Tadaima! I’m back!
So, lets rewind a few months… though admittedly a long time ago now, on the 15th of April I landed at Haneda airport in Tokyo – 6 months to the day since, with my life packed into two heaving bags, I had fled Japan last October. Walking through the airport terminal the familiar cries of “Irasshaimaseeee” (welcome) reached me as I passed the terminal shops and my heart soared, delighted to be back in the country that I had loved so much and now, here with my little bike!
Collecting my baggage I was thrilled to see that my American candy offerings had done the trick and my bicycle box was in perfect condition – thank you very much Cathay Pacific! The milky bars are on me!
Having explained my bike and my intentions at customs I proceeded to the exit and struggled out of the arrivals hall with my heavy cargo in order to find a quiet spot outside where I could put my bike together. Since I started this trip in January I’ve been very upfront about my lack of cycling knowledge but when I tell people I don’t know what I’m doing with my bicycle they never fail to look at me and chuckle in a “she’s biking around the world, of course she knows about bikes” kind of way. Well unfortunately I was soon to prove them indisputably wrong… it took me nearly three hours to put my bike together and when I say together I mean adjust the seat height, reconnect the brakes, bolt on the front wheel and pannier rack and attach the handle bars – really nothing too complicated.
I painstakingly tried to remember where everything was supposed to go, continually kicking myself for not having taken photos during the “take apart” procedure in San Fransisco. “How hard can it be?” I’d foolishly thought at the time – pretty bloody hard as it turns out. My frustration reached it’s climax when, with everything where I thought it should go, I was still unable to fit the front mud guard and pannier rack. I tried them every which way but the damn screws just wouldn’t line up. “They must have gotten bent on the flight” I thought to myself although I needed only to glance at the undamaged bike box next to me to know that any attempt at blaming incompetence on equipment failure would lead me nowhere. Eventually it came to me and I spotted my blunder… I’d fitted the handle bars with the front forks of the bike facing backwards!!!
“Tori you imbecile” I thought to myself, “of course that’s wrong. You complete and utter moron, how in God’s name did you just cycle across America!”
Suitably abashed I went about loosening the handle bars and removing the front wheel in order to rotate the forks desperately hoping that the curious parking attendant nearby hadn’t noticed how clueless I was! Finally, thank God, I had everything in place – or at least I had no surplus bike parts which I took to mean I had everything in place. I strapped on all my panniers and was off, back on the left hand side of the road no less!
I was heading that evening to a Warm Showers host, Mattias, who lived 15km or so from the airport. Bearing in mind that Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world I was expecting a stressful ride however, although there may be nine million bicycles in Beijing there are one or two in Tokyo as well (please know that I’m suitably embarrassed to be citing Katie Melua here but I beg you to indulge me – I needed I bicycle quote!). With so many cyclists on the streets, bike lanes are common, riding on the pavement is nearly always permitted and most importantly, cars are expecting you. Bikes are so numerous that your presence is not a last minute surprise as it so often was in the States and the Japanese roads felt refreshingly, wonderfully safe!
So it was in high spirits that I arrived at Mattias’ little Tokyo apartment. He had warned me in advance of its size and he really hadn’t lied. It was true “Tokyo style”: big enough to function but small enough to allow for as many apartments as possible into one block! It was therefore rather convenient that Mattias was to be heading off to Europe just a few weeks later to undertake his own bike tour and so had emptied his apartment of furniture. With no sofa, TV or coffee table there was plenty of space for me to roll out my sleeping mat. I spent two nights with Mattias to adapt to the new time zone and get everything properly sorted with my bike and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. Mattias was great guy (and Chilean in case you were questioning the authenticity of “Mattias” as a Japanese name!) and my only regret is that I forgot to take his photo!
On my departure day I was planning on heading to Fuji. I had packed up and said my goodbyes yet only made it a few kilometres down the road before my newly acquired American caffeine addiction led me into a coffee shop. Popping onto the wifi quickly I saw a message from my old work friend Helen and would you believe it she was going to be in Tokyo in three days!! Well I couldn’t very well miss her for the sake of three days so I had a last minute change of plan and began to cycle to central Tokyo. Only I didn’t cycle to central Tokyo… after nearly 90 minutes of riding a road sign informed me I was now considerably closer to Yokohama than Tokyo and that I had in fact been riding in the completely wrong direction. Infuriated I had a brief strop before resigning myself to the return journey and turning around. I’ve become quite good at not letting things anger me on this trip – not that I would describe myself as a particularly angry person! Yet so frequently things don’t go quite to plan and were I to let that upset me I suspect I’d be having a truly terrible time! However no matter what happens, one way or another things always seem to work out ok and there are plenty of sayings to remind oneself of this if need be:
“Worse things happen at sea”
“It will all come out in the wash”
“Everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end”
“Chill the hell out – you’re cycling around the world this is awesome” (I made that one up).
So anyway I made it to Tokyo, eventually, and checked into the cheapest hostel I could find. In a slightly boring but rather convenient way nothing of much significance happened in Tokyo other than meeting some nice people and being kept awake until 4am by some not so nice people. As such, seeing as I’m so far behind the present day I am relieved from having to describe the week and instead can just leave you a few snaps including this jolly one of an afternoon beer with Helen and Adam!