Week 1, JAPAN


It has been more than twenty years since I first cycled in Japan, a country I am quite familiar with. Despite the unique customs and culture, it feels like a home away from home. The Japan I am most familiar with is the overpopulated part, where cities seamlessly merge into each other, utilizing every inch of flat land in a mess of cement and electrical cables. While this Japan has its own fascination and breathtaking cities, when it comes to cycling, I always wanted to explore a different corner of the country—a rural part where space is plenty, and nature still holds its place.

After enduring many hours on an airplane and battling horrendous jet lag, I finally arrived at Chitose International Airport on the outskirts of Sapporo. Under a promising sunny sky, my first task was the usual one—assemble the bicycle and get started. Once done, I filled a black rubbish bag with layers of cardboard and packaging. In the spotless and sanitized terminal, I pondered what to do with it.

The disposal of rubbish is a common conundrum faced by any foreigner visiting Japan. Whether it's truth or myth, there's a saying that, after the 1995 Tokyo subway Sarin attack, authorities removed rubbish bins from roads, stations, public places, and even the vocabulary. In a country known for convenience and efficiency, this stands out. Residents who pay utilities can dispose of their waste at home, but for everyone else, carrying daily rubbish becomes a creative challenge.

Not wanting to resort to fly tipping and further damage the already questionable reputation of foreigners' etiquette, I walked into the terminal with my tidy, albeit large, black bag and inquired about disposal options. The security officer in the domestic terminal looked a bit panicky, as if my question was unprecedented. He aimlessly led me around until we ended up at a ticketing desk. The airline employee, equally puzzled, made a phone call, or at least pretended to, before admitting that a few rubbish bins would indeed be useful. In the end, the security officer, losing patience, suggested I discreetly dump the rubbish bag in a hidden corner by the cleaning staff office.

As I left on my bike, the chain unexpectedly snapped open, and I lost my footing—a consequence of complacency. I had disassembled the chain links to wash them after my trip to Colombia and reassembled them. While it held during the pre-trip test, I forgot about Murphy's law—if something can go wrong, it will. I managed to temporarily fix it, reaching the nearby town of Chitose, where I had booked a night in a hostel. After visiting several bike stores, I found a mechanic willing to fit a new chain.

What seemed like a straightforward job turned out to be tricky. The mechanic, like myself, was unaware that chains come in different widths. After fitting a chain that was too wide, he opened another box with a perfect one but managed to fit it the wrong way. Determined not to mess up more chains, he successfully fitted a third one. Feeling a bit sorry for him, I decided to buy some lubricant oil as a token of appreciation. He thanked me, probably relieved to see the end of my visit.