With only 2 episodes remaining, it was time to think about an ending point. The team needed to get far west and fast, and nothing covers ground like a bike, especially one ridden by Michael Rice from the Neilpryde team. Michael joins Dean and takes him on a 200km super ride through the whole of Hyogo Prefecture and all the way to Tottori Prefecture. Way out on the west coast, Tottori offers A LOT to visitors. First of all it has the largest dune formations in all Japan, which they decide to sand-board down! It is also the home of GeGeGe no Kitaro, a manga series which has turned a whole town into a monster theme park! Lastly and again in complete contrast, Tottori is home to Mount Mitoku, a scared mountain, with a spectacular hanging temple at it’s peak, and a perfect final destination the team.
Dean Newcombe, Duncan Buckley, Natali Jacobsen and Timothy Buerger
Kyoto, Hyogo and Tottori Prefectures
Points of Interest
Kyoto City, Tottori Sand Dunes, Yonago Station, Sakaiminato, Misasa and Mount Mitoku
The Iron Man
In Episode 11, the team must reach ‘Tottori Prefecture’, 200km away from Kyoto. The only way to cover those kind of distances, is by bike, and who better to lead Dean in his first ever 200km cycle than the face of ‘Neilpryde Bikes’ himself, Michael Rice. The Ironman athlete arrived in the Neilpryde support car in the early morning, at ‘Kyoto Tower’. He carried with him a beautiful ‘Nazare’ aerodynamic bike and everything he needed to turn Dean’s ‘Zephyr’ model bike into a 200km tackling machine. Michael gave the bike some much needed maintenance. The chain was so dirty from over 40 days on the road, it barely turned! The big change today though would be the clip-less peddles, and thinner faster wheels. The bike would move quicker, but would be less stable. Dean would also, for the first time ever, have his feet attached to the peddles – great for maintaining power in the whole circumference of peddling, but bad when stopping and forgetting you can’t put your foot down! Michael leads Dean off at a quick pace, but the route is questionable, and before they can make any real progress, they are off their bikes, carrying them through a bamboo forest! Michael teaches Dean ways to improve his riding and they power on all morning, passing 100km, and stopping for lunch. Half the distance was complete, but Dean was clearly suffering, and for once, was finding it hard to eat. Fortunately, time is in fact a healer, and after an hour, they return to the road for the last 100km. They ride along a beautiful river and then up and down mountain passes until eventually the ‘Tottori’ coast line nears. Very little daylight remained, and as fast as they could peddle, by the time they walked on the dunes, having completed the massive 200km cycle, the sun had set and it was dark. They retired to a small guest house, Dean now knowing what it meant to be a professional level rider.
The Sand Dunes
Waking up in Tottori means waking up at Japan’s only large sand-dune formation. It was time to go and say hello to those camels. Natali and Dean pick their favorite camels and ride a short loop on the the dunes. Being the number one tourist spot in this part of Japan, the team find souvenir shops, but life here moves slowly. An old dog lies in the middle of the shop floor, and all the items sold are either camel, or pear themed, which is the fruit famously produced in this region. The area also seems to be famous for manga characters, one named ‘Conan’ who strangely has on almost the same outfit as Dean! Time for some action. Another reason to visit the dunes is for sand-boarding, and they can even pick boards and helmets that match their team colors. Duncan, Natali, and Dean strap boards to their feet, and take on the dunes. Duncan is fearless, but ends face first in the sand more times than not. Dean stays upright and conquers the dunes, but gets no more than a little hop for a jump. Natali proves to be most entertaining to watch, either epically bailing out on the dune half way down or riding the board like a toboggan, which at times, Dean hitches a ride on. When Duncan has exhausted himself with somersaulting and tricking in the sand, they walk back, discovering a ‘Starwars’ sand sculpture, and yet another way to enjoy the sand here! They thank ‘Tottori Sakyu Sandboarding school’ and add yet another sticker to the van. They then head inland to find these famed pears. They find an orchard, where you can pick and eat freely any pears you find. The farmer takes them to the orchard, in the back of a small Japanese Kei truck. The team enjoy very much picking, cutting, and eating the pears. Natali seems to enjoy equally, finding a frog, and nesting it on Dean’s head! They eat until they can’t eat anymore, that is until someone says ice cream! They return to the dunes in the back of the truck, with views of rural Japan passing them. They grab their pear flavored ice creams, and head to the dunes. People from all around the world come to this part of Japan and the sunset is a beautiful time to climb the dunes and to watch the sun fade away. (More from the Dunes by Only in Japan!)
The team finally get to the bottom of this famous manga, hearing about the ‘GeGeGe No Kitaro’ comic, and even how a small town has become like a ghost and ghoul style theme-park! They head for ‘Yonago Station’ to find out more. The lovely ladies at the information centre not only point them in the right direction but let them try on crab hats…only in Japan! It’s all aboard the ‘Yokai’ (ghost) train, which runs to the town of ‘Sakaiminato’, made famous by the manga author ‘Mizuki Shigeru’. On board you find old ladies and school children using the train route like any other, but the carriages are themed to match the illustrations of GeGeGe! At ‘Sakaiminato’, Natali meets a fellow Russian working here, who arms them with local info, and they head off down the ‘Yokai’ street. Tim battles Natali to collect the many stamps of the different monsters here. Dean gets slowed down chatting with the many school children enjoy field trips, and Duncan goes to a model-making shop, where an old man produces figurines in the same way he has done for many years. The owner of this shop even lets our team dress up in giant ‘Yokai’ masks – which proves useful for scaring / entertaining the passing children! At the small ‘Yokai’ shrine, a giant eye ball spins at the entrance. Further down the street, characters from the Manga, like ‘Nezumi-Otoko’, the ‘rat-man’! And ‘Nekomusume’, the ‘cat daughter’ walk the street. Dean dances with ‘Nekomusume’, while Natali goes to buy candy treats which look like eye-balls! Dean returns the favor, buying trick spicy candy that Natali seems to eat like it’s not spicy at all – the joke’s on Dean! As they return down this monster themed street, they meet a character in a suit, which they can only assume must be ‘Shigeru Mizuki’ himself, in his younger days. We hold a one way conversation, as we do with all the suited characters! Before leaving on the themed train out of town, Natali goes to the post office to send a wooden postcard to Megan, while Dean and Duncan buy a whole host of character themed baked breads, which become perfect for sharing with locals on the train. Duncan thinks it’s all over, but Dean has a surprise for him and takes him to an ‘Onsen’ hotel with ‘Yokai’ themed rooms! They are quick to change into ‘Yukata’ (Japanese loungewear) and then begin hunting around the hotel for characters from the famous GeGeGe manga series. It leads them to drinking milk outside the Onsen, a popular tradition with Japanese bathers, and then to a massage chair, which comes across more like a torture chair! They did find all the characters though, and win a whole load of snacks, which seemed completely unnecessary, as they were faced with a huge Buffett dinner. For once neither of them could eat enough of this magnificent food, but they did of course take advantage of an ice-cream making machine! Back in their room, the day finishes for our boys inside a ‘Nekomusume’ themed room, full of ‘Yokai’ and yet a place of pleasant dreams.
In the morning, Dean and Duncan tell the team about their scary time in the ‘Yokai’ room, but today, in stark contrast, would be a very spiritual day. They would finish their journey at ‘Mount Mitoku’, a sacred mountain home of ‘Sanbutsu-ji’ a historically significant temple. Duncan suggests that Dean should shave for such an occasion, and they go to see a local barber shop. In traditional fashion, a little Japanese man gives Dean his closest ever shave while out on the streets in the small town of ‘Misasa’, Natali meets a ryokan owner. He shows them around his very traditional building and close by there is also a natural built foot spa, which Duncan and Natali take advantage of. Feeling refreshed, they head for ‘Mitoku Mountain’. Temples sit at the base of the mountain and Dean pulls a string of giant beads here, which is said to remove impurity. Further along the track, Natali finds a small outdoor altar which produces incredible sounds when you pour water over it. They begin climbing, at first up ancient stone staircases, and then soon, onto the mountain path. As you enter the sacred area, you have a choice to wear ‘Zouri’ (Japanese straw footwear), which of course the team do. With Dean’s heel and toes touching the dirt, unable to fit on this tiny straw like sandal, they climb steeply until they reach a temple building high on the mountain, jutting out over the forest below, and offering incredible views. They move on, at times needing hanging chains, to take on the notoriously wild climb. At the end of what is a relatively short, yet intense, climb, they are faced with the end of the hike, and the famous hanging temple. This mysterious construction called ‘Sanbutsu-ji’ is not accessible, but is an amazing site to behold. Dean, Natali, and Duncan take a moment here, and speak about the end of the runAway journey coming soon. After heading back down the track, they remove their zouri, which they keep now as a type of well-worn souvenir. Back in ‘Misasa’, there is an outside Onsen by the river which Dean and Duncan brave, along with a handful of local old men. The evening entertainment is found in a dated amusement centre with a cork gun shooting range and the Japanese gambling game of ‘Pachinko’. There is also a local sweet shop in town, and they end their day like children, sitting on a giant boulder by the river, pulling sweets out from their paper bags and blowing bubbles.