Our family—Xavier, myself and our daughters Nayla and Fibie—have been cycling across Japan from Tottori to Hokkaido. We are Japan Eco Track Ambassadors giving talks along the way and sharing our story. Once we finish our journey from Tokyo to Osaka through Nagano, we will have ridden approximately 6,000 kilometers. Here is a glimpse of our life on the road.
Tottori and Fukui
We began our Japan adventure in Tottori while joining our first Sea to Summit event, a series of human-powered races organized by Montbell. After kayaking and cycling, our family reached the top of Mt. Daisen. “Despite the strong wind, the view was incredible,” notes Nayla.
It was an intense start as we recall the mountainous climbs along the coast. The view on the bays and the charming little fishing villages were the reward. The delicate, sweet smell of flowers emanated from the lush vegetation as we reached the top of each pass.
Living outside every day and sleeping in a tent means we experience all kinds of weather. Typhoon Mawar sent a depression over Japan that led to various alerts for heavy rains, landslides and wind surges.
“We definitely tested the waterproofness of our tent!” laughs Xavier. The tent was floating on puddles, but we were ok. The next morning we celebrated the sun, not only because it dried everything, but the sky was so intensely blue. Nature was vibrant, and the green of the forest seemed even more radiant.
In Fukui Prefecture, we passed the foot of Mt. Haku. Suddenly, we discovered a magnificent waterfall. It was about 20 meters high and as soon as Nayla saw the bamboo ladder to the water, she started to undress. “Let’s go for a swim in the waterfall!” she exclaimed at the top of her voice.
We then rode the valley deep into the mountains until we reached the Kuzuryu River. The gorge cuts through the black vertical rock walls covered in dense forest. We arrived in a special place, surrounded by mountains, vegetation and the meandering river. This was where we pitched our tent. The turquoise-blue river was an invitation. In no time, we were swimming in the river. The songs of birds, sometimes melodious, sometimes shrill, alternated with the melody of the rain.
In Ishikawa Prefecture, we were welcomed by the “Great Cedars of Kayano.” We wondered in front of these 2,300-years-old Japanese red cedars. Our two daughters were so excited to see the base of the trees were more than ten meters in circumference and three meters across! They entered the sanctuary with sparkles in their eyes.
This is how our daughters cycle every day. Our ten-year-old, Nayla, rides every kilometer on her own. Fibie (six years old) can either cycle or be on the tandem bike system. But really they don’t cycle for the rewards, they cycle out of wonder. For us, every day is unique, never knowing how the day will unfold. There could be a river to swim in, an interaction with locals, an animal we discover. Our life is full of surprises. Some days can be hard, or boring, then suddenly we receive something that is more incredible than what we could imagine. On this day we witnessed the sugi trees in Kayano and then dolphins jumping near Noto-jima. This is how Nayla and Fibie nourish their trust in life and their motivation to keep on going. Wonder is what makes the difference.
In Noto Peninsula, we cycled eight kilometers on the beach. We all tried to take our hands off the handlebar while riding in front of the waves. Reaching Shiroyone Senmaida, we were surprised to see the rice terraces, amazed by the elegance of all these shapes, and the reflection of the light green rice plants in the water.
Arriving in the port town of Himi in Toyama Prefecture, we were stunned by the breathtaking views of the majestic 3,000-meter Tateyama Mountains towering above Toyama Bay. “The summits were piercing the clouds, which made them even more impressive.” recalls Xavier.
Riding along the coast, we could enjoy the fresh breeze as well as the amazing view of the sea. This is one of many reasons Japan is special. There aren’t many places in the world where the roads follow the coast so close that you can hear the sounds of the waves and even spot some fish while riding.
Our arrival in Toyama also signaled the advent of tsuyu—Japan’s rainy season. We cycled under pouring rain; sometimes it was hard to even see the road! It was very difficult because we were still camping. Keeping a few shirts dry was the challenge and as soon as we had a little bit of sun we had to dry everything out.
We climbed 1,000 meters in elevation in heavy rain to reach Mt. Madarao. There we were welcomed by Mayuko and Mark Stahnke. It happened a few times along the way, locals opening their doors to welcome us. We learned to make soba noodles with Ariya-san and had the chance to discover the numerous hot springs in Nozawa Onsen—and even boiled some eggs in the onsen water with Chris Hinds. We enjoyed standup paddle boarding in Teradomari with Kimura-san. We were really touched by the generosity of the people along the way. One day we also received a bag of apricots from a stranger. “It was so oishii,” announced Fibie.
Tohoku Heat and Matsuri
Entering the heat of summer, we had the chance to discover some festivals like the sand statue matsuri in Mitane, Akita, as well as hanabi (fireworks) with other Japanese children. It was so hot, we would wake up at 5 a.m. to the song of the cicadas and start cycling early in the morning. Despite this, we spent long days in the suffocating heat, sometimes with little shade to protect us.
In Yamagata, we walked the stairs to reach Yamadera Temple. We were deeply moved by the beauty of this mystical place. From one spiritual place to another, we hiked to Gassan, the mountain of rebirth. It was at this point we took part in our second Sea to Summit event.
“I loved climbing it (Gassan) and playing with the dragonflies at the top,” says Fibie.
Entering Akita Prefecture, we had problems with the tire on the trailer and then the inner tube. We ran out of spare tubes and Xavier had to find a solution. It’s a 12-inch tire, so it’s very hard to find in Japan. We couldn’t buy one without placing an order. In the end, Xavier took a 20-inch inner tube and folded it in half. It worked! Then, with the help of Schwalbe Tire in Germany and PR International in Nagoya, we received new tires 300 kilometers further down the road.
We then saw Mt. Iwaki standing out against the horizon, a sumptuous stratovolcano overlooking apple and pear orchards that symbolize Aomori Prefecture. We were about to arrive in the city for the famous Nebuta Matsuri, one of Japan’s most famous summer festivals. Here in northern Honshu, the festivals are renowned for their passionate atmosphere. This was the first time in three years the festival had been held. The celebration was gigantic and the atmosphere incredible. Illuminated floats were fascinating and sometimes frightening, and the sound of the taiko was thrilling! Nayla and Fibie danced and sang all evening to the frenetic rhythm of “Ra-se-ra!” and were still singing a few days later.
Cycling in Wild Hokkaido
We simply loved cycling in Hokkaido. Nature is powerful, like the bears that inhabit the land. We had the chance to camp in amazing landscapes, in front of magnificent lakes and facing high summits like Mt. Yotei. We were thrilled to hike to the top of Asahidake, the tallest peak in Hokkaido where we participated in our third Sea to Summit—Nayla taking part in the entire event—kayaking, cycling and reaching the summit on the same day.
“I really like Montbell’s Sea to Summit. It feels like I am part of a big family,” she explains.
It was the first time we hiked to the top of an active volcano—but a few weeks later we reached our second volcanic peak, Mt. Tarumae. “Both places exude a powerful energy,” notes Xavier.
Our sacred place in Hokkaido is Lake Kanayama. We stayed there a few days after having been there seven years ago. It was there that our connection with Japan began.
Back to Honshu
After a wonderful welcome in Tomakomai, we took the ferry back to Honshu pulling into port in Sendai. The next part of our journey will first take us to Tokyo and then Osaka through Nagano. Along the way, we will continue to give a number of talks that are open to the public. We hope to inspire people to go outside and enjoy the great outdoors. It is so important for the development of children. Nayla is cycling the entire route and it is an incredible challenge, especially with the talks along the way. She has already logged 3,000 kilometers in Japan, through mountains, over passes, beneath the rain and sweltering heat. She is still excited to ride, because it is a way to nourish her sense of wonder.
Our daughters know what it means to wonder because they don’t consider the world as conquered nor do they take it for granted. Rather they receive it as a gift. Maybe it is your turn to go and explore Japan’s amazing nature with wonder—and take your children along for the ride!
Follow the Pasche family on their journey or, better yet, meet them along the way for one of their Eco Track talks in Tokyo, Mie, Nara or Osaka. You can support their mission by purchasing their photography book form Montbell stores and the Montbell online store or by making small donations to plant seeds of hope through their website.