Cycling Japan, Via London

Wednesday 2nd January 2020, 9am

A long, long time ago… well, back in 2008 when I was living in Reading, I decided to head off to London to see a document at the British Library. The document in question had been written by Archbishop Sigeric. He was the first to write about a journey from Canterbury to Rome – an early travelogue if you like, albeit a pretty scant one – and, as I was preparing my own trip along the Via Francigena / EuroVelo 5 to Rome (and beyond), it seemed like a good place to start my research. I subsequently made additional trips to London to continue my research, taking in more visits to museums, the annual conference of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome (even though I wasn’t strictly speaking a pilgrim) and several visits to Stanford’s bookshop to peruse their wonderful collection of maps, an obligatory destination for any budding explorer.

Over a decade and three transcontinental cycles later, I find myself planning another long cycle, this time from the northernmost to southernmost points of the main islands of Japan; Cape Sōya 宗谷岬 to Cape Sata 佐多岬. I am, however, no longer living in Reading and, crucially, no longer a short 25 minute ride from Paddington Station and all the capital has to offer. Trips to London can still be done in a day but they require a little more planning and a little more financial investment. But, in the name of research, they are useful so I’m currently sitting in seat B 72 of the 8:15 LNER train from Leeds to London and this is what I have planned for the day:

It’s questionable whether I will fit everything in and the order in which I visit each destination has yet to be decided but I’m thinking that the British Museum will be a good place to start. I was last there in 2013 to visit the Parthenon Marbles prior to the cycle ‘Along The Med…’. I’m guessing that the Japanese galleries are somewhat less controversial. Then Stanford’s (near Covent Garden), Japan House (located in what used to be The Gap on Kensington High Street) before a stroll to South Kensington and the V&A. That will allow me to jump on the Piccadilly line tube back to Kings Cross and the train home at around 8pm.

Have I missed anything?

Talking of the underground, I received this book for Christmas, all about the Tokyo subway gas attack of 1995 and the ‘Japanese psyche’. (There’s nothing like a book about terrorism to get you in the festive mood.) It should keep me occupied for the next hour or so as the train hurtles south. Nice cover, no? More updates later…

9:45am: On the train

Seems fitting that I am travelling on a Japanese designed / built ‘Azuma’ train. Not quite the bullet train but pretty good by British standards…

11:30am: The British Museum, Japan Galleries

Wasn’t quite expecting to queue to enter the museum but at least the location of the Japanese Galleries – north stairs level 5 – has dissuaded the masses from following me…

12:30pm: The British Museum

I’m delighted that I didn’t choose to cycle the length of the Nike as the Egyptian room was beyond packed. The Japanese galleries, thank goodness, weren’t. A simple, intimate telling of the history of Japan illustrated with some astonishingly beautiful objects – old and not-so old – as you can see below. Curious how many Japanese people were in the gallery…

2:30pm: Stanford’s Bookshop…

…has moved. Smaller premises just round the corner which is slightly disappointing. However, I’m delighted to discover my most recent book in there and not only that; it has been reprinted! The error in the first paragraph has been eradicated. Fantastic. I picked up the map of Hokkaido and central Japan (1:700,000 – not ideal but it will suffice) and this a phrase book.

4pm: South Kensington; the V&A and the RGS

Decorative arts are on the agenda at the V&A although their interpretation of ‘decorative arts’ is quite a broad one. A small collection on display for Japan (room 45) and I’m glad I did the British Museum first as it set out the history into which the items can be placed. Some of my favourites are below:

5pm: Japan House, Kensington High Street

From the glass cabinets of the museums to the bright lights and technology of Japan House:

How about one of these on sale in the shop. Only £3,000…

6:30pm: Kings Cross Station

A tiring day! Now back in the north (well Kings Cross – the accents are all northern) for a Wasabi takeaway (it seemed the only fitting option of those available on the concourse of the station) and a, err… a pint of London Pride. It’s been a 99% Japanese day…

Categories: Adventure, Cycling, Japan 2020, Travel

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9 replies »

  1. (Oh, but Azumas are TERRIBLE, by the way – ‘bike spaces’ too small to actually fit bikes, and raised seats too high for anyone smaller than 22 inch frames to be able to ground their feet. Plus they’re as comfortable to relax in as sleeping on an ironing board, and there was more space for hand luggage in Apollo 11. The staff hate them.)

  2. Does your cultural planning include trips to conveyor-belt sushi restaurants? There’s a Yo! Sushi in Leeds. Personally I think vending-machines-that-sell-anything-you-could-imagine are even more Japanese, but where your nearest underwear, puppy or beer dispenser might be, I’m not sure…

  3. Curious. I was also in London today. I had an hour and a half to spare and would have visited the British Museum if I hadn’t had my suitcase. Your mother didn’t mention you were coming on the phone yesterday, but then maybe you hadn’t told her.

  4. A busy day Andrew. My trips are never so well planned. That bike must make your Koga look a bargain!

    • Ha! Alas not… As for planning, this isn’t trip planning; I’ll do that when I set off from Cape Soya. This is just background cultural fulfilment!

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