Group text messages frustrate me beyond belief; they really do seem like a productive idea at the time, but when your mates are a bunch of delinquents, the chime of an incoming text for the four thousandth time that day really starts to scratch at your nerves.
However this particular Wednesday, Drew sent out a text simply asking if we wanted to go to Japan in November. The deal on the flights was simply too good to resist and I kid you not, within the hour we were booked for Japan. If you know us as a group, you would know that this was nothing short of a miracle. Organisation definitely isn’t our biggest strength!
One minute you’re sitting at work receiving a text message about a trip to Japan, next thing you know you’re completely and utterly lost in a Japanese city. Its 3am in the morning you don’t know which way is up… Your friends have vanished, and you have possibly treated yourself to one too many Japanese whiskeys. Left with just your bike, wallet, phone (with no reception) and not a single Japanese word under your belt apart from Konichiwa… What the hell do you do?
Pedal… Survival instincts and the muscle memory from riding a bike your entire life kicks in. As you weave through cars and pedestrians in one of Japan’s busiest cities, pedalling as fast as you can that way, which way? You don’t know, but whatever that way was, it got me home. The home I didn’t even know the address of at the time, the right fluke! It may have not been a life or death situation but amongst the stress of being lost, you’re always left with moments of clarity. When the overly lit Japanese streets turns into a blur of vivid light, and the sound of thousands of Japanese people shuffling their feet is drowned out by the sound of rubber on pavement and the tick of your hub, You’re in that moment. You’re completely out of your comfort zone but yet so comfortable on your bike.
Which brings me to the fact, how the hell would you travel without a BMX?
Once you’ve travelled with a bike it’s pretty hard to do it any other way, you become allergic to the common tourist attractions. There is no better way to see a place for what it is, you’re right there amongst it all. Whether that is the heart of the city or the outskirts of a country town you’re seeing that place in a way most people don’t get too.
Unfortunately Dan took a step off on day two and was apartment bound for the majority of the trip with a torn ACL. So we decided to do some touristy style stuff and take him to the aquarium. I found myself pretty damn frustrated the whole day. Walking everywhere was making me just as salty and lost as the marine life trapped behind the glass. I was just a spoilt little kid throwing a tantrum because I didn’t have my bike!
One of the very first things I noticed when trying to navigate around Japan was the fact that most of the locals were more than happy to take time out of their day to help a bunch of weird looking round-eyes find whatever the hell we were looking for at that point, on one of the first nights we had heard about an Irish pub nearby (yes we went to an Irish pub in Japan) we had a shitty map which made little sense to us so we just set out riding towards where we thought it might be. We quickly realised we had no idea and we had been split up.
So I was just wandering around Osaka with one of the boys, we found some Japanese youths who looked close to our age, we showed them our shitty map, they whipped out the phones and quickly found the address, then proceeded to walk us there, after around 30 minutes of walking through the city centre we found the bar, we offered to buy them a beer which they refused immediately, all they wanted was a selfie before they headed back the way we came.
For the first couple of days in Osaka we just cruised around the downtown area, and it became very apparent that Japan is incredible for finding amazing street spots absolutely everywhere. There was always something better and better that we would find just around the next corner, almost never ending string of spots better then most I have ever found here in Australia.
We met up with a young dude named Tim that took us on the train to a local BMX store called RideG, he met us at the main station in Osaka then gave each of us bike bags that he had purchased that morning without wanting any reimbursement what so ever (for those who don’t know your bike must be completely covered when on trains there, even the wheels) beyond appreciative for that, Tim. We got to the shop which like most stores in Japan was tiny and completely full of products, we chilled there doing the tourist thing and getting some happy snaps for awhile, then headed to ride some of the amazing spots that were again situated just around the corner from each other.
So the week was winding down and we had headed back to one of our favourite spots to grab a couple more clips and chill out, then a group of BMX dudes from Tokyo rock up to ride with us, apparently one of the boys had been talking to Rehito Murata who had actually been over to Australia around 7 years ago. So his crew came down to ride and party. So they took us to some more spots that we had missed around Osaka then we went to another BMX shop called Circle Geek (amazing set up), we chilled there and had a couple of beers as we thought “hey the suns down time to drink” right? But no, these dudes had more riding and spots to hit before it was time to party. So when we eventually got to a restaurant and had dinner and threw back many beers then went clubbing, which in Japan is an interesting experience to say the least.
Something that can happen, which I hope never happens to anyone while travelling is a lovely visit to the local hospital. Our friend Daniel Watson had tweaked his knee pretty early in the trip and hadn’t been riding for a couple of days while trying to rest his knee and reduce the swelling. This just wasn’t happening so we decided one morning to go try and get some crutches so he could at least get around and check out the scenery. Well this isn’t as easy a task as one would think in Japan, the only place to purchase crutches is the hospital, but you can’t just roll in and say “hey my knee hurts can I buy some crutches?” He had to see a doctor and get an x-ray. Then we are in the doctor’s office while he looks at the results (now picture a middle to late aged, chubby Japanese dude with a deep voice, that speaks little English) the first thing he says is “haematoma” so we were like “yeah bruising we know that”, then he says “acupuncture” and we were like “um really?” thinking he was going to use a bunch of small needles to fix Dan’s knee, no he pulled out one huge f***ing needle and proceeded to suck out over 140ml of blood and shit from Dan’s knee, then he gave us crutches and we were done. Now this took a total of 2 hours and cost only $180, crutches included. When we returned home it became apparent that Dan had actually torn his ACL…
All that is really left to say is “go to Japan!”. It is like no other place on earth, the language barrier is annoying (honestly heard Jack trying to say “cheap” to a local, and when they didn’t understand he tried “inexpensive”) but people there will do their best to help you get where you want to go. It is also kinda nice in a weird way how everyone looks at you for being a freaky tall white boy.