Lake Biwa


We awake from our free camp in fairly good spirits the rain has stopped but its windy. One of the old boys that warned us about the bears last night arrives to check if we are leaving/alive. Satisfied that we are alive and packing up he bids us farewell. We pack our soggy tent and damp gear and leave about 9 am just as it starts to rain again. We negotiate our way back down the mountain and get back on the coast road as it is less congested. Eventually we have to turn inland and join route 8 to start heading toward Lake Biwa, the rain gets heavier and heavier. We are heading for Takashima-Shi in the pouring rain praying that Makiko our Horizons Unlimited contact is in.
The odds are stacked against us as its midday on a work day but we have to try, we have had quite a wet few days and all our camping gear is damp. We were in email contact a few weeks ago and she sent us a google map which thankfully we printed out at the hostel in Vladivostok. Karen does a superb job of navigating us through the city and we are in the right road but finding the right house proves tricky there don’t seem to be any numbers on any of the houses. We stop to ask a man in the street but its tricky due to the language barrier, we show him the google map and he confirms we are the right street but is unsure which house we want. He realises that we speak English and goes off to ask the only person he knows that speaks English who lives a couple of doors down. Next minute a woman appears and says “Kevin?” we have found Makiko !

I had a good feeling about Makiko because in her initial email she said you can drop in anytime you like. We are not disapointed as she turns out to be absolutely lovely, a more welcoming chilled person you could not wish to meet. She shows us into her traditional Japanese home but apart from shoes off at the threshhold  there is no standing on ceremony here. We click instantly and she says we can stay as long as we like, we only intend to stay a night or two so we laugh and say we will see !
We are dripping wet so we take off our waterproofs and she shows us a large shed where we can hang everything up to dry.
Makiko takes us inside and and makes us lunch, she is a dark horse and we discover she did a  six year round the world motorycle trip on her own. I want to ask her all about it but “later” she says. She shows us our room and after lunch we sort out our stuff including hanging the wet camping gear up in the shed to dry. Our timing is good she is having a party for her birthday in a couple of weeks time and tonight is the warm up. Her chef friend Makuto is coming to try out a few dishes and two other friends who will be in Venezuela on the actual day are coming over. We have a really nice evening with some superb food which we are more than happy to test.
Next day we plan to do some sightseeing around Lake Biwa but Makiko explains that she has a student she teaches English to coming over at 10am and asks if we can stick around to meet her. She has a listening test coming up soon and it will be good practice for her she says. Misako is about 14 and Makiko teaches her for free as she has been excluded by her peers from school. She is a little shy but lovely in every other way and we are happy to help. Makiko rang her when we showed up and set her the task of thinking of 10 quetions in English to ask us. Her questions were good: how long had we been travelling, how many countries had we visited, what was our favourite season.
It was this one which highlighted the fact that the Japanese learn American English because we were torn between Spring and Autumn, Fall whispered Makiko – oops. England is a very long way away from here and America is geographically and culturally a lot closer. One of her questions was going to be ” in Japan we learn English as a second language, do you learn English too?” She realised when she met us that we did indeed speak English so she asked if we speak Japanese instead. We replied “a little” (please, thank you, hello, goodbye and a few others) and explained that at school we learn French, German or Spanish as they are our closest neighbours.
It was fun and I think she learnt quite a lot, Makiko is a good teacher and I think she is probably learning more useful English with her than she would be at school  (along with confidence which is just as important)
She was amazed when we told her where we had been and we explained to her that if she can learn to speak English she could travel to many places too.
Lesson over we head out to be tourists for the afternoon, we head up the coast of Lake Biwa to a temple Makiko has told us about. It is unusual as the temple gate is in the lake, we take some pictures and explore for an hour or so then turn tail and head back down the lake shore. After sightseeing we head into the next big town to find a supermarket, it has a bakery attached which is not too expensive so we treat ourselves to a couple of things. On the way back we spot Makiko’s friends cafe that we couldn’t find earlier but it will have to wait for another day as we are going to a hot springs tonight with Maki and one of her friends.
We plan to visit Kyoto tomorrow so I ride the bike whilst Karen jumps in Maki’s van, first stop is her friend Shu’s house. Shu lives in a really cool house in the mountains which he shares with two other guys. Maki has roped him in to show me the etiquette for hot springs, men and women are seperate as you bathe naked. I jump in his Suzuki supercarry van and we head off, Shu is a really  likeable guy and speaks quite good English and French to about the same level. I say to him on the way (in French) that my French is rubbish but I understand and speak a bit but we get by in English quite well.
The hot springs isn’t so different to the public baths we tried in Miyako it’s just a posher version. We grab a plastic seat and bowl and wash under the low slung showers. We then have a final rinse dipping a scoop into a big vat of warm water before going in the communal baths. There are 3: one hot and one cold inside and a hot one outside but covered. Also there is a sauna which is what the cold plunge pool is for. We spend a pleasant hour or so trying everything out and eventually get out to wait for the girls. About half an hour later they appear, they have got chatting and lost track of the time. We head back to Shu’s where we are going to have dinner, this time we meet Isao one of his housemates. They are quite a Bohemian bunch of people and we fit right in, Maki volunteers me to cook dinner so I ask what there is to cook. They produce a wonderful array of vegetables and big hunks of venison. I can’t quite believe it as I know that none of them has a conventional job as such but it turns out Isao is an organic vegetable farmer and Shu keeps goats and makes delicious organic goats cheese, the deer meat they get for nothing from local farmers. There are a lot of deer around here and they are considered a pest as they eat the rice crops, there is an open season when the farmers shoot them but unbelievably a lot of Japanese won’t eat the meat. It is really nice meat and I cube it and brown it in a pan and combine it with stir fryed vegetables which seems to go down well. We spend a nice evening drinking, talking and eating. The house has a traditional style firepit set in the floor and it burns charcoal (which Shu makes) so there is no smoke and no need for a chimney. We roast some sweet potatoes in the coals which leads  Karen to suggest roasting some bananas in tin foil. At home we add dark rum and demarara sugar or chocolate pushed into slits cut in the flesh. Eveyone gets very exited about trying it until we realised that there isn’t a banana in the house, drat !
In the morning Maki is away at the crack of dawn to see to her horse-Shiro we get up around 7am but it is pouring with rain and definitely not a day to be sightseeing. Isao makes us pancakes for breakfast which are delicious washed down with coffee, after breakfast Shu offers me the use of his computer which has much faster internet than Maki’s and a printer. We can see the end of our Japanese leg looming and we have been discussing what to do next for a few days although its hard to research with no reliable internet connection. We decide not to look a gift horse in the mouth and I start lookng up shipping companies etc. Our original plan was to go to Australia next but we have always been a bit concerned about the fact that we will be slap bang in the middle of their summer. Aussy summers can be quite brutal especially in the outback and we want to have a good tour round. A while back it occured to us it might be good to go to New Zealand first and then double back to Australia before shipping to South America. It is a bit more complicated but New Zealand’s summer will be much more comfortable on a bike allowing us to explore Australia in the Autumn or Winter. I go on to the Horizons unlimited website there is a section on here with actual shipments made by previous travellers and it was on here that I first discovered there is a roll on roll off car transportation service from Japan to Australia. I find the name of the company that runs it and google them and sure enough they run a circular route from Japan to Australia and then on to New Zealand. This is good news so I email them to get a price and start researching if we can ship from Australia to South America. This to seems to be no problem either so then we start looking into dates and customs procedures etc.
This turns into an all day job which is not a problem as its still heaving it down with rain and the lads don’t seem to mind, we get a price of £500 all in which seems reasonable. I start the ball rolling with a customs agent in Auckland and we contact some of the New Zealand HU communities to say we are on our way soon and would like to meet bikers/travellers and can anybody offer us a place to stay or assistance while we are there. This is interspersed with looking up new vegetables for Isao and diy woodburning stoves and composting toilets for Shu. He and Maki are both building there own dwellings and are very self sufficient. We have made some good progress but eventually I can do no more but wait for replies. Makiko has arranged for her English friend Louise to visit this evening but she did say to us that if we stayed at Shu’s to ring her and they will come here. She arrives around six and she says there is good news and bad. Bad being Louise can’t make it, good being this now means we can all stay over again and she can drink woohoo, party on !
She has also bought bananas bless her so we set to raiding Shu’s drinks cabinet loking for some suitable alchohol. Shu cooks dinner and we will make pudding afterwards, dinner is venison sliced and pan fried with vegetables cooked in a Tajin a Moroccan Earthenware cooking pot that bakes them with no water oshi !(Japanese for yummy). Isao also makes a delicous curry with coconut milk and we have a good portion of each. It is one of the few times in Japan that I feel really stuffed, normally I am perpetually hungry.
Pudding time, we show everyone what to do. We found some pear brandy earlier which works well and add some honey close the tin foil parcels and put them in the fire. It takes a couple of test prods to get them right but everyone really likes it. Maki says “its amazing it goes in banana and comes out pudding.” Another good evening ensues.
Next day dawns bright and fine so we say our thank you’s and sign their visitors book and take pictures – it seems we are not the first travellers to stay with them.
 Just before we go Isao gives us a roasted sweet potato each for lunch, thanks mate!
What brilliant people, we are so lucky to have met them and Makiko.
Maki introduced us because she thought we would all get on, she was trying to explain that we were quite similar when we told her there is an English saying “birds of a feather flock together” she seemed to like this and said “we are all of the same feather, yes? “
Yes Maki we are !

  1. #1 by Jane on November 13, 2010 - 11:35 am

    What wonderful people you are meeting, look forward to seeing all the photos soon. Jane x

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