• Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson
  • Photography: James Gibson

Life is Good. Tour de Nippon – Akita Prefecture

, 2017/10/05

New friendships formed and old friendships sealed. Two days, a bike ride through the forests of Akita, a meeting with an Akita dog, some fresh local food and a late night tent sauna party was all that it took. It was Lucas B.B. and Kaori Berkow the owners and editors of Papersky Magazine who invited the five of us; the Papersky International Media Crew —Jules from Portland, Tina from Los Angeles, Evan from Taiwan, KD from Korea and myself, James from England— to join them on the PAPERSKY Tour de Nippon in Akita Prefecture.

On more than one occasion during the ride I found myself saying “life is good” even when no one is around to hear me. Frequently in life I find myself traveling alone on my harebrained adventures. However, that was most definitely not the case this time, with more than 40 guests from all over Japan and even a few from Shanghai, the US and Taiwan joining us for the two day 80km bike ride through the golden rice fields and blue lakes of Akita country- I was amongst great company from all over planet earth.

Starting early on Saturday morning we headed out from Tazawako Station towards lake Tazawa, ending some 40km later with sore legs and bottoms —that hill climb to the Nyuto onsen that wore us out— at the campsite, our home for the night. Soreness was soon forgotten after a few local craft beers, a delicious dinner featuring fresh Akita mountain vegetables picked by Natsuko Kuriyama and miso based soap featuring bits of bear hunted and prepared by Matagi (wild hunter) Yoma Funabashi. And like a cherry on top, a never to be forgotten magical Tent Sauna Party.

Standing outside the tent sauna waiting for my turn, listening to the raised exuberant voices coming from within… “wowow – so hot – amazing – again!” Then the door opens and several people emerge within clouds of steam. With tensions high disappearing into the darkness towards the lake. Moments later hearing howls of excitement as the sauna bathers plunged into the cold lake Tazawa. Next it’s my turn, I can hardly wait.

We cram inside, the doors zipped closed and the sauna wood-stove heating up so much that the chimney starts glowing red-hot. Inhibitions disappear and conversation flows with stories of the day’s bike ride. I will never forget the happy faces of my fellow adventurers sweating together in the heat.

Then Makoto the tent Sauna Party master starts the ritual. Vihta (a bundle of fresh white birch leaves) dipped in cold water then shaken onto the hot sauna rocks. With steam and heat rising, he whips us one by one with the warmed soothing leaves over our mind-expanded bodies with cries of delight. Suddenly we’re outside again in the cool night air running towards the lake. Refreshed bodies submerged in the cold water, faces looking up at the Akita night sky full of stars. All that follows is uncontrollable laughter. This is when I exclaimed to myself once more; life is good, life is good… so good!

What can I say, riding all day with a group of superhuman-beings was absolutely exhilarating. Alive and enjoying every moment to the full, completely in the moment, in the flow. Mind and body expanded, fully open to experience and learn something new.
All this while visiting natural places with friends new and old while enjoying silent-sports (not requiring a motor). Thank you PAPERSKY, all the guests and supporters, and the International Media Crew I’m so looking forward to seeing everybody again and exploring the Japanese countryside together again on a future Papersky tour de Nippon ride.

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