Nippon, aka Japan is an archipelago of over 6000 islands in southeast asia, consisting of 126 million people.  The characters that make up “Japan” means sun origin, probably why Japan is often known as “the land of the rising sun.”  They have the World’s 3rd largest economy, 2nd lowest homicide rate, and 5th largest military budget (although they have officially taken away there right to declare war and use this budget for self defence and peace keeping missions.)  The people are really amazing, always laughing, laid back and welcoming to foreigners.  I was taken back by the kindness I experienced in the 2 weeks over there by 99.9% of everyone I met.  Yuki and his fiancee Saya, really took me under there wings and set up home stays,races and tours for the full 2 week trip.  This was unexpected and made for an unforgettable adventure.

Things started off with some top notch fun with TK and his family.  TK own’s the Forza bike shop in Tsukuba, I met him at the Mongolia Bike challenge.  He had his mechanics build up my bike early the next morning after I arrived.  Heading down to his shop after breakfast on friday the 13th I had a little surprise waiting.  Hey Cory! there’s a little problem with your bike, the airline crushed it, don’t worry though, Kona Japan is already sending a replacement!”  What!?, umm ok.  Thanks!   I’m not sure how TK made that news into a positive statement, but he did and we dealt with the problem.  The irony here is that I have travelled for over 8 yrs around the world using sketchy cardboard bike boxes with no problems ever.  This year I was donated a $700 “special” bike bag to keep my bike safe while travelling.  Sometimes its best to not mess with a working formula, although whatever Air China did to my bike required a lot of excessive force and effort.

The marathon race at Otaki was awesome.  The most memorable part of the weekend was the toilet.  The toilets in Japan are automated and really smart.  There is a control panel beside them with a host of options, with one button in particular standing out for a bum wash.  This button TK spent a long time convincing me it was worth a try,  I was scared  but finally gave it a push.  I jumped off the toilet seat as a stream of warm water hit my underside.  I felt violated and never pushed that button again.  Not sure what the deal is with the bum washes over here but I’m going to stick with the Canadian style of using toilet paper, or moss if up in the mountains.

After the Otaki race weekend Yuki set me up in the mountain town of Fujimi with his friend and fellow racer Shun Matsumoto.  It was a great week of training, going to hot springs, eating huge Japanese feasts and exploring the Japanese countryside.   After this it was onwards to the base of Mt Fuji for the weekend to be a guest rider with Yuki at an entry level race.  It was an experience.  The race music sounded more like that from an amusement park with songs such as “Who killed the radio star”, a stark contrast from the traditional ACDC or Metallica pump up music.  It was all set up for a “feel good” festival and was pretty hilarious.

The Japan tour ended after 3 days with Yuki and Saya in Tokyo. That city is enormous.  We took the transit downtown to Tokyo Central station one day to meet up with Takuya Adachi who was bringing over my new Kona frame from Interbike.  The station itself is nearly as big as Jasper.  I would’ve never made it out of the transit system without Yuki there as there was trains and subways heading everywhere.  The bike riding in the city was interesting as well.  Yuki took me on one real cool training loop in the mountains on the edge of the city.  It was semi-jungle with monkeys, sketchy insects, bamboo and lots of shrubbery on the trail.  The side effect of being in Tokyo is that it takes 1.5 hrs of commuting through traffic both ways to get there.  Makes for a solid training day.  On this trip Yuki booked as a  guesthouse on the edge of the city to avoid this, and to take in more of the stellar Japanese culture.

The food over here was superb.  Favourites were  Sobe (gluten free buckwheat noodles), buckwheat ice cream, Unagi (Eal), and of course Sushi.  Some of the Sushi restaurants are like giant arcades.  We would sit at our table with a television, selecting whichever Sushi we wanted, and then it would come shooting out of the kitchen down a conveyor belt to the table.  Once the sushi plate was clean we would slide it into a hole in the table, it would keep track of how many plates ($) and every 5 plates it would shoot out a toy from a bin above as a reward.  It seemed like everywhere we went in Japan life was set up for enjoyment.

It was a sad day leaving Japan on wednesday, as Yuki and I headed to the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for a UCI World Marathon Series race and the 6 day Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge.

We raced the UCI Marathon yesterday in 40 degree heat and humidity off the charts.  The course was a 3 laps through the jungle with 2 hike a bike climbs every lap.  It was one of the hardest races I ever done.  Coming in 7th earned me a spot at the Worlds in South Africa next year which is sweeettt!  Although there were parts of the race which felt more like survivor then racing.  Full report to come.

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