The month of May is a special one for me, primarily because it’s the time of year that twenty to thirty 40 somethings, all lycra clad males and females, embark on our annual charity pilgrimage to the tsunami and earthquake devastated regions of Miyagi in Tohoku.
(Read more about our cause here)
Since 3/11, I have travelled to the region for various charity work such as post earthquake cleanup, supporting the elderly in their temporary homes, and delivering food to the people who even to this day are still in need of community support.
For a developed country like Japan, I feel there is still a lot of work to be done. But this year, I am happy to report that there was definitely a noticeable difference with the development of new roads, less debris and lots of heavy vehicles visible during our ride.
Here is a report of our 3.5 day cycle:
Day 1: Nihonbashi -> Sakura (Tochigi), 160 km
We started early on May 20th at Nihonbashi, waved and cheered off by a small entourage of friends, families and work colleagues around 7am. The weather was definitely our our side too as we battled through the crazy weekday morning of commuters, taxis, and lorries to the Edogawa, up the Tonegawa, all the way to the small town of Sakura, north of Utsunomiya.
Day 2: Sakura (Tochigi) -> Nihonmatsu (Fukushima), 150 km
Day 2 was a slightly tougher ride but more picturesque without the heavy traffic. This time we had a slight downpour of rain in the early afternoon and some strong breezes which hindered progress slightly but certainly didn't wet the banter and team camaraderie.
We all arrived in separate groups of 5-6 people around 3-4pm in the afternoon after another great day in the saddle. Although a little less luxurious than the hotel we stayed at in Sakura, the staff were very welcoming, and even the locals in the town wanted their photos taken with us when it was time to leave the following morning.
Day 3: Nihonmatsu (Fukushima) -> Matsushima (Miyagi), 140 km
This was the best day of this mammoth trek. We travelled through some absolutely stunning countryside: along river gorges, up and down hills (some big and some small) and along the coast.
This year we bypassed the route we took last year along the Sendai coast and under the airport, which you may recall was completely devastated by the tsunami. This road is nowadays the main artery for the plethora of lorries and cars transporting everything from building materials to supplies for communities in the region. It was a treacherous section of road which we cyclists happily avoided in order not to delay the redevelopment of Tohoku (and in turn possibly avoided any kind of mishap or accident).
As we entered Matsushima, we rested our bikes on a small fence overlooking the bay. For those who have not been there it is a stunning vista of clear blue sea and odd-shaped mushroom style islands scattered across the bay. This area was also in the firing line of the tsunami but the saving grace were the islands themselves which did a lot to protect the main town from the initial impact the sea dished out. When we finally arrived at the Breeze Bay Hotel after a steep 2 km hill climb, we all felt like we had completed a stage of “le Tour”.
Day 4: Matsushima (Miyagi) -> Minami Sanriku (Miyagi), 95 km
The final day was one of very mixed emotions. There were riders who have not been to this area before and those that had. Speaking as one who has, I can say that the work now happening in Tohoku is amazing. The landscape is changing, hopefully for the better, not just with the infrastructure but with new buildings and new initiatives being created in the area. There is still a long way to go however and as we rode 95 km on the last day to the Kanryo Hotel in Minamisanriku we were humbled in our tracks by some of the remains which stand as memorials of that fateful day in March 2011.
We arrived at the hotel around lunchtime to be greeted by the hotel staff and a small entourage before the final 15km to our destination just north of the town. This last 15km was what it was all about, arriving at a section of desolate gravel wasteland which used to harbour a thriving community 4.5 years ago.
This area where the tents are set up, now used for various events as you can see, used to be a residential area.
There were a couple of hundred residents of the town, a team from the US navy and TV personality Hayami Yu there to lead us in to a huge celebration of our ride and what we were doing to support business initiatives in the region.
It gave many of us a chance to sit with people of the town and talk to them about their needs and fears for the future. It also finally gave us a chance to get off leather perches that had been home to our backsides for the last 500 km and enjoy the kind hospitality of this decimated town as well as the US navy who had come down especially to cook a huge feast for us.
It was a time to celebrate our achievement, not only riding but raising and smashing our target of 5.5m yen: we have raised 6.2 million yen as I write, and still counting. It was also a time to reflect and spare a thought for the work being done and the long road to recovery in this area.
For those interested in our charity, donations are still open: O.G.A for AID
Thank you to all who contributed to our cause, and to all the weekend cyclists out there - come and join us next year!