wrong I was. We just stepped into the next trap. The train station was very small and local, but closed! And there was a fence around with huge cons like in a jail. We couldn’t follow the tracks, from now on we entered the city and it would be dangerous since it was merging tracks used by fast JR trains. In darkness we tried to find a way through the fence and there was a gate without spikes on top. We ended up in a bamboo garden and had to pass a fence made of straw. There was a hole and we managed to sneak through it like animals, trying not to get observed by passing tourists. We were on a road. We managed. My kneed were shaking. I didn’t care about anything, I was just happy to be out of this whole situation which went worse and worse. We walked back to Arashiyama Station and Sayaka, Yoshi, Tomal and me got some food from the Konbini to have a small Hanami even if it was late and dark. I slowly calmed down and enjoyed being around my friends. Today’s adventure was a mixture between nightmare and breathtaking moments. I’m not proud to have violated to many rules, but while walking along the railway tracks I enjoyed one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life. The Katsura river was deep and strongly blue shining surrounded by high mountains which were spotted by violet and white flowers. This view burned into my brain and it will be one of the moments I will never forget in my whole life.
April, 14 th 2019 Ōsaka
Hiking Yoshino. Sakura in the rain. Hiking Mt. Yoshino. Yoshinoyama is a famous destination during Sakura (cherry blossom). Sakura season was almost over and it would be the last chance to enjoy the full bloom due to the colder temperature in Nara’s mountains. The weather forecast was quite bad. Anyway since the destination was famous I had no great expectations in the trail and also expected many people joining this event. We met at Ōsaka Abenobashi Station and people joined gradually. Tomal have had a very hard time to find the group and since he couldn’t manage to find the meeting point at Ōsaka Station this issue becomes more and more a running gag. With electronic support he managed to find us and we caught our train. The sky was grey and heavy clouds were hanging around. Just moments before we arrived at Yoshino Station drops fell at the train’s window. At Yoshino Station another huge group was waiting, hidden within many tourist. It was a little bit chaotic, but we managed to gather quickly. Today’s trail was kind of long and since it started raining and the temperature was low, we decided to take the bus and skip the souvenir road. In the bus I realized it was the right decision. We skipped around 5 km, which were boring. The trailhead was at a temple and luckily the rain almost stopped. We climbed up a street and were surrounded by small and cute souvenir shops. In Japan it is obligatory to bring something from the placed you visited in your holidays or excursion to your friends, family or coworkers. This is a part of the culture and the industry evolved. The most common souvenir is food and each area tries to offer something characteristic. So, souvenir shops in Japan are always an interesting experience no matter if you are a tourist or not. We continued on a tarred road into the mountains and it didn’t take a long time until the first “wows” were spoken. Even though the it was grey and cloudy, the mountains were amazing. The hills were studded by coloured cherry trees. Blurs of white and all colours in the red and pink spectrum appeared in the mountains. Due to the suboptimal weather there were less tourists, so it was very enjoyable. We took our lunch break at a viewpoint on a hill with an amazing view of the valley. The soil was a little bit wet, but nobody cared. We continued climbing up the road to a small mountain summit. This place must be just wonderful in summer. We entered a forest and soon there were almost no other people around us anymore. When we arrived at Mt. Aonegamine and it’s shrine we left the last tourists behind. The road became finally a hiking trail and together we enjoyed being alone in the nature surrounded by the mountains. The atmosphere was very special today, it felt like we knew each other for a long time and it followed their own dynamic. We made several stops to share cakes, chat and enjoy the trail. Finding Mt. Aonegamine’s summit was a little bit tricky or better said we didn’t bumped into it like usually. The summit was quite disappointing, a tiny place within high trees with a small wooden sign. But we took it with humour. The last part of the trail wasn’t worth to hike it, but we didn’t regret and enjoyed our time together. Soon we decided to skip the road loop and headed back. The sky went deep grey, but still we stayed dry. We merged into the trail we came from, so we could enjoy the beautiful coloured mountains for a second time. We decided to take the group picture at the place we had our lunch break earlier and asked a young couple to take a photo. The slope was very steep and super slippery. I was the last one to join and after I dropped my camera to the couple I was up to join the group. Within a second I lost grip and fell down with my back into the mud. Well done! That’s typically me. Well, while in Europe everybody would have laughed and create a funny memory, nobody did. This made the situation a little bit awkward, but at least I didn’t care. My whole back was fully of dirt and I kind of liked it. We walked back and arrived at the little village and passed the souvenir stores. This time we didn’t take a bus and as mentioned it was very interesting and a nice chance to discover new things, especially food. We visited a temple and it started raining, but nobody cared. Everybody was enjoying the nice time. It was such a relaxing atmosphere and sometimes, especially at this “touristic hikes” it is rather work for me than pleasure. But today I just stayed with my friends and inside I felt a deep calmness and satisfaction. This day was the imperfect perfection. The rain and the grey sky surrounded by the colourful mountains created a special atmosphere. Sakura are usually a symbol of perfection and happiness and sunshine, but here at this place it was very different. It is very hard to describe the emotions. Sometimes I have the feeling that at amazing places the people are grey in this shiny scenery, but here I had the feeling the people were shining bright and lighting up the scenery. Well, at least it was my very personal emotion in this moment. We walked back to train station and took the next train back to Ōsaka. This time we had dinner at my neighbourhood, Tennōji, and once we arrived it started raining heavily. Lucky us. We went with around nine people to an Okonomiyaki restaurant (a speciality of Ōsaka) and had an joyful evening together. At least I wouldn’t recommend this trail as a hike itself. It is rather a Sunday’s walk, which I definitely recommend during Sakura. If you looking for a real hike, there a many amazing trails in and around Ōsaka. But if you looking for a joyful time on a Sunday enjoy your time surrounded by the mountains and Japanese culture. Not even only during Sakura.
April, 20 th Osaka
Easter weekend. Eastern is not celebrated in Japan, so for sure there aren’t any national holidays neither. So, I was working on Friday and Monday. But this week my parents sent me an Easter package with lots of my favourite chocolate from Germany. They sent me that much, that I will be fine until Christmas. I was awaiting it eagerly and jumped of happiness when I opened it at my room. I don’t miss that much things, but I’m addicted to chocolate, especially the brand of KINDER, which is not available in Japan. And my mom sent me some of my stuff from home and it’s hard to describe the feeling when you just get your every day trousers, pyjama or other little things. They are yours. Since I was in Korea and saw some climbers during my hike through the mountains, the wish for starting climbing again grew stronger and stronger, so I asked my mom for my climbing stuff. It was a hard decision, because climbing in Japan is incredibly expensive and it’ll destroy your body. I quit climbing for emotional reasons in the past, but still kept loving the sport. Now after almost two year I feel free to be able to feel pleasure once again. On Saturday I had to organize many things for our bicycle trip during golden week. So, I woke up early. I went to library to get new Japanese textbooks, changed my bicycle chain (because it got completely rusty during winter) and I went to the hairdresser. This time I went to a Japanese company where you have to buy a ticket at a vending machine and wait until it is your turn. They promise they cut your hair within ten minutes. Sounded promising. The conversation with the hairdresser was poor, but it worked out. Unfortunately he literally cut my hair, no matter of the shape. So I lost all my hair at the sites and back, while she wool is still in my face. Luckily my hair grows like weed, so I didn’t care. After that I finally went to the climbing gym. I was so excited that I couldn’t manage to understand anything of the procedure and rules. But at least, the main rules must be the same. Since I have no belaying partner, I spent my ninety minutes ticket at the bouldering wall and the auto belay wall. It was fun and already after half the time the muscles in my arms were sour and I was hanging like a sack of rice trying to move up, but nothing happened. I knew I will suffer the next week by heavy muscle pain. I was really happy satisfied (not really because I was so weak) in the end and went back home. I invited my friends and Tomal and Yoshi came for Tacoyaki party (octopus balls). We had a really nice time and laughed and planned a lot about the our upcoming bicycle tour. I’m so happy to call these guys my friends. At 11 pm one of the stuff came and told us the party was over, they were literally kicked out, of the (crowded) common room. I was very disappointed, since it was the first time I invited friends and we didn’t bothered anybody. I discover more and more disadvantages of living in a hostel. During the last weeks I was very unhappy and tried to find out why. One of the main reasons is my housing situation. Living in this hostel feels like be stranded or waiting for the next step, but it does not feel like a home. Living with so many different people requires rules. For sure. But sometimes it is hard to integrate them into every day life. It reaches from, where I can dry my close (rooftop closes at 8 pm), who ate my stuff, who took my stuff I just forgot for a minute until that it is stressful to be always around by many changing people. But my biggest inconvenience is that there are no visitors allowed in my room at any time and visitors in the common room are also limited. I agree this rules are necessary, but for me it gives me kind of the feeling to still live at a parent’s home. Anyway, it is still too convenient to move right now and I’m lazy to search for housing alternatives, but maybe the day will come soon.
April, 21 st 2019 Ōsaka
Hiking Oiwatake. Happy Eastern. I was very excited about today’s hike. On the very first hike (The Takedao Abandoned Railway Hike) I organized in Osaka, we went to the Takarazuka area and I was so excited that I always wanted to come back. I published this week’s hike very late, so I didn’t expected much people to show up. Interestingly, I observed that hikes in famous areas are crowded, but usually the trail is rather disappointing while the hikes in “unknown” areas are for real the hidden treasures. And honestly I enjoy exploring exactly this within a small group with familiar atmosphere, since the reason for me to go out for hiking is having a nice time and calm down in beautiful nature. Of course, I’m also not negating adventures… This time I brought my flatmate Gui, and since the travellers didn’t show up in the end, we ware just the bunch of friends. As mentioned the area of Takarazuka’s mountains is just amazing beautiful and famous for rock climbing and bouldering. This week my mom sent me my climbing gear and my heart made a jump when I saw climbers at the walls from the train. The weather was just perfect, sunny, warm with bright blue sky. When I left the train I could feel the happiness flooding me. We walked along a river until a huge dam. It was impressive. We crossed a small bridge, and the way which seemed to be a trail in the past was disrupted by a waterfall, but a small path was leading us into the woods. And then it happened again. A snake crossed our way. I’m sure this wasn’t the last one and I have to handle the thought that I’m living in a country with (toxic) snakes right now. We climbed up a beautiful forest trail and ended up next to the river which became a huge lake due to the damn. We had an amazing view and the body of water was unbelievable blue and turquoise. We made our lunch break on the top with a view of the lake. Today was Easter Sunday and since there wasn’t any possibility to get an Easter egg in the morning, I was more than happy when Sayaka brought one coincidentally. So I got an Easter egg in the end. This break was exactly the reason why I’m going for hiking: laying down, the sun shining warmly on my legs, being with friends and a beautiful nature around me while eating nice food. We continued on a horseback while hiking next to the river. Sometimes I had the feeling of being back on the Camino de Santiago in Spain in the mountains de Léon and only the imagination to be back there excited me. There was no city around, no noise, no business. I couldn’t believe the contrast between the busy and stressful city and this peaceful place, only 30 min away. It felt surreal knowing the city is that close. In this moment I enjoyed a lot the advantage of living in Japan. My hometown is way less busy, but there is no beautiful nature, especially mountains, around. While creating the trail I got some inspiration from Mat’s hiking book and just adjusted the trail. The trail we were walking on would end up in a shortcut and since it was still early we decided to follow the planned trail. I already could smell some adventure, but today I felt lazy and hoped for the best. The trail went slightly down to the shore and obviously this trail wasn’t that frequented. The trail was covered by dry leaves and each step made this familiar sound of breaking leaves and one softly sink into them. During summer I’m used to wear my barefoot sandals and if you believe or not hiking in them or even hiking barefoot it’s a completely different feeling and a unique experience. You feel way closer to the trail, feel each step of the soil in different terrain. The trail became wilder and again we could see and feel the damages of Osaka’s last big typhoon. We were walking next to the shore and the lake and mountains around us created a cool breeze on this sunny day. The trail guided us up to the mountains again to Mount Oiwatake, but there wasn’t hardly any trail. And as always, after a blink of an eye we were already too far in a messy trail and going back was no option. Tomal went up first with the task to check out if this jungle like terrain would become a trail like path. He found a trail, he said, and we went on. Unfortunately our definition of “trail” or even “path” is way different. I wasn’t sure if even monkeys would use this as a trail. Anyway we continued to climb monkey like across country. For sure it was steep und due to the fallen leaves very slippery as well. Finally it was too dangerous to turn back. Sayaka was now leading and made us a trail. We had to literally climb grabbing trees und pulling our bodies up. After a while I was just dreaming of Ice Cream. According to gps we should hit a trail at some point and it felt like an eternity. Luckily we bumped into the trail and all of us were happy. We made a short break to recover and care about our little injuries and continued on a small beautiful path. Suddenly we arrived the summit of Mt. Oiwatake and I had to scream. It was incredible. This view was as amazing as unexpected. From the summit we could far away into the mountains. The river was embedded in this countryside and calmly laid down in the valley like a turquoise snake. This was the most amazing view I had in Japan so far. All of us were more than excited and we enjoyed a lot. Yes, this was the honour for our adventurous, exhausting climb. After a while it was time to climb down. The trail again was super beautiful and for sure we will come back to this area soon. On the way down we met some rock climbers heavy loaded with huge backpacks hiking up to summit. I was excited to meet them since my gear just arrived and talked to them briefly. There were from an alpine school. Soon we merged into the trail we came from. All of us run out of water and were horribly thirsty and started dreaming and talking about cold drinks. We climbed back down to the damn, when the climbers overtook us. Back on the street I started playing with my football which I carried all day. The river was next to us and for sure it took less than ten minutes until it fell into the river. I had to went back and climb down the shore, walk through the river and climb back. But I continued playing without any further incidents. The sun started already to set down and dipped the rice fields in a golden glow when we finally arrived at the station. There was a small Konbini which was full of tired but satisfied looking climbers. I bought an ice cold coke and when I came out of the shop I almost bumped into Yoshi who wanted to introduce me to her friend Kazuhide, whom she met coincidentally and who is a climber as well. Kazuhide told me he is a member of a climbing group and that they are around Dōjō Station almost every weekend and practice rock climbing. He invited me to join and we changed our contact informations. After two litres of cold coke and an ice cream I felt deep satisfaction while the sun was still shining warmly. Sayaka, Tomal and Yoshi went to Umeda to have dinner afterwards and we sat together for a long time. I got home very late, but this was a very enjoyable Eastern and I’m happy for the opportunity to spend the day with my friends.
April, 23 rd Ōsaka
Climbing. It has been almost two years since I was in Arco with Roman and it was kind of saying goodbye to this sport for a while. I loved climbing and I always missed the great time had, but for certain reasons I couldn’t continue. It was fine, since I found something else what is deeply satisfying me: Taekwondo. Especially my club members were treasures and training hard three times a week prepared me physically and emotionally for this trip. During the last weeks I observed that even I’m absolutely happy about moving to Japan something is missing. For sure, mostly my family, friends and my Taekwondo club. I miss all of them deeply. But there was something else. It took some time to find out. At home I practiced sport five to six times a week. Here in Japan I have my hiking group and our Sunday’s hike are for sure the week’s peak. But I miss something in my everyday life. Since I have reduced working hours there is a little bit free time, which is filled with cooking (I hate it) and wasting time watching videos in my room waiting that is time for sleep. I’m also unhappy with my living situation. The hostel is a cool place, but it doesn’t feel like a real home. It is a station to for waiting. And the high amount of changing people is stressful during the week. But at least it is too convenient to move right now because of price and location. Moving will make me happier, but for sure it won’t satisfying me long term. When I was in Korea I saw some climbers while hiking in the mountains and a feeling of jealousy and enthusiasm raised inside me. This grow stronger by time and when my mom told me to send me an Easter package I asked for my basic climbing stuff. For a long time I tried to practice Taekwondo in Japan, but this is kind of difficult. There are only two clubs and honestly I only can guess why I couldn’t get up myself out of the comfy zone. I wanna practice with my Taekwondo team and it hurts that I cannot be with them. As in the past with climbing, I’m not done with the sport itself, but I need a break until it can satisfying me again. My Easter package arrived last week and I went to the climbing gym in Namba directly on Saturday. There are some differences compared to the gym I used to go at home. The biggest ones are smoking is allowed and it smells horribly and everybody is wearing socks which is kind of cute. Since I had no friends I could only go for bouldering and using the auto belay, but it was enough for the first time. My muscles were sour within minutes. In the end of Sunday’s hike Yoshi introduced me to a friend of her and coincidentally he was a rock climber and invited me to his climbing group. Wow, this was way faster than expected, I already saw myself bouldering for the next weeks. Yesterday I went to the climbing gym (which is only two station from my home) and met Kazuhide, who introduced me to his friends. I already experienced Japanese hospitality during my bicycle trip and also in Osaka, but I was overwhelmed again how warmly all of them welcomed me to their group. Usually it is easy to get in touch with climbers, they’re very open minded people, but they were way more open and I cannot describe the feeling they gave me. It was an amazing feeling to be back on the wall and the power of freedom flooded my body. I can’t wait to continue and while thinking of it my hands already get sweaty…
April, 26 th Ōsaka
Hot pot party. Today wasn’t a regular Friday. It was the last day before a nation wide ten day holiday period started. This so called Golden Week is the main traveling time and usually all public transportation and accommodation will be crowded. Only this year we got two extra days off to honour the new emperor. So, my friends Tomal, Sayaka, Yoshi and me decided to escape all the business and go for a cycling trip at Shikoku Island. I already rode my bicycle to Tomal’s place, which is living near Kobe, because we are going to take the ferry from Kobe to Takamatsu early in the morning. After work, some of my coworkers and me went to the bamboo forest next to the institute to dig the shoots. At this time of the year is the hunting time and we weren’t alone. It was very hard to dig the huge shoot out of the
ground. After one hour of physically hard work we came back with two bags of bamboo shoots. I never ate them before in my life and didn’t even know that one can eat. First you have to boil them for a very long time (more than one hour) to remove the toxic oxalic acid. One of my coworker, which is Chinese, organised a hot pot party, a typically Chinese dish, at the lab. Together we enjoyed super tasty food and it was already 11 pm when I went home. The last week was super busy, so I still didn’t packed. Luckily here in Japan I only have my essential things, so packing worked out relatively quickly. With tickling feeling of excitement I fall asleep curious what the upcoming trip will bring.
April, 27 th Takamatsu
Holidays. Since the ferry’s departure was announced at 11 am and it was around 35 km to get there for Sayaka, Yoshi and me we decided not to cycle in the morning. Sayaka and Yoshi had a bike bag to carry it on the train, while I brought my bike to Tomal’s place two days before. I met Yoshi in the morning at Shinsaibashi to help her carrying the bike and the luggage. She managed to bring it there on her own and was already sweating. Indeed, carrying a bike in Japanese trains and luggage it’s not fun. I still have no idea how Sayaka managed it on her own. At Ashiya I left Yoshi and went to Tomal’s, who was living 10 km from the ferry. I never needed to carry my cycling bags and this for a good reason. It’s hell. I was sweating a lot, when I arrived at Tomal’s. Not because of the weight, they are super unhandy. We were still in time and since we started cycling we arrived quickly at the ferry port, where Sayaka and Yoshi hit by. We had reservations, so we could enter the ferry without any problems. I love Japanese ferries. As last time this ferry had huge areas with carpet to sit down, sleep or do whatever. I also saw people having a large picnic. The ride was about 4 hours, enough time to take a nap and to increase the excitement of the upcoming trip. In all our planing we forgot to prepare a lunch, but no problem at Japanese ferries: they had a Udon shop and we enjoyed a bowl of tasty noodle soup and Ice Cream for desert. The ferry’s first stop was Shodoshima Island, where almost all passengers departed. When we arrived the beautiful green Island in the deep blue Ocean a nice melody was played to inform the passengers of arrival. These little things make me love Japan. Also the toilet was one of the most excited one in my life. For sure it was one of the fully automatic ones, but in the cabin it was next to a huge window and one could enjoy the amazing view. Maybe it’s better not to use it while being in the harbour… We arrived at Takamatsu and the sun was shining. A perfect start. I had some trouble with my cell phone contract, because they didn’t accepted my Japanese credit card (it’s a prepaid card), so we went to the next Aeon Mall and Sayaka fixed it for me. Sayaka lost her key, she bought, so she also needed a new bicycle lock. Entering the mall was a trap. Too many useful things and no ideas about what to eat for dinner made us spend one and a half hour inside. Finally, with heavy loaded bikes full of food and even a kite, we left the mall and Takamatsu to start into adventure. The traffic was low and we enjoyed a 20 km ride during sunset through small streets and villages. Today’s sleeping place was supposed to be at a park at the Ocean with a public toilet nearby. Only a few thousand meters before it went up very steep. It was kind of unexpected and so we followed different strategies to deal with it from run and push the bike to pedal as slowly as possible. Any time, we thought we arrived the summit it went up again. The last few meters were a fight, but finally we arrived at a public toilet on top of a cliff. Nearby was a huge meadow and I was sure it was not one for camping. Anyway it was already dark and so we pitched up the tents. Here next to the Ocean it was completely dark and the wind freshed up. This night would gonna be cold. I didn’t expect that. My friends neither. We made us a picnic place and ate our bentos. Unfortunately they were cold as well. Someone had the idea to heat up the red wine we bought to drink it German style as Glühwein “hot waino”. I sat in my sleeping bag and it took less than half an hour until I fell asleep while watching the night sky and listen to my friends chatting. It felt a little bit like on that November night with Viraj, Anna and Sumanta. At some time, they woke me up and we crawled into our tents. Oyasumi.
April, 28 th Hiketa Tanoura campsite
Back to the roots. I woke up late and by the sounds of my friend’s voices. When I left the tent an amazing view of the Ocean awaited me. It was still a little bit cold, but sunny. We had a relaxing breakfast, while more and more local people came for taking their dogs for a walk or enjoying the beautiful morning. I’m sure it was forbidden to camp there, but anybody said anything. It took a while until everything was packed and our bikes loaded for the road. In the early noon we started into a sunny day into our holidays. We arrived at a beach I already stayed at during my bicycle trip. It was a very nice place with yellow sands and pine trees. I deeply fell asleep when I was there last time and this time I took a nap as well. We bought some oranges at the nearby Michi no eki (road station) and enjoyed them while watching the Ocean. Back on the road the plan was to eat Udon Tokushima style with raw egg and luckily there was a Udon shop next to the road, which was awaiting hungry cyclists. The shop was very cute and looked authentically made in the 60ties. We sat in a kind of indoor balcony and could see the ocean. Service in the countryside is way slower than in Osaka or in the city in general. So we spent there a lot of time, but we didn’t mind. After lunch we headed to a campsite I have been last time, which was located next to the Ocean. Last time I followed the National road to avoid climbing the mountains. This time I was keen to follow the road along the Ocean. We weren’t motivated to climb that much, but decided democratelly to give the road a try. It was honoured with a beautiful forest road through the mountains next to the Ocean. It went slightly up, just perfect for cycling. All of us were excited and happy. And for sure riding down the slope to our free campsite was pure fun. The campsites was crowded, but way less than expected. I thought during golden week and especially at the weekend there would be more people. We had no trouble to find a nice spots to pitch our tents. The way we pitched our tents was well planned using old leaves. One big advantage was to have native speakers among us, so Yoshi and Sayaka found an Onsen nearby. On the way there was the supermarket. Just perfect. We went to supermarket for buying dinner and sent Tomal back with the grocery to the campground, since he wasn’t interested in going to Onsen. Dipping in the hot water was heaven. It was almost too hot, so I took a long dip into the cold water tub as well. I always wonder how different evaluate risk in different ways: in Japan even heating food in thin plastic and aluminium is called safe, aluminium is advertised in deos and while in Germany in some thermal baths (water is warmer than in normal pools and from natural source, but even way less hot than in Japan) children are not allowed to enter due to health risks. While I was struggling with my blood circulation, the children enjoyed a lot next to me. For sure it is forbidden to wash your underwear in Onsen, so I wondered a lot when the other two girls started doing this in the changing room. If I was alone, I wouldn’t be brave enough, but at least we had no choice and nobody said anything. After the bath my body felt heavy and lazy due to a high level of relaxation. After a hot bath one feels like newborn. We cycled back to the campground, where Tomal was awaiting us. We ate our bentos and enjoyed Glühwein again. A campground sometimes is like television and we enjoyed our evening watching other, chatting and laughing until the sleepiness caught us and we disappeared in our tents. I felt a deep satisfaction while laying in my tent. These days I mainly would call it my home, it gives me a feeling I never could achieve in Nishinari: home.
April, 29 th Katsuura
Rain. Today’s morning was sunny and nice. Hard to trust the weather forecast which predicted lots of rain. The road guided along a main road next to the Ocean to the city of Naruto. Even though the road itself was nice, there was much traffic, so cycling became rather stressful. We still needed to do some shopping: Tomal, who is used to sleep on the bare ground in Bangladesh got used to my picnic mattress and wanted to own one as well and Yoshi needed a mug. Also my gas canisters were almost empty and we urgently wanted to eat Tokushima Ramen with raw egg. It was very useful that Sayaka lived for a while in Naruto and was familiar with the area and guided us. We ended up in a home stock market and found a treasure: a tiny BBQ, just perfect for our purposes. Happily we left the market to get some food. Sayaka recommended a Ramen shop, so we went there. Unfortunately there was a long queue in front of the shop. In Japan people are used to line up at a restaurant, something we wouldn’t do in Europe, and it still feels a little bit strange to me. Anyway we lined up and waited for almost one hour. Typically for countryside there were overwhelmed by so many customers. Under the table we could charge our devices secretly and this big bunch of cable looked very awkward. We finally got our Ramen with raw egg and it was delicious. Sleepy and with a full belly we continued cycling. It was cold outside and the sky became grey. Heavy clouds were around us and not even twenty minutes later it started raining. Great! Within minutes our jackets were soaked with water and we still had to cycle around 30 km. I stopped at a supermarket to do our evening shopping while hoping the rain would stop meanwhile. For sure I was wrong. Unmotivated we entered the supermarket and got our stuff for BBQ this evening. Again the bikes were heavy loaded with grocery and we finally had to face the rain. We also passed a sports equipment store, but Tomal couldn’t find a proper mattress. It was already late afternoon and we kept cycling quietly. During rain passing cars are incredible loud. We cycled up a river for a very long time. We were deep in the countryside and traffic almost vanished. The rain didn’t stop, but as long as we were moving on the bike it wasn’t cold. Even though the wind started freezing up while we crossed the rice fields. We stopped at a Konbini for a bathroom break, which was a major mistake. I got very cold immediately after stopping. It was hard to get started again and face the rain and cold. When we arrived the campsite in Katsuura it was almost dark and the rain got heavier. Unfortunately the small campsite was full. There weren’t that much people, but some tents were extremely big and almost all of them builded up a tarp as well, so the space was occupied. We found a little space at the riverside to pitch our tents in a row. Luckily there were two huge shelters with facilities. There are three main issues which bring me in a bad mood: waking up in the morning, being cold and wet camping gear. I tried to give my best to keep everything as dry as possible. No way. It was pouring rain. I decided to pitch up my tent under the shelter on a table and carry its place while the cabin is already protected by the second skin. A group of people at the shelter were watching me curiously, but I didn’t care. Afterwards Sayaka and me were checking out the location and we found a shower room (only cold). Since it was a group shower it was divided into male’s and female’s. Since we were already completely wet, we decided to take a shower. Then we had a genius idea: Why not sleeping in the shower room. Both rooms were absolutely dry, with a roof and nobody would be that mad to want to take a shower. The facility was just perfect. There was enough space for us and our stuff, while in the other room we could hang our wet stuff. We told the other about the idea and they agreed immediately. We made us a cozy home and then we went for showering. It must have sounded awkward, because all of us couldn’t resist to scream a little bit when the cold water touched our warm bodies. But the feeling of being clean and refreshment was worth it. Funnily while planing the trip I told about my previous trip in Japan and talked about some cold showers. Yoshi, who wasn’t sure if she can join under all these circumstances, was the one who made less sounds. I guess she wasn’t expecting ending up beneath a cold shower that early. Almost all of the tent’s residents weren’t at home, so together with the other group we had many space in the shelter and a nice fire place, where we could enjoy our BBQ.