This gypsy guide is on a new trip and one with a fit family of 3 from Phoenix Arizona, we met in Tokyo shared sake in a tiny 60â€™s bar in Golden Gai and our friendship was sealed thatâ€™s until I took them on a 20km bike ride around Tokyo the next day exploring back streets, shrines and all of Tokyoâ€™s beauty thatâ€™s not always in the brochures. We hired bikes from the underground facilities of Naka Okachimachi in Ueno but you can find these underground rental places all over Tokyo depending on where youâ€™re staying and hire for 4 hours, a day or even a few days, one day is 300yen http://www.bikeoff.org/design_resource/dr_PDF/dr_facilities_transport_uenonaka.pdf
The ride was beautiful with the sun shining and the streets relatively quiet with many locals inside watching the first Japan match of the World Cup that day.
It was 30 degrees however that day and although flat most of the way it had been a while since this fit bunch had been on a bike so to regain my popularity with them what else can you do but shout ice cream for all! Back in the good books.
The next day started with an outrageously early start and unique experience that can only be privileged by those crazy few who wake at 2:30am, this my friends are the lengths you take to be first in for the Tsukiji markets auction of the biggest tuna you will ever lay your eyes on. The auction itself is so fast paced I'm not even sure you could understand if you were Japanese but to see the detail they go into checking each fish, to the average person they all look the same but if you have an interest in fish or just want to see what goes on in the worlds biggest fish market I highly recommend it.
We were on the road that day to rest and head to one of the most beautiful places in Japan, with views of the stretching coast on the way there our excitement levels were rising each minute. We arrived in Izu Shimoda the coastal town with a lot of History being the port for which fish would be delivered to Edo in this period and where Japanâ€™s trading and diplomatic contact with the US and Russia ended their isolation in the 1850â€™s.
We were met at the station by Ken from Aloha bike tours, who then prepared some very cool mountain bikes for us to cruise around the island in style. Following the coast we went past the only floating aquarium in the world to marvel upon enormous turtles, captivity however never quite does it for me and I took my eyes away from here to the bay around the corner to see free dolphins enjoy a frolic in the ocean it was so beautiful. After climbing up hills, with most being their first time on a mountain bike everyone made it feeling on top of the world, and almost literally as we ate afternoon tea freshly made by Kenâ€™s wife overlooking the magnificent coastline, small islands and listening to the waves crash on the shore. Adventuring through valleys of tall grass we made it back to finish this amazing ride.
Our accommodation here in Izu was nothing less than a dream paradise, we were greeted by the young Soma family, Kaizu a very good surfer and wind surfer and Tobu a hot yoga instructor (yes she was good looking but she teaches yoga in a heated room). Their house was high on a mountain overlooking the ocean for perfect surf checking, and surrounded by trees growing fresh fruit and a farm of fresh vegetables. I cooked a Japanese/Australian Bbq for all to enjoy and Kaizu made us some of his eggs freshly laid eggs to enjoy for dessert. Before bed we all tested our balance skills on their slack line in the moonlight.
I woke early to meet Kaizu for a surf before my passengers woke, he let me borrow his sick single fin and he took out his quad, we drove down the hill to the beach my heart almost bursting from my chest in excitement for it had been now 2 months since I last surfed. We checked the conditions, but to me it didn’t matter I just wanted to be out there, so I put on Kaizuâ€™s wetsuit which was conveniantly a perfect fit we paddled out to the 1ft waves rolling through. I sat in the water feeling at home, feeling whole, feeling alive, I looked at the beach the Torri gate marking a shrine on the cliff top and the burning seaweed cleaning the beach on the shore. Then it came, a set, my eyes became focused, I started to paddle, these small waves had some push in them and then it was like there and been no time that had passed between waves, I was riding along feeling free, this board got some speed and I could manoeuvre my turns quite easily. Kaizu and I stayed out for 2hours of solemn bliss, teaching each other English and Japanese in between sets, we had found something that we both knew the language to and so a friendship was born and I was reborn in Japan. We showered outside and I prepared breakfast for my passengers in the garden with fresh fruit and yoghurt. My entire body and soul had now been nurtured.
Our next group adventure was guided by Masashi from Surface kayaking, a beautiful man full of joy and passion for what he did and eager to teach all he knew to his passengers. Masashi took us weaving through rock islands testing our skills, we felt like explorers and were the only ones in the water it was magic. We paddled to a lighthouse for a veggie curry lunch and my active family frolicked on the rocks spotting crabs before walking to the lighthouse, unfortunately the day was overcast so we could not see out to the islands but the view of the stretching ocean was still picturesque.
My energy levels were becoming weary towards the end, it had been a long few days, so paddling to Shimoda beach to check out the surf which hadn’t increased in size since the morning, I jumped into the water before heading to shore to wake meâ€¦ A very good choice.
From the ocean to the mountains Kamikochi the Japanese alpine national park would await us. The sun was shining this time and the mountains looked if possible even more beautiful than a couple weeks ago I had been here last. I took my passengers past Myojin pond to see the mountains reflection and colours mirrored in the pond, it was divine. We then took the route to Tokusawa, but with so many peaks around we thought we would test our physical skills and try to reach Yookoo, this however may have been too ambitious, as we hiked for two hours the mountain only kept increasing and our energy and strength was declining. We had views all the way up and the nature was lush and green, still with snow to be seen as we climbed hire but it was time to go back. The onsen that night may have been the best bath we had ever had, healing our muscles with the baths natural minerals and relaxing heat.
And like all great adventurers it was this oneâ€™s time to end finishing the way we started on bikes, but this time in my home base of Kyoto. It was amazing to see the changes within my passengers, their energy, their smiles, their strength, they may have been tired and sore but they pushed through the whole way, they came together closer than before as they had seen each other at their most vulnerable and their strongest. Their respect for one another had grown and I could not have been more proud of all of them.
To train and set a goal and work towards it is one great thing but to enrol the people you love and do it together, to motivate one another, that is a special experience that will bond a family closer than any other activity I feel.
Step outside of your comfort zones, experience another culture, another world, find an equal ground and watch as you grow more in one week from sweating together reaching goals, and opening your eyes to possibilities physically emotionally and environmentally that you never thought possible.
Tsukiji fish market http://www.japanvisitor.com/tokyo/tokyo-area-guides/tsukiji
Surface kayak guided services with Masashi http://www.the-surface.com/
Aloha bike tours with Ken http://www.alohabike.com/onroad-ride-en.htm
Izu Shimoda Villa Shirahama http://www.villa-shirahama.com/
Kamikochi mountains http://www.kamikochi.or.jp/english/