Cycling has fascinated Paul Walsh since he first came to Japan, more than 30 years ago. He now runs a tourism information and consulting company in Hiroshima. Paul recently published a map for exploring the Shimanami Kaido area by bicycle. He introduces us to that and other experiences, and offers advice on staying safe on Japanese roads.
Later in the program, we hear from Rei Yamada of JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency. She tells us about the JP-MIRAI Portal, a new website that assists international residents with all sorts of aspects of life in Japan.
Living in Japan!
Hello and thanks for stopping by. I'm Stuart. And I'm Ruth.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents of Japan. Whether you're here now or expect to be here in the future.
We're your destination for tips on making the most of your life here.
Ruth, I suppose you've noticed a lot more people on bicycles wearing helmets these days.
Yes, I have. Even though the law about that just took effect in April, the revisions to the Road Traffic Act require anybody cycling to make an effort to wear one.
To make an effort because bicycles are a part of everyday life in Japan. Shoppers ride them to the grocery store. Parents transport their kids to school on them, and of course, some people ride them just for fun.
I love riding around on a bike. It's almost too good to be true with the beautiful nature everywhere. You get some exercise, you get to where you're going, and you do it all without burning any fuel or polluting the air.
I've got this great mental picture of you on a bicycle. I would love to see that one of these days. So, that is why today's theme is "Cycling in Japan." Are you ready? Ride on!
HINTS FROM SENPAISenpai is the Japanese word for referring to someone who has more knowledge or experience than you do. Every month, we invite a senpai in so we can listen and learn.
Today, we welcome Paul Walsh. He's from the U.K. He founded a tourist information and consulting company based in Hiroshima, and he's an avid cyclist. So, he's a go-to guy for info on cycling.
A go-to guy? May be "the" go-to guy. We've got him on the phone right now. Hi, Paul.
Hi. Thanks for calling. Thank you.
So, Paul, you're running a website called Get Hiroshima. What do you want English-speaking people to get about that part of the country?
Well, Hiroshima is really famous, of course, for the nuclear attack in 1945. What we try and do for the last 20 years or so is get people to know a kind of more local side of Hiroshima, beyond the main places that people visit. And so, they can really connect with the people. You really feel that the peace message that Hiroshima is trying to put out and you can really feel it in your, in your gut type of thing.
Hiroshima is absolutely awesome for cycling. You can go just about anywhere by bicycle here.
That's superb. So, were you into cycling back in the UK before you came here?
I cycled a little bit. I had bikes which usually got stolen when I was growing up in the UK, but I actually started cycling when I came to Japan way back in 1991 now. Wow.
So, I was first in Kyushu, and it was a very different situation than I expected. I was expecting it to seem like a Blade Runner type in Japan. And yeah, of course, I was in the middle of Kyushu in Oita Prefecture, and there were these huge mountains all around me, which I'd never seen anything like it in England. I'm from England, so very flat. So, and I don't, I didn't have, still don't have a driving license, so I bought a secondhand bicycle and started looking around by bicycle.
That's so superb. Yeah. I kind of envy that. And that's great stoicism.
Well, it's one of the reasons I don't have a driving license still is that it's so easy to get around by bicycle. We have this amazing bicycle culture here. You know, it's great for long touring and bike riding in the country, but also, it's very practical. You know, people use it for commuting, shopping, you know, taking the kids to school. They're really practical, economical, and it's sustainable transport, too.
That's true. I'm from Australia. And Australia is a huge continent with a very very spread-out population and spread-out to marketplaces and so on. So, people really need cars to get around. But for me, here in Japan, a bicycle is an everyday tool. I used to live in a rural area where kids thought nothing, of course, about riding 10Ks or more to school. In the rain, in the snow, hot or cold. It didn't really matter. They just seemed to be fine with it.
Yeah, it's very similar here, right? I mean, anyone who's been in Japan, especially in the winter, will see the schoolkids biking to school in, you know, without coats on, even when it's really cold. And, you know, it's so ingrained in the way people get around here in their daily lives. There's bike shops everywhere. Most bike stores have a bike pump out in front of their shops that anyone can use free of charge. And if you need to get your bike repaired, it's extremely economical to do that here.
So, you can... on the other side, you know, it's because cycling is so ingrained in the culture, there's quite an interesting cycling culture in the cities has grown up whereーvery different to the UK, where I'm fromーcyclists are often seen on the sidewalk, sharing it with pedestrians.
So, yeah, you do see that often, I think, even though officially cycling is supposed to be on the street, except in certain circumstances. So, there are rules where it is allowed, but basically you're supposed to be on the street. Riding along with cars can be intimidating for cyclists, that's for sure. But riding on the sidewalk can be hazardous for the people on foot.
When you, if you're new to Japan, I would definitely suggest walking your bike on the sidewalks if you can. I agree with that.
Yeah, good idea. Now I really, you know, I haven't tried to count, but I've noticed recently that a lot more people are riding bikes in Japan. So how are the roads?
A few years ago, the transport ministry actually designated six national cycle routes all around Japan. They include Tokapuchi cycle route in Hokkaido and Biwaichi, which goes all the way around Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture, which is quite near Kyoto. And then near me, of course, there's the Shimanami Kaido. It crosses the Setonaikai, the Seto Inland Sea, across the bridges.
Shimano Kaido is one of the country's most famous cycling routes. It's between Hiroshima and Ehime. So, in your opinion, what's so good about that route?
The great thing about is that it's really appropriate for all levels of ability. You can, you have lots of people who fly across the route, you know, on their expensive road bikes. And it's great training route, and it's very beautiful for that. But also, you can just show up. We have an amazing rental bike system, which is very easy to use, very cheap. And so you can just roll up and rent a bike, and off you go. And there's something like 13 rental stations across the route where you can drop your bike off if you, if you get tired or if you want to come back before you finish.
And Paul, tell us about the scenery.
Oh, it's absolutely gorgeous. So, you know, it's super-famous for its like incredible bridges, and as you cross the bridges, it's really like, you're cruising through the air almost, over the blue sea, and you have the islands in the distance. And whenever, I've been many times, but whenever you go, the scenery always looks different, and it changes with the lighting of the sun.
Oh, that sounds superb. That's so beautiful. You can cross like six islands, right, in the Seto inland Sea on your bike from like the Chugoku region to the Shikoku region as well. That's crazy.
It's a great way to get to Shikoku. Yeah.
So, you've published a map about that one, haven't you?
Yes. Yes. We published an English map. That's right.
And does it have anything that you're not able to find on Japanese maps?
It doesn't have anything that's completely separate, but we tend to select the places that perhaps an overseas visitor might find most enjoyable [OK] and focus on those things. We're very, cycling culture is very connected to coffee and cafe culture. So, it's always important to have nice places to stop along the way. That's true.
It's not all about the pushing the pedals.
I actually rode there last year. Oh yeah? Can you believe it? I used a motorized rental bike. That's cheating!
No, it was not cheating. It was hard even with that. And it was just absolutely mind blowing, life changing experience to go through that scenery. It was so beautiful. And the event was sponsored by the prefectural government, and on that day almost 7,000 cyclists rode the route, and we had the highways were closed and everything. So, everybody could go across. Oh, that's great.
It was just wonderful. You could hear the tide, you could feel the wind. I actually took my shoes off and went into the ocean for a little bit. Enjoy the scenery. So, like all of my five senses were really tickled by this lovely experience. It just really was so memorable.
A great type of tourism, right? Yeah.
You can also enjoy another style, which is quite popular in Japan called "Pottering." Have you heard of this word before? No.
I think it comes from the English word, English phrase "pottering around," maybe. Yeah, that makes sense.
You just get a bike, and you basically use it to, as you might say, if you're doing walking, you know. You use it to move around a little quicker, stop off wherever you like. Maybe those cafes again, having a bite to eat or something, or maybe even spending the night at one of the hotels. There's lots of new places opening up along the Shimanami Kaido, continuing on the next day.
That sounds so great. I'm not been there to the Shimanami Kaido yet, but I getーwith my work events and radio and TVーto go all around Japan to all different places. What I try to do is rent a bicycle at the hotel or a bike shop near where I'm staying. It's a great way to get to know where you're staying and the local environment. So, Paul could you tell us about some of your most memorable cycling moments in Japan?
Ah, yeah. Well, I've had so many. I think I've gone pretty much from one end of Japan to the other, and it's created so many great memories. Recently, a couple of years ago, I guess, with my son, I rode all the way around Shikoku Island. So, and there's a lot of people who come to Shikoku to do the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Yes.
And then there's a tradition of helping pilgrims. So, if you, if they see a pilgrim, they will give them a little, usually, it's a little gift of food, something. Something to help them along the way, right? Yeah.
And that, so that spirit, you seem to find that in Shikoku, but also in other parts of Japan, when you're doing these long rides in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. And I've often been given these nice, these nice gifts from complete strangers. It's always really heartwarming.
That must feel so welcoming. That's so great. And for me, riding a bicycle gives me the freedom to live pretty much anywhere I want without worrying about the distance to the train station or the car park. Even in the cities you can cycle to work if you like. Yeah.
That's so true. It's really such a great place for cycling. And I have to say, I think you'll be particularly impressed if you come to Hiroshima. You can see, you can pedal around just about anywhere.
Oh, that sounds so superb. You sold me. I'm there as soon as I can get there. I think we're leaving today.
So, today's Senpai, Paul Walsh, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time out.
Thank you so much for having me.
GOOD TO KNOWAll right. In this part of the program, we get recommendations for enhancing our lives in Japan. Today, Rei Yamada is here to tell us about a brand-new website for international residents. Rei works with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA. Welcome!
Thanks for having me.
JICA is known for its activities abroad, but I've recently learned it does a lot more. For example, it acts as a business incubator for companies moving to Japan. That's so great.
Thank you. That's right. JICA is a government agency that implements Japan's official development assistance, which is ODA, and we are working with partners to tackle the global and domestic challenges. Our support for the international workers in Japan is one of the key activities we've been putting our efforts in recent years with diverse stakeholders. And in 2022, we launched our website and a smartphone application called JP-MIRAI Portal. Mirai is m-i-r-a-i. And this provides details about life in Japan. So, we found that newcomers often had to go hopping from website to website for information about work or life in Japan. So, we tried to make sure ours is a one-stop source for that sort of information.
That's great because sometimes it's all in Japanese, so you have to check. So, it takes so long. So, I'm glad to hear this.
And we also built this service in nine languages, including easy Japanese, Yasashi Nihongo. And we also have this consultation desk called JP-MIRAI Assist, and this is available on this JP-MIRAI Portal. And with this, you can seek advice or help when having troubles at work, school, or household. And also, this accepts online chat and voice calls from Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 to 6:00. Voice calls, too? Yes.
That makes a big difference to be able to make a voice call 'cause sometimes you're so worried about something. And I remember when I first arrived here, I really had no idea what resources were available, where to call, what to do. So, this is super helpful.
Neither did I. I once needed quite a lot of legal help, and I did not know where to start looking. And I had, as you said, there was, in those days, no websites. This is I'm talking about like 20, 25, 30 years ago. And I didn't know where to start, and I had a lot of trouble. This is really, really good.
So, we try to reflect the true needs of people who have moved to Japan so like you, Stuart and Ruth. And the material we have shows how they went about solving problems and efforts they made to succeed at their desired jobs.
So why do you think this kind of website is necessary?
So, I want to share a little bit of my personal story here. I was born and grew up in Japan, and to me the idea of diversity or migration was far from reality when I studied in…until when I studied in Florida for a year as an exchange student.
Florida, that must have been hot. It was very hot.
And there, people came from vastly different backgrounds, and that was very natural. It wasn't like where I grew up, and that was really fascinating to my eyes. And this experience gave me a whole new perspective and eventually led me to pursue my master's degree in Switzerland, specializing in migration. And here I am. Tada-da-da!
This is such a good argument for why everyone needs to study abroad, because your perspective changes. It does.
True, true. And with this my background, I honestly believe in the positive impact that migrating people can bring to our society. At the same time, I know that oftentimes those people tend to be pushed into the, you know, like more burden of a situation within the community, host community, having limited access to necessary information or effective remedy. So instead of setting boundaries between Japanese and internationals, I hope everyone can see each other as an integral part of the society, helping each other. And I'm pretty sure here our JP-MIRAI Portal can add momentum to achieve those things.
We actually had another show about natural disasters, and we were talking about in Japan, the international community can really help in those situations... [Yes, yes, exactly] ...if the communication is happening. So, we need to build a community where there's not this huge difference between Japanese and internationals. We all come together. One team. Yes.
Indeed, JICA is helping to do that through this website. This is absolutely superb, brilliant information. Thank you so much for coming in today. Today's guest was Rei Yamada from JICA. Thanks for joining us. Thank you.
ENDINGFantastic. I want to ride my bicycle.
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Yes, I cannot wait. I cannot wait. See you then. Bye!