Around midnight, we arrived by ferry in the city of Beppu on the island of Kyushu. In a park near the harbor, we easily found a public toilet with space to camp. It wasn’t until daybreak that we realized we had arrived in one of Japan’s most important spa towns: There was steam coming out of the ground everywhere and the smell of sulphur was in the air.

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As the morning was so beautiful, we decided to use the time for cycling rather than visiting the onsen. Although it was (too) cold in the mountains on Shikoku, we ventured up into the mountains again in Kyushu. From the start on the coast, we climbed steadily uphill to Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. The weather was wonderful and we were able to enjoy the ride, the unique landscape and the view down into the smoking crater.

We also enjoyed bathing in the onsen, which we spontaneously decided to do in the evening. As steam was swirling all around us and we saw the pleasant-looking sign of an onsen, we could no longer postpone our (self-imposed😉) compulsory visit to a Japanese bathhouse. The fact that there were only private, small bathhouses was very convenient for us. That way we couldn’t do anything wrong and could practise for later onsen visits. The warm water with a view of the cold volcanic landscape was admittedly wonderful (…although spa is not my thing at all). The feeling of being thoroughly warm again lasted until the next morning😊.

We reached the south side of Kyushu in a few days on beautiful mountain roads. Here the rainy weather caught up with us and accompanied us for a whole day from early to late. It was getting dark when we rolled into the village of Ibusuki. The village is famous for its baths in sand heated by hot springs. Although it took a lot of effort to peel ourselves out of our soaking wet clothes, we didn’t want to miss the sand bath. And the kick in the butt was well worth it! We were buried alive up to our heads in the warm sand, felt the pulse in all our limbs and heard the rain pattering on the roof… how wonderfully relaxing!

With better weather, the next few days took us through the pretty samurai village of Chiran, across the beautiful Nagashima and Amakusa Islands to Nagasaki. On a narrow main road, there was a sudden crash behind me and David swore like a banshee. An elderly lady had overtaken us so closely that she shaved off both our mirrors and hers. The woman turned into the next dirt track and jacked up her car to apologize to us. This mishap couldn’t have happened to us in a better country: She gave us money for new rear-view mirrors, which we conveniently ordered on Amazon and picked up at a convenience store three days later. That’s how it works here😊!

Thanks to the rear-view mirror story, we were once again amused by the Japanese language. New words are often taken from other languages and Japanified. For example, the side mirror becomes “saidomira” (サイドミラー), the traditional Christmas cake becomes “kurisumasukēki” (クリスマスケーキ) or the credit card becomes “kurejittokādo” (クレジットカード). These words are written in the Japanese alphabet katakana, which is mainly used for foreign words. In addition, Chinese characters (kanji), another syllabary (hiragana) or, in the modern language, Latin letters are also used in Japanese. Words are strung together without spaces and written from top to bottom or horizontally, as appropriate. Vertical texts are read from right to left, horizontal texts usually from left to right, but sometimes vice versa. Got it…? Neither do we😊! Fortunately, we don’t have to understand the complicated writing system!

The visit to the atomic bomb museum in Nagasaki was incomprehensible and disturbing in a completely different way. There are no words to describe it… Due to the relatively tight schedule and the renewed rain, we didn’t see much more of the city. The next morning we drove in the cold, wet and stormy weather only as far as the next Michi-no-Eki roadhouse. We spent the whole day in the heated waiting room and were also allowed to spend the night there following a friendly invitation from the lady at the local market. How cozy this weather is when you can watch and listen from inside😊!

The onset of winter prompted us not to make any detours on the journey to Fukuoka and to head straight for our accommodation in a container hotel. On the last morning before arriving in Fukuoka, a broken pole on the tent ensured that we certainly wouldn’t be bored during our three days stay in the city…
We were able to repair the defect quickly with the help of a barbecue skewer from the 100yen store (we had spare poles with us), leaving us enough time for a short tour of the city, office work, equipment maintenance and an early Japanese mini-Christmas dinner. We bought chicken nuggets, a small Christmas cake and sweet wine… the traditional Christmas menu in Japan😊. However, we won’t be experiencing the queue in front of KFC on Christmas Day. We’ll already be in Taiwan by then. Although the south-westernmost island of Japan is only about 100 km away from Taiwan, no ferries are running and we have to take the plane with our packed bikes.

Another departure from our no-airplane policy is also becoming apparent. We recently had to cancel our repositioning cruise from Tokyo to Alaska. Despite endless negotiations, over 60 phone calls and emails with customer service, the shipping company refused to take our bicycles on the empty ship. Separate transportation of the bicycles by plane was out of the question for us for several reasons. So we are now traveling to Southeast Asia via Taiwan and willaso see what happens from there😉.

And finally this: Japan, you were amazing👋!