Posted by: jkirkby8712 | April 14, 2011

Thursday, 14th April, 2011 – Bike Tours in Japan

I think I mentioned a day or so ago, that my brother [the extremely fit one!!] who likes to go for the occasional bike ride in various parts of the world, had planned a ride in Japan next month, with his wife [who is also a pretty fir pedalar – that spelling doesn’t look right@!!!]. However, owing to the recent calamities in that unfortunate nation, they decided to defer their ride [having a particular concern about food contamination] until another tour in October. With that in mind, Robert sent me a copy of an email received from the guy who is the organisers of these tours in Japan that Robert and Evelyn intended to participate in. That email presents another perspective of life in Japan over the past traumatic four weeks, and I sure my brother won’t mind I sharing some of those thoughts on these pages. An interesting aside made by Robert was that “While feeling a bit bad about having pulled out of May, as clearly the locals need the moral support of visitors; on the other hand, can you ever trust what the Japanese authorities are telling you is the reality”. Meanwhile, the writer of the email, and presumably, tour organiser, was  John Morrell, and this is what he had to say.

HI All,  Just thought I would touch base with you regarding Japan and what has happened.
 I returned yesterday from a bike trip in Shikoku, which the riders, who were very well informed about the difference between Shikoku (southern Japan) and Tohoku (northern Japan), decided not to cancel. All the people we met in Shikoku had the issue upper most on their minds even though they were a long way away from the disaster area. They were very glad we came and showed support. On top of this the riders had a wonderful holiday with great weather and great riding.
There was an inordinate level of emotion being shown by a people who usually are very reserved. In one inn, the owners wife sang us a song during dinner that the local wife’s would sing in that area hundreds of years ago. It was very moving and completely out of the ordinary,
harking back to a desire for simple trouble free times.
 The whole country is in mourning over what has happened and even though it has dropped of the radar here (except for Fukushima) over there it is an incredible open wound. Newspapers and televisions are completely
dominated by the disaster and its aftermath. And of course the unnerving series of “aftershocks” that keep happening daily. The scale of the tsunami is horrendous, as everyone knows, but its impact on the Japanese psyche is deep and maybe permanent. The ocean quite simply swallowed up huge areas of northern Honshu on a level never
experienced in modern times in Japan. This was not a wave in the normal sense, it was a surge, an oceanic river raging over the land. The height of the wave varied depending on local topography. In one valley it
reached a staggering height of 38 metres!
 One detail not reported here is that the land area in Tohoku, where the disaster happened, actually dropped about 30 cm at the time of the earthquake, meaning not only did the sea water rise up from the extraordinary turbulence of the plates moving on the ocean floor, but
the land sunk, doubling the impact of the surge of dirty cold ocean water. The colour itself mostly stemmed from the turbulence raging over the ocean bed off shore, which is mostly made of black sand.
 I have travelled these type of coastal valleys for many years and I now look at them with a level of distrust. They are prime alluvial valleys and fishing ports in a land dominated by mountains. In many cases the populations are mostly old, as the young leave to pursue a life in the
big cities. Many of the dead and missing were old, unable to escape.  There were also a large number of young and fit men lost. Many of these men are heroes who, after rescuing people to higher ground, returned to try and help other people to frail to escape themselves, only to be
swallowed by the madness of raging ocean water where it shouldn’t be and the debris being tossed around by it.
 These coastal societies have been decimated and recovery is not really an option as those who make life tick over, are mostly gone, as are there jobs, homes and lives. The fishing boats are smashed and the once fertile land is still covered in salt water. For the hundreds ofthousand in shelters, there futures are now a mystery.
The quiet peace of these valleys has been replaced by a deep fear of the exposure to the ocean and the ever present sea walls designed to protect against tsunamis now seem almost pitiful.
Away from the disaster area and throughout Japan there economic activity has dried up, cherry blossom parties, weddings, holidays etc all cancelled in most cases. Most foreigners have left and inbound tourism has dried up completely.  Unfortunately, a lot of this reaction overseas is hysterical and not related to any of the facts. Much of the reporting about shortages of fuel and water were plain wrong. As well as this, there are no radiation health issues whatsoever outside of the effected area and there are no
transfers of product outside of this area. The problem is that radiation poisoning plays on our fears of the hidden and unknown. An unseen creeping enemy that you seemingly cant protect against. In fact, the low levels of radiation found, for example in Tokyo, if you were exposed to them for a year, would amount to the same amount of radiation you would be exposed to on a flight between Sydney and Tokyo!
Unfortunately this international reaction is very real and in my opinion, the Fukushima nuclear power plant will be in the news for some time and I don’t expect Japanese inbound tourism to pick up for at least two years. In many ways this disaster has changed both Japan itself and
the international perception of what Japan is. DFAT still has a no travel warning to Tokyo.
Accordingly, I have to face the reality of where my business, Journey into Japan is heading over this period. Since the disaster, I have had virtually no inquiries, and I would usually receive anything from 4-6 inquiries per week from Australia and around the world. Many of these
would turn into bookings for our tours……..” and he goes on from there talking about which tours etc, are cancelled, and so on. 

An interesting, I thought,  perspective of the situation in Japan. This an one or two other blogs I have read recently, including an excellent description by an English girl teaching in Japan, have added a more personal touch tol the, as described above, hysterical reporting in some quarters. I thank those writers for their contributions.

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