Japan Essay Series: DirtBagging on the Left Side of the Road.

Our GPS was yelling something in Japanese as we followed the yellow line guiding us to Kyoto where we were to meet Tsuyoshi for a paddle the next morning. Seven Americans navigating a foreign country with a foreign alphabet with only a Japanese GPS to guide them. This was certainly going to be an adventure. 

When we left Yacu’s home base he assured us it is perfectly legal to sleep just about anywhere, assuming it’s not private property. It was difficult at first for us to accept this relaxed approach to dirtbagging when the rules back home are so strict. 

But we took Yacu’s word for it as we zoomed out of our GPS scanning the surrounding area for a patch of green. The green could represent a serene meadow, a park, or possibly someones private property. It was late and we were willing to take the chance more than we were willing to pay for a hotel room. 

We found some green and aimed for it. While Bradley focused intently on staying on the right side of the road Zach directed him. The asphalt turned to dirt, switchbacks leading us up a heavily treed hill. At this point it was midnight and not looking promising. We agreed the next big pull-off we saw would be good enough. 

Parking the van on the furthest most edge to protect us from any oncoming cars we laid out our sleeping pads and fell asleep to the buzz of the electrical wires overhead. No car stopped to harass us, no police, nothing…I guess it’s true…you can sleep just about anywhere in Japan. 

Our green patches turned into coast lines. If we were anywhere near the ocean we would opt for beach camping. Late one night, searching for a place to sleep, we headed for the coast which was surrounded by a towering sea wall. We drove over it and parked the van on the ocean side. I’ll never forget waking up there and finding an old Japanese man standing at the top of the wall looking down and staring at us. It startled me at first until I realized that we were sleeping in a very popular place for joggers. 

Photographer: Paul Clark

Photographer: Paul Clark

It was clear they were not use to seeing a handful of American’s sleeping outside on stand up paddle boards. Runners would stop dead in their tracks; walking past us, mouth open, laughing.

Photographer: Paul Clark

Photographer: Paul Clark

Every time we had to search for a place to sleep it was always in the dark. One night, Zach lead us down some sketchy road where he felt there might be a nice private place to sleep right on the water. The road was windy and narrow with trees on both sides. It spit us out on a primitive loading dock that smelt of fish. There was no moon that night and a promise of rain. We couldn’t see anything…all we know was that it was flat enough and surrounded by water. 

With the promise of rain we created a SUP fort and pitched two tents beneath it and listened to the rain fall throughout the night. We awoke to turquoise waters and surrounding uninhabited islands. 

Photographer: Zach Mahone

Photographer: Zach Mahone

We saw things we would have never seen were we staying in a hotel. Our group became that much closer because of this spontaneous element. Traveling is about going with the flow and being open to new experiences. It can be really tough at times, especially traveling in a group, it strips us down and requires us to let go. I’d never felt more alive. Sometimes you’ve just got to aim for the green. 

Photographer: Zach Mahone

Photographer: Zach Mahone