Photography is a beautiful format for telling and capturing stories. Olli Stewart is currently exploring Japan on a monumental bike ride from Hokkaido, Japan to Taiwan – raising money for forestry project in Madagascar along the way. Read and see Olli’s amazing story here:
Get woken up by sun, rain, bird or raccoon; decide to set off or linger for a little longer. Eat. Explore. Meet new people. Eat. You never know what each day will bring and as it unfurls the characters you encounter and where you end up are a constant surprise. Seeing the world at a pace that makes it possible to appreciate the rhythms of life is a special thing. Though I have always loved to explore, travelling by bicycle is an entirely new phenomena for me.
Japan is an exceptionally cool country to tour. The cultural contrast with Europe in terms of language and writing systems facilitates a peaceful escape from the constant flow of information that goes hand in hand with everyday western life.
The idea for my Hobo adventure came about after spending an intensely snowy winter season on Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. Being fortunate enough to have some free time and few obligations, what better way was there than to explore the archipelago than by bicycle? Two months and 3500km later I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
My involvement with a community-based forestry project in Madagascar inspired me to make the trip with an environmental purpose. My aim was to try and get 1000 trees planted for the charity TASC Madagascar. This aim also encouraged me to spend as much time as possible immersed in wild environments – which in turn led me to some spectacular places. One of those places was the Shirakami-Sanchi forest, one of the world’s last old growth beech forests and UNESCO world heritage site.
I found a track going right through the middle of the forest with trees spanning in every direction as far as the eye could see. The 80km gravel path was supposed to be closed for winter, but one of the perks of being a ‘clueless foreigner’ meant I couldn’t read the sign! The trail turned out to be little more than an undulating gravel track fractured by rivers and snowdrifts – and I had it all to myself. I encountered a troupe of Macaques and many other critters (luckily no bears) but not a single person. The trail was made exhilarating by my Hobo which handled the dynamic terrain with finesse.
Originally I thought I’d plot out a route, but it never ended up that way. People I met on the way would recommend points of interest and so they became my destinations each day or week. For most of Honshu I stuck to the west coast, taking a great detour round the Noto peninsula – riding about aimlessly in flip-flops meeting fellow hobo’s and visiting fish markets. It was very mellow.
Following the arc of Japan south, I headed inland where Japan revealed its dramatic mountainous and volcanic interior. I battled with some extremely difficult climbs followed by epic winding descents. Always happening upon weird and wonderful things.
There were some great encounters on the trip, usually with people who were interested in what I was up to and why I was there. I was invited into a fisherman’s shack to take cover from a rainy season thunderstorm, met plenty of companions with whom I explored cities, and chanced on a few festivals.
A few times too many, I accidentally found myself on roads I shouldn’t have been on. New roads spring up very quickly in Japan and apparently my digital map couldn’t keep up. A foreigner on a bicycle on a highway seemed to be very confusing for the delightful police. Usually they seemed to need to call a lot of backup to work out the situation… I found other creatures were curious to find out what I was up to as well.
I sought out some of Japan’s captivating history and developed an obsession with Zen gardens.
In Japan, a balanced relationship between objects can be found everywhere, from sake bars to Zen stone gardens. The way different elements relate to one another seems to be very important. An incredible amount of thought goes into arranging many different elements in order to create harmony.
Relationships between people are equally important. After making some great friends in the north, I was offered places to stay and even work if I needed it as I moved further south. The constant broadening of opportunities as I travelled made me realise that I didn’t need to plan that far into the future. I could live completely spontaneously!
As I cycled on into the evenings, spurred on by my Hobo, which felt eager to explore different terrain even after a long day’s cycle, I began to stop worrying about where I would sleep. From bamboo forests to castle gardens, I was confident that I would always find a place to string up my hammock.
After spending most of my life routinely sleeping indoors, sleeping and travelling outside for two months really shifted my perspective of what’s possible.
There always seemed to be an element of luck in meeting the people I met or finding the places I found. Just by being ‘out there’ and keeping my options open the rhythm of chance always seemed to find me.
Now I find myself on the beautiful tropical island of Amami, working at Kazbo’s Stand Up Paddle boarding, surf & burger shop for a while. Every night I cycle on my Hobo to the beach to string up my hammock in spite of the offer of a couch indoors. Why would I choose the mechanical hum of an air conditioner, if I have the option of the sound of the waves and a crystal clear starscape under which to fall asleep?
I’m currently making plans for life in Taiwan. But I will always have my inner Hobo ready to lure me back outside and explore.
Olli Stewart – greenshoot.org
Help Olli to make a point about Climate Change and raise some money for an awesome forestry project in Madagascar: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/OlliStewart
It costs input $5 to plant a tree and the goal is to get at least 1000 trees planted on the way…