Japan day 38

Japan day 38
Rishri-Wakkanai (by ferry)
Now I know thousands are anxious to know where I slept last night….well, read that as 2 or 3….but a fellow cyclist has ribbed me about giving cyclists a bad name by ‘dossing’. (He could remain nameless, but let’s have some fun….you’ll find his comment tagged on to the end of the last post… 🙂 ). So let me address the issue of ‘stealth sleeping’ or ‘free camping’.

Cyclists are well known for being ‘careful guardians of their money’….meaning, of course, that they like “owt for nowt”…..some would say unceremoniously ‘tight b*****s’. But dossing in Britain is not quite the same as dossing here in Japan. Most of my choices on this trip have been carefully chosen ‘up-market’ locations, such as shrines and temples, park gardens, marinas, lakesides, even the odd ferry terminal. Now, the fact that I slept in a bus shelter last night might seem to have tipped the balance of my choices irretrievably downwards. But not so…… Let me explain.

I know a lot of British cyclists who have slept in bus shelters, especially on Audax long-distance events. They do it for convenience, to grab a few hours of rest before continuing their ride (which could be anything from a 24-90 hour event).
Now think of the typical British bus shelter……it may have a roof, but one or two sides will be open to the elements; it will have a concrete or dirt floor; it will probably be covered with graffiti; there will be cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and even dog poo on the floor, if not evidence of boozers emptying their bladders before climbing on the bus. To sleep in a British bus shelter is what I call “dossing on a budget”. There are better, and free, places to sleep.
Now, the Japanese bus shelter is quite different, especially in the north, where they experience some weather….I think you know what I mean. I showed this one in a previous post


…..brick built, closeable door, completely weather-proof and clean inside. The one I slept in last night was not quite so sturdily built, but it had a bench seat, clean wooden floor (even a dustpan and brush in the corner), and here is the clincher…..it had double french doors that not only closed, but actually locked from the inside.


Because it measured about 3×1.5 metres, it fitted not only me, but all my clobber, and the bike inside. I bedded down about 7.30pm, an hour after sunset, and I wasn’t disturbed the whole night. And I made sure I had left well before the first bus at 7.04am the next morning….


In the league of bus shelter dossing, this is definitely 5*. And given that the gale force winds continued throughout the night, sometimes rocking the whole fabric of the shelter, I was comfortable, warm and safe…..and I slept surprisingly well.

Do I do this just to save money? No, not at all. I can afford hotel rooms. So why do it?
I have to say there is something very satisfying about going back to basics. It’s only the consumer, business orientated world we live in that appears to set the norm of where people should sleep at night when not at home….ie. that it should be inside, have a comfortable bed, perhaps with ensuite and fluffy towels, and a kettle for making tea….. Sleeping, in fact, is just a basic bodily need, and it can be done anywhere that’s dry and warm. Isn’t it good to remind ourselves that this can be done without all the ‘bells and whistles’ of paid accommodation? Why should there be a monetary value placed on a basic human function?
Why should skateboarding, playing frisbee or walking the dog be seen as acceptable activities in a park, and not sleeping? As you can see, I’m on a roller here, so I won’t tax your patience further on this….

But, if you have never tried sleeping free or wild, whether it be in the country or in the city, whether it be under the stars or under cover….pluck up some courage and do it. Some of the very best experiences on this trip (and I could name many) have been sleeping free. Many times they have led to meeting people, sharing friendship and being showered with spontaneous generosity. And none of it would have happened in hotels.

I rest my case.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 27, 2015, in End-to-End of Japan 3000kms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Yeah yeah, the lady doth protest too much methinks…. 🙂

  2. On this one we have to agree to disagree. (but with respect). I think that catching a free sleep is okay if you are stuck without anywhere to stay (like when the camping grounds are closed and fenced off so you sneak a night in a park). But I don’t think it should be the first choice of touring cyclists. I had a couple of lengthy conversations with Japanese people at tourist information centers who said that in their experience it is rude for foreigners to assume that just because the Japanese person won’t approach them to tell them to move on doesn’t mean that it is okay to sleep just anywhere. There are many camping grounds, michi-no-eki and cheap hostels where we can sleep (either for free or a relatively small fee). Yes, I have slept on a park bench and in a shower hut while here – both times because there was no other option and I got caught out. For the rest I have stayed in hostels or camping grounds. The camping grounds here are excellent value for money at between free and maybe JPY2000. That’s certainly cheaper than camping in Australia.

    Yes, cycle tourists are definitely known for taking a free sleep when they can. And we all do it sometimes.

    I would also distinguish cycle touring with Audax. Audax is a long distance one off crazy adventure (I rode two seasons in Australia before switching to touring). The experience for the passerby of a cyclist on Audax ride taking a kip on the side of the road, under a bridge or in a bus shelter is of seeing some crazy guy or girl with a bicycle, smelly cycling clothes, maybe a space blanket and not much else. To the outsider, a cycle tourer sleeping wild is of someone who is prepared (tent, food, time to plan) and choosing to be a bum for the night. For those who never travel to our countries, this might be their only impression of our cultures.

    I am not wanting to argue. We are all allowed to have our views on this touchy cycle touring topic. Some will sleep free and wild. That’s okay. It’s a choice. But to clarify for Japan – it’s not allowed or approved; the Japanese just don’t say anything because their culture doesn’t allow then to cause embarrassment to others.

    For those comfortable with the free sleep; lucky you. I just can’t do it myself because I am a guest here and the people operating accommodation businesses (including camping grounds) just want to put food on their families’ tables too. (I actually wrote about this topic in one of my Japan cycling blog posts last week … funny how we both write about the same topic with different outcomes).

    Like I said – not trying to argue or be disagreeable. Just sharing my views from cycling the past two weeks in Japan 🙂

    • Yes, very interesting we should see this from opposing perspectives, and I respect your point of view…..as good democrats would.
      But let me share a few further observations about Japan. On my 3000km route through Japan, campsites have been notable for their absence. If you are touring,as opposed to trekking, you are likely to plan your route according to location of campsites….not so for the trekker. And campsites in the north are not open this time of year.
      Michinoekis don’t always have rest areas. None of the ones on Hokkaido do. The one I stayed at was in central Honshu. And I was the only person in there all night.
      I did ask permission to sleep at many temples and shrines, and it wasn’t a problem. It seemed quite normal at some. I was even given the key to sleep in an annexe in Kobe. Don’t forget there is an ancient tradition of the henro pilgrimage, especially on Shikoku, where pilgrims will regularly sleep in the grounds of a temple.
      I have listened to the advice of several Japanese cyclists, and have always been very careful to be discreet, leave no rubbish, and move on before the world wakes up. I think there is a powerful argument for responsible free camping, nor should the bodily function of needing to sleep be seen primarily as a commercial transaction…..in other words, you pay someone for the ‘privilege’ of being able to sleep.
      If you’ve never read the two very entertaining books by Josie Dew, on her two extended cycle tours of Japan, I would heartily recommend them.

  3. Totally with you on this one. I remember many moons ago sleeping in an open area in Norway to be woken by snuffling sounds. When I looked around I was surrounded by tens of hedgehogs rooting around. An experience indeed!

  4. Andrew Pooley

    Frank. As you are nearing the end of your trip – just to say that I have enjoyed reading your blog and certainly changed some of my perceptions of Japan and its people.
    Go well

    • Thanks Andrew. It has certainly been a mind-expanding experience. Japan is a beautiful country, and its people the most gentle and generous you could wish for.

  5. That looks like a great adventure, I’m all for it! I hope to be doing a bit of touring this summer my self and you blog is preparing me quite well

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