Many years ago, you came to my family through an exchange program. To my chagrin, you took my room and made it your new home.
As a kid, I didn't understand the significance of this arrangement and why my family chose to do it. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words.
For the next 8 weeks, you made an impression on my family that would last far beyond your stay. Whether it was camping, seeing Mt.
Rushmore, or taking scenic drives along the prairie, we shared memories that I'll never forget.
The time we spent together taught me the importance of what my family undertook and why we're still in touch, to this day.
In exchange (no pun intended) for sharing a slice of our culture, you returned the favor of introducing a boy like me to your homeland.
Everything from the food to the pop culture, you immersed my 7-year-old mind in the land of the rising sun.
Little did I know, it was an exchange of cultures that led me down to the path I'm on now.
Over 20 years later, I find myself on Japanese soil. The scenery is unlike anything I've ever seen before. The sprawling city lights, illuminating the powder-coated landscape.
The mountains, sloping the landscape to the southwest. It's a beautiful marriage of a metropolitan spread, surrounded by lush wilderness.
Until the plane touched down, I tried to take in every minute of it. Within seconds of landing in Sapporo, I knew that I was in for an adventure.
I don't know if I flew in at the right time or if this airport is just on the ball but I had no issues getting through here.
Passing through customs was a breeze and in no time, I was off to retrieve my rental bike.
My bike of choice is a DZed 400. It's a nice, single-cylinder dual-sport motorcycle.
With the metal handguards, knobbie tires, and slightly scuffed plastic fenders, I know this battle-tested bike will be able to handle anything I'll throw at it.
I requested a model with a luggage rack and to my surprise, they supplied me with a rack and several tie-downs for any oversized accessories.
With two bags and my guitar, the extra straps will come in handy. As I began to tether my belongings to the bike, an overwhelming feeling began to sink in.
As cliche as it sounds, this bike will be my trusted steed for this twelve week jaunt. Good, bad, or indifferent, this thumper will be my lifeline for the next three months.
Countless kilometers of the ever changing terrain and weather will test this bike and ultimately, my skills as a rider.
I made a promise to myself that I'd do this trip one way (on two wheels) and come hell or high water, I'm sticking to that.
Before I head off to my accommodations for the night, I opened the first of twelve envelopes that you sent me before I got here.
Here's the itinerary for your time in Hokkaido. Along with a list of things to do, I have also provided you with a headband to wear.
A customary tradition here in Japan, a headband (hachimaki) is a symbol of courage and a way to keep bad spirits away.
This is my way of wishing you all the best in your journey down to Okinawa and to make the most of every day.
I know red (aka) is your favorite color, so I thought that there was no better way to start things off than a band with your favorite color.
Safe travels and I can't wait to see you!
Try the Beer in Otaru
See the flower fields and blue pond in Furano
Sea of Clouds
Hike Mt. Hakodate
Day trip through the Shakotan peninsula
See the best sights in Sapporo
With a push of the handy electric start button and a minute to let the motor idle, I shifted my journey into gear.
Many fellow adventure bikers would scoff at a bike like this for a longer trip. 5 speed transmission, carbureted engine, 400cc engine displacement.
None of these traits are popular (or the most practical) for adventure riders.
For me, it represents the ultimate "jack of all trades" solution for my journey. My life, as a rider, started on the dirt. Every crucial skill and maneuver I learned came aboard a dirt bike.
A bike like the DZed represents all of the traits that I like in a bike with the necessary mods to make it more efficient on the street.
With my accommodations nearly an hour away, I had the perfect opportunity to put the bike through its paces. Fortunately, the DZed did not disappoint in its maiden voyage.
Despite the colder temperature and remnants of snow on the ground, the carbureted engine seemed to handle the climate just fine.
The 5 speed transmission wasn't a hindrance on the highway and I was able to cruise along, without taxing the engine.
As for the accommodations, I opted to stay in a hostel. No, it's not what you think. Hostels are essentially budget hotels, with shared amenities.
Plus, it helps that this one is centrally located (and has good parking).
After a long day of travel, the inevitable pains of jet lag have started to set in and I'm ready to pass out.
I was tired and wasn't patient enough for a sit-in meal, so I opted for a packaged meal from a nearby conbini (convenience store).
Call me crazy (or American), but Fried Chicken is the only thing that I wanted. It did not disappoint.
The absolute freshness and tenderness of the meat was unlike any kind of chicken that I have had before.
It amazes me how you can provide such fresh and tasty food in a place like a convenience store. Fortunately, I'll have plenty of opportunities to sample conbini food for the next few months.
With dinner out of the way and my belongings set aside, it's time for me to crash. I'm going to use this first night to adjust to the time difference (15 hours) and get as much sleep as I can.
Thank you for giving me the itinerary and everything that I need to get going on my trip. I'm going to hit the ground running and see the main sights of Sapporo tomorrow.
It'll be the first of many "to dos" on this trip.
Thanks again and I'll see you soon!