Eye Opening Experiences on the Road to Hachinohe

Posted on May 1st, by Kathryn Kutchel in Our people, People, Culture & Brand, Southeast Asia, Sponsorships.

The Tour de East Japan Kashima to Hachinohe 800km ride is a charity experience to commemorate and acknowledge the life-changing effects of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Taylors team member Michael Olthof (Senior Design Engineer) has elected to take part in the ride this year as an opportunity to immerse himself in the culture, and Taylors are proud to be supporting him on this memorable journey.

2018 cyclists ready to set out from Kashima Shrine (not pictured: Michael)

“My main purpose for joining this event is for the experience of seeing parts of Japan I haven’t seen before. I’ll be travelling with a group of predominantly Japanese people, there are 14 people doing the trip, and the only foreigners are myself and another guy from Melbourne. It will be a good opportunity for cultural exchange and to find out a bit more about these people and where they live, learn about the area through which we’re travelling.

It is through tsunami affected areas along the coast, and, according to what my friend said last year, it’s quite the eye-opener. The extent of the damage, the affect on the people and their lifestyles, loss of life and loss of villages basically, it could be quite confronting from that point of view. But it’s all part of the life experience and education and opening your eyes to what is happening in the wider world.
We have one day where we are not cycling, and on that day there’s the option for volunteer work that we can participate in around the villages.”

Japan Charity Ride_Okawa Elementary School
Japan Charity Ride_Okawa Elementary School_Destroyed
Okawa Elementary School. 72 school children under the care of their teachers were lost across the north east coast of Japan during the tsunami. 70 of them were at this school.

“I like Japan, I like the countryside, I like cycling, and I get to put all of that together into an experience that really interests me.
My friend who did it last year, said it wouldn’t be ideal for people who aren’t used to cycling in traffic as it takes place during the Golden Week in Japan, which is a week of national holidays, so even during the day there are more people and a lot of traffic, even in coastal areas. So, you’ve got to be a confident cyclist, it’s demanding physically so you’ve got to do the preparation. But for people who fall into those categories so far, I say, why not?’

Japan Charity Ride_Rikuzentakada Ruins
Japan Charity Ride_Road to Rikuzentakada
Rikuzentakada. Now almost a ghost town, they are building a giant sea-wall around all of these towns but work is slow. The apartment block had water up to the top level.

“It’s seven cycling days, you travel slowly as they are cautious riders, and it’s stretched out to take all day. The distance itself – if you can do 100km in a day – is not that much time, but it’s more the endurance on yourself, day after day, and the hill climbing aspect has more than eight vertical kilometres in total. So, after serious consideration… [laughs] A lot of people like relaxing holidays on the beach, this is obviously the opposite extreme of that, so it is more suited to the adventure seeker or the life experience searcher. It’s also good, if you’re concerned about health and fitness, to set yourself a target to aim for and train for, makes it a lot easier to put in the hours.”

The sun rises over Kashima Shrine, overlooking what was once destroyed.

“Talking about stimulus to train, I used to live in Japan, and I had a basic workable knowledge of Japanese and I’ve let that lapse over the last twenty years, so, this has been a stimulus for me to get back into studying Japanese because I’ll be interacting with these people and hope to converse at some adequate level. I hope to get to know a few people outside of my normal sphere, the health aspects, the language aspects, and have just a bit of a holiday in a foreign country, and importantly, open my eyes to what they went through during the tsunami. You could put that down to idle curiosity, we have our life here [Melbourne] and it’s pretty contained and safe and insulated from a lot of the things that happen in the wider world, so it’s good to step beyond that bubble.”

The ride commenced on April 29th and will conclude on May 6th.