Several of the people I had met over the course of the summer kept in touch, including Mr Health Enlightenment from Kobé, Mr Sturdy Level from Osaka, Mr Kanagawa from Himeji, Mr Reach from Mount Yoshino and Miss Blessing Effective Child from Mié, although I never did hear back from Mr Fukuoka, and have often wondered if he managed to avoid encountering any ghosts on his way to Hokkaido. Having managed at least one conversation in Japanese every day, my goal of immersion had been a resounding success, and while my time in Kanto was somewhat lacking in scenery and tourist spots, by that time my interaction with the locals came more naturally than ever before. Being described as pera-pera – or fluent – was still a long way off, but from something like a five-year-old child, I could now state with some confidence that my Japanese was equivalent to that of a five-and-a-half-year-old child.
Re-reading my Top Ten List of Potential Disasters, I:
1) Had not fallen off.
2) Had not become hopelessly lost.
3) Did get a puncture, but only a very slow one, having clattered into a concrete block on Benten Island (thank goodness it was a slow puncture, as looking back, I had neither the necessary tools nor the necessary skills to repair a fast one).
4) Did get sunburned, but only mildly and only for the first couple of days.
5) Did have to put up the Snow Peak in the middle of the night, and then, somewhat bizarrely, take it back down again straight away.
6) Did not have to put up the Snow Peak in the middle of a rainstorm.
7) Did get bitten half to death by mosquitoes, although not nearly as often as I had feared.
8) Did lose a few items along the way, namely a tenugui at the sand baths in Beppu, a bottle of sun block at the campsite in Mount Aso, a toothbrush and toothpaste at the tempura restaurant near Kita-Kyushu, and my spare inner tube at Shimonoseki Youth Hostel.
9) Did leave something behind and have to return to pick it up, but it was only my sun hat, and only for a few hundred metres.
10) Did suffer from various riding-related ailments.
Over the course of forty-three days, and by my own rather unreliable calculations, I had ridden more than three thousand kilometres, staying for two nights on a ferry, two nights in ryokan, two nights in business hotels, five nights in youth hostels, five nights with friends, twenty-five nights on legitimate campsites, and one night in the grounds of a Shinto shrine. I had bathed at onsen or sento twenty-six times, eaten countless morningu setto, hotto cakey setto, choco parfait, Choco Pie and peanuts choco, and used squat toilets as little as was humanly possible. At thirty thousand yen per week for general expenses, plus twenty thousand for alterations to the Mariposa, the whole tour had cost around two hundred thousand yen, which was a little more than one month’s wages. It had also turned me into a star of sorts, because to travel as a gaijin in Japan is to be famous. People say hello, buy you drinks, cook you food, give you presents, take your photo, ask you questions, help you out and wish you luck. For those six weeks life seemed like a film or a television programme, full of interest and incident, and it felt for the first time in my life that I was doing what I was supposed to as a human being, namely to go out and experience the world at first hand.
People often say that when you travel you find yourself, but I feel as if the opposite has happened, and that a part of me is still out there, cycling along on the Mariposa with a sun hat on my head, a Mapple in my shopping basket and the Snow Peak on my luggage rack, looking for the next campsite and looking forward to the next onsen.