In Japan we feel welcome. We feel safe. We are dazzled by all that is new to us. The idea that we are in Japan – I mean, Japan! – overwhelms us. We would have imagined that when we started our journey in 2003?!
We realize how privileged we are with the lives we live, the opportunities given, the freedom we live in, every single day. In many ways the world is becoming an increasingly scary place and the developments in the States are terrifying.
News on the Internet is pulling me down into a whirlpool of negativity and, in perhaps an odd way, I am grateful that our WiFi access is limited. I’m very well aware that this is a digital world for me and not the real one that so many people live in. Talking about privilege!
For our friends and family who are living in that real world, who are facing so many uncertainties right now: Know we think of you often and hold you close.
Meanwhile we continue what we do best: Share stories about the good side of our planet. Stories of beautiful people who are lending a hand to strangers, who are willing to help and go out of their way to do something nice or good for somebody else. These stories are important. They tell the flip-side of the world we are living in. We need to hear these stories now more than ever.
Kyushu Island – Mount Aso Region
After a fantastic introduction to Japan at the Land Cruisers’ Festa (read about it here), we stuck around in the region of Mount Aso (on the island of Kyushu). Six months ago this area was hit by two strong earthquakes, destroying many homes, causing landslides and an important bridge to collapse, stopping the flow of an important spring, and killing a handful of people.
We got to see a bit of all this while guests of Land Cruiser aficionado Masa (if Land Cruiser overlanders need help with parts of maintenance, get in touch with him (just email us for his contact info)), his wife Yasuko and their ten-year-old son Masaya. With all of us speaking English, conversations were non-stop and we shared a wonderful week with them while we camped in their garden.
They introduced us to delicious Japanese hot-pots of vegetables, tofu and fish, and to soba noodles. The latter we first learned to make ourselves from scratch, which was fun. At night we bathed in onsens (hot springs) and during the day we explored the countryside.
Land Cruising Adventure’s First Accident
All went well until it happened: our first accident in 13+ years on the road. A man threw his vehicle suddenly and right in front of Land Cruiser on a straight, empty road to turn into a parking lot of a restaurant. There was no way of avoiding a collision and our Land Cruiser’s left front hit his rear.
The driver hadn’t seen us, he said afterward, which truly is a mind-boggling statement. As we all saw it coming and neither was driving fast, nobody of us was hurt. However, the Land Cruiser was.
Masa got organized right away, calling the police and friends. He went home to get his flat-bed truck and winched the Land Cruiser on it. Another friend showed up, willing to help.
“We are going to Mr. Sakaguchi,“ Masa said, “his workshop is better equipped.” This was fine with us, of course, and counted our blessings: We were in our Land Cruiser’s country of birth so the availability of parts should be no problem, we had no visa running out, and we were surrounded by reliable friends who knew cars.
Fixing the Land Cruiser
We expected to be camping at Masa’s friends’ house for a week, if not longer. That’s how things go, right?
Nope, not here. We got the Land Cruiser off the truck – thanks to 4x4Valkenburg, who gave us a Warn winch years ago – around five and the three men got right to work. Coen was still a bit in shock, contributing little and mostly looking what was happening. We women retreated to the warm kitchen.
In Brazil, on such occasions, you will drink beer and eat meat. Not here. The men were served warm green tea with delicious rice cakes! The men flung wrenches, taking things further apart, inspecting what was broken and needed to be fixed or replaced.
They enjoyed the project and meanwhile fixed a couple of issues on the Land Cruiser’s front ends that were on the to-do list.
Eleven thirty: finished. Let’s go eat!
What?! Really? Yes, six hours later we drove our Land Cruiser again. Oh, and this was on a Saturday night when these men should be sharing fun time with their families. Bless Japan and bless these kind people. Thank you so much for your help Mr. Sakaguchi and Mr. Kenske!
Thank you, Masa for your help, your enthusiasm, your solutions for ‘everything’. Yasuko, thank you for your friendship, our talks in the onsens, the sharing between women. And thank you Masaya, for your quick-witted answers, your joy in life, and of course the awesome drawing!
Kyushu Island – Sightseeing
After a week it was time for some sightseeing: devil-looking ponds in Beppu and stone Buddhas in Usuki.
At a temple in Usuki we met Kayo. We had just received at least a kilo of mushrooms, worth a fortune, from a kind old woman who we saw sorting thousands of them in her garden. She waved our offer of money away. Since there was no way we could eat all that we were happy to have found somebody to share them with.
Kayo invited us to spend the night at her place. Before they started their married life, her husband Hiromitsu cycled around Japan for a year and backpacked his way around the world for another year and a half. Truly kindred spirits and one evening was not enough to share everything we had to say to each other.
Kayo and Hiromitsu, thank you for sharing. We hope our roads will cross again.
How often has this happened? A person inviting us, complete strangers, into their home? Too often to have lost count, for sure. And while at one hand we are used to it, at the same time it continues to baffle us. It is not something we ever take for granted. All this trust around us.
You can argue, well that is Japan, a safe country. While true, that has nothing to do with it. For those who have followed our journey know this has happened in countries with a lesser reputation for its safety (rightfully or not): Iran, Pakistan, Brazil, Venezuela… It doesn’t matter: kind people are everywhere!