Break-dancer, musician and amateur short filmmaker Vladimir Yatsina is fascinated with Asian culture — and it is this infatuation that prompted the University of Saskatchewan dentistry student to engage in a 12-day bicycling tour across Japan over the summer.
Taking his dad Alex along for the excursion, Yatsina’s Japanese biking trek was anything but a typical father-son potato sack race in the park. Flying from Vancouver to Tokyo, leaving most of their belongings at a hostel and then boarding a speed train bound for Hiroshima to begin the biking adventure describes the early stages of Yatsina’s amazing adventure.
“Part of the reason why my dad went with me is because his dad, my grandpa, always talked about going to Japan and never got to and he passed away two years ago. My dad was kind of thinking we’d do it for my grandpa. He never got to see it but he would have loved it,” said Yatsina.
“My parents always thought it was weird I was fascinated with Japan, but my grandpa had it, so maybe it just skipped a generation,” explained Yatsina.
After spending some brief time in Tokyo’s colossal technology district that makes the West Edmonton Mall look like a rural strip mall, Yatsina was more than ready to get the trip underway. He said it only took three hours to travel the roughly 800 kilometre distance between Tokyo and Hiroshima aboard the city’s sleek bullet train.
Upon arriving in the famous city of Hiroshima, whose name is synonymous with the disaster of World War II, the exciting biking portion of the father-son holiday kicked into high gear. Surprisingly, Yatsina’s father trusted his son’s faith in the Internet and the plan to “couch surf” across Japan.
The term has been popularized by the website couchsurfing.com, a site which invites users from around the world to provide free accommodations for those from other countries travelling in the area. Essentially couch surfing is a newly emerging, cost effective method of travelling, a means of meeting interesting people and experiencing new cultural perspectives.
Yatsina’s first cycling mishap soon presented itself in the form of wrong directions.
“We got 30 kilometres outside Hiroshima and realized we were lost. Hiroshima is on the coast and there’s a little peninsula and we were just going to cross but somewhere we took a wrong turn and started going down towards it.
“There are a ton of mountains in that area so we couldn’t even see where the ocean was. The maps we had weren’t that good either and the road signs sometimes weren’t clear, especially when most of them were in Japanese. We did an extra 50 kilometres that day.”
Yatsina absorbed some Japanese language skills prior to the trip and was able to decipher some boggled instructions from an elderly Japanese woman, who set them on the right path. The Yatsinas travelled approximately 130 kilometers that day on the pair’s street bicycles, and it was likely the most trying and fatiguing day of the entire trip.
Cycling through rural dwellings, islands and over the massive suspension bridges which comprise the coastal Japanese landscape, it was not long before Yatsina and his father encountered their next cultural dilemma. Approaching the Japanese city of Onomichi, they encountered Japanese law enforcement, who were not impressed with the Canadian duo’s cycling practices.
Unaware that cycling on the particular stretch of road they were on was illegal, Yatsina soon discovered that many highways in Japan were similar and do not allow vehicles that fall below a certain horsepower. Scooters and motorbikes are not allowed on certain Japanese highways and bicycles, being the slowest form of transport, are even more of a no-no.
“The cop told us we weren’t allowed to be there and then called a patrol car. More police came out and took our passport numbers and information down. They were being very polite the whole time and almost apologetic when they were telling us we weren’t allowed to be on that road,” said Yatsina.
“They were kind of like, ”˜sorry sir, you are not allowed to bike on this road, sorry for the inconvenience.’ After that, they escorted us off the highway.”
The police followed the Canadian cyclists for some time, Yatsina said, giving directions through their speakerphone.
“They turned on their speakerphone on the car to direct us, so every once in a while we’d hear a voice behind us in a heavy Japanese accent screaming ”˜Right!’ or ”˜Left!’ It was quite the experience.”
After nearly a month of cycling and visiting temples and shrines, innumerable miscommunications and taking pleasure in the splendor of Japan’s surroundings, the Yatsinas were ready to return to Canada.
People in Japan won’t soon forget about the friendly Canadian duo though. Yatsina left Canuck markings nearly half a world away by generously giving away backpacks full of Canadian maple syrup and Saskatoon berry jam to friendly Japanese people, in return for providing directions.
Yatsina is already planning another return trip to Asia next summer, and if a time comes when maple syrup bubble tea becomes popular, we know who’s to blame.
images Vladimir Yatsina