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4 Years, 38 Countries, 1 Man and His Bike

Friends and Family Across the World

Since we started our full-time travels, we’ve met so many amazing people. On our first day in Beijing, we made an instant friend – yes we’re talking about you Emily – and since then we’ve acquired a travel family, the Wagoners, a Thai family through Airbnb, a Taiwanese-Serbian family through couchsurfing and made friends and connections, across the world.  While we are still in contact with many, some people we met were just fleeting interactions that left long-term impressions on us, like the loud, friendly American from Long Island we met at a Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai who told us his life story, or some of the Airbnb and couchsurfing hosts we stayed with, who took time to talk about their life and travels. It’s crazy how many connections you meet, how many lives touch yours and how small this world really becomes when you travel. We’ve consistently run into people from a variety of walks of life, doing all manner of things, and we’ve been continually in awe of how many incredible stories there are.

Recently, we met Taro in Fukuoka, Japan. He was helping host the Airbnb rental where we were staying and when we met up at the restaurant where he works to pick up the key, we took time to chat with him and hear one absolutely inspiring travel story.

Meet Taro:

taro

Now 31 years old, Taro has only recently returned from 4 years of travel… on a bicycle. If you’re not as astonished as we were, we’d be very surprised. He said that more than 90% of his travel from Japan to England, and back again, was via his bicycle, with only a few flights in between when absolutely necessary! Born and raised in Osaka, Japan, Taro was working as a store manager for several years at a popular CD, DVD and comic store. He had travelled to several countries prior, including Mexico, the US, Cuba, Vietnam and Taiwan, where his love of travel thrived and grew.

We felt a kinship with Taro. Here was someone who also loves to visit new countries and really get to know the culture and people. We could tell, just by listening to him share his stories, and his videos – which you can watch on Taro’s YouTube channel – how happy travel makes him and how much he looks forward to his next adventure.

taro cave

We wanted to share his travel story with you and decided to ask him a few questions about his decision to leave, and his journey back to Japan:

Q: Why did you decide to travel? How did you do it?

A: Just out of curiosity. I just wondered if I could do it by bike or not, so I saved money and left.

Q: What was the route you took, did you map the way you went?

A: The route I took:

Started from Hongkong-China-Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-

Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey-Greece-Italy-France-Spain-Morocco-

Spain-Portugal-UK-Ireland-UK-Denmark-Sweden-Finland-

Poland-Czech-Slovakia-Hungary-Serbia-Bulgaria-Turkey-Georgia-

Armenia-Iran-Dubai-India(by air)-Nepal-Thailand(by air)-Myanmar-

Thailand-Laos-Thailand-Cambodia-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore-

Taiwan(by air)-Okinawa-Japan (3weeks cycling to my home)

taro sunset bicycle

Q: Why on a bicycle?

A: I wanted to travel a path, not point to point. The slower the speed, the more we can see the things we don’t notice when moving at a high speed. The same can be said about our lives in general.

Q: What did you take with you?

A: Too much… 40kg of luggage plus a 20kg bike. The luggage included a tent, sleeping bag, mat, cooking stove, bike repair tools, GPS, clothes, spare bike parts, emergency food, etc.

Taro Bicycle travel

Q: What was the hardest part of your travels?

A: The hardest part was when I was in Kyrgyzstan.  Even with everything I brought, I didn’t have enough stuff to protect me from the freezing cold when I experienced terrible strong winds and hail at the top of the pass.

taro winter camping

Q: How long did you plan to travel? How long were you gone for?

A: I was planning to travel like that for 2-3 years, but for some reason (mostly laziness), I prolonged it. Sometimes I felt like stopping for a while at one place. I didn’t want go out, not even from the bed of my guesthouse. In total, I travelled for 4 years.

Q: What was your most memorable experience? 

A: In Nepal. I tried to climb up to the highest pass (altitude of 5416m) with my bike. I took a difficult route to get to the top, and gave up near 5100m. I’ll never forget the colour of the sky above 5000m altitude.

taro climbing the pass

Q: What is your favourite place that you travelled?

A: Nepal. Everything is perfect for me – the people, food, prices and landscape.

Q: Why did you go back home to Japan?

A: Simply, I spent all my money. I also felt like doing something new. Maybe i’ll go on a different style trip or for business. Right now, I’m working out the details.

taro campsite

Q: Where do you want to go next?

A: Bhutan, Mongolia, the Kamchatka peninsula and New Zealand.

Q: What did you learn through your travels?

A: My own strengths and weaknesses as well as to value and fear nature and humans.

taro amazing view

 

Q: What advice do you have for others who want to travel as you did?

A:

  • Just endure the first couple of weeks, you’ll get used to the circumstances.
  • Don’t try to do ridiculous things.
  • Prepare yourself for the hard times.
  • Also, humans are the most frightening aspects of travel, so don’t compromise when you choose the place to pitch a tent.

Q: What’s your best travel tip?

A: Do the same as the locals do.

 

Taro’s story is a unique one. It’s not everyday you run into someone who has travelled for four years, mainly via a bicycle and sleeping in a tent. Comment below and let us know if you would do something like this.

Don’t forget to check out Taro’s YouTube videos of his amazing journey: Taro’s YouTube channel

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Okinawa’s Dark Past

Okinawa is a Japanese paradise with its beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear water. But with a heavy American military presence, its war-torn past isn’t easy to forget and the many monuments and memorials stand testament to the Okinawan peoples’ struggles throughout recent history.

Not only was Okinawa the only part of Japan to have had battles on land in World War II, the Okinawan people first suffered invasion by the Japanese themselves and have a history filled with oppression and conflict.

Prior to landing in Okinawa, we weren’t too aware of the history of hardships faced by the native Okinawans. We knew little about the cultural differences between them and the Japanese, or that they prefer to identify as Okinawan rather than Japanese. It seems, at least on the island, that there still exists the sense of oppression and division between these two groups of people.

It was when we were talking to native Okinawans that we learned more about their history. We were told that many atrocities were committed against them by the Japanese, first when they took over the island and again during WWII. They were also the primary casualties of enemy fire. It was during our time on the island that we decided to visit the Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum to learn more. What we learned left us shocked and saddened and we headed back to Naha at the end of the day with a heavy heart and a more well-rounded understanding of the battles fought on this side of the war.

This post is a little heavier than our usual travel stories but we feel this is an important part of history, especially for the people of Okinawa, and we wanted to share our experience at the Peace Memorial Park and Himeyuri Peace Museum.

The Peace Memorial Park & The Okinawa Peace Hall

Peace Memorial park Okinawa war memorial

About a 45 minute drive south from Okinawa’s largest city, Naha, will get you to the Mabuni Hill area of Itoman city. It is here, on the southern part of the island, where the final battle in Okinawa took place during World War II and it is here that you will find the Peace Memorial Park. Positioned on top of the cliffs overlooking the rugged southeastern coastline, visitors can not only learn about the scars that World War II left on this vacationer’s dreamland, but will also stop in their tracks to look out onto the oceans horizon in disbelief of the beauty of this location that was once a bloody battlefield.

We stopped first at the Okinawa Peace Hall, situated near the main entrance to this expansive park.

okinawa peace hall entrance peace memorial park

 

In front, stands the Bell of Peace, rung on memorial occasions when prayers of world peace are made. The inscription on the bell reads “Calm the souls of the war dead. Swear the permanent peace of the world. From the Hill of Mabuni in all directions, sounds everlastingly the Bell of Peace, in solemn prayers of all people’.

peace memorial hall and the boy bronze statue okinawa

To the other side, a bronze statue, ‘A Boy”, looks out onto the park and is a memorial to the many young boys and girls who were killed in that final battle, the Battle of Okinawa.

Okinawa peace hall statue

The Peace Hall was opened with the Okinawan vision of “no more war” and houses a giant, 12m high peace prayer statue, which was definitely impressive, and various artwork in tribute to the Okinawan people. The Hall was a quiet and reverent place, dim lit and calling attention to the artwork displayed before opening up to the peace prayer statue.

Okinawa peace hall paintings

The artwork around the statue was a series of 20 paintings by Keiyu Nishimura, entitled “War and Peace” painted on the theme of Okinawa and representing the dark past of Okinawa and the beautiful spirit and culture of the Okinawan people. We enjoyed reading the displays about each of the paintings and learning more about history by the descriptions of what each painting depicts.

butterfly garden peace memorial park

We then headed to the butterfly garden which houses Ogomadara, the largest butterflies in Japan. It was a small area but a peaceful place and Carolann was patient enough and had one land on her hand!

The Cornerstone of Peace

cornerstone of peace war memorial okinawa

 

On our way from the Peace Hall to the museum, we noticed a busy pathway leading away from the museum and decided to detour and take a look at where everyone was headed. The path opened up to, what we later found out was, the Cornerstone of Peace and the Peace Plaza.

cornerstone of peace okinawa peace memorial park

The sprawling tribute was built to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, both enemy and allied forces. We had moments throughout the day that left us saddened and heavyhearted but this spot was a truly moving area for a different reason. Seeing the names of Okinawan, Japanese, American, UK, Korean, Taiwanese casualties of the war, all together, was powerful and the strong desire for peace was evident.

cornerstone of peace flame of peace okinawa

In the centre of the Peace Plaza stands the Flame of Peace composed of flames from three other places of significance to World War II and Japan – the first landing site of U.S. forces in Okinawa and the two sites of the atomic bombings, Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

cornerstone of peace peace memorial park okinawa

If the Cornerstone of Peace left us moved, the view over the cliffs, overlooking the coastline, left us speechless. The rough, rocky shoreline with the beautiful, clear blue water seemed to be a reflection of the emotions this place incited – raw, harsh, and sometimes jagged disbelief and sorrow mixed with the hopefulness of peace and the inspirational appreciation for all life, no matter the nationality, that was lost.

 

 

The Peace Memorial Museum

We headed to the Peace Memorial Museum. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos – so we only managed to get a couple at the end of the museum which depicted the years after the war during the American occupation. Each chamber of the museum was a walkthrough of the war and the switching of government powers during the many years of hell that the Okinawans suffered.

Peace Memorial Museum okinawa

The locals were not only negatively affected by the Americans during the invasion (the US invasion was called “The Typhoon of Steel” and the 3 month assault saw over 6 million shells fired), and after they took power of the island, but were also killed, enslaved and left to starve by the Japanese army. The Japanese army took what little food and supplies they had, forced them out of safe-havens like caves and ancestral tombs into the ensuing battle or to malaria-infested mountains, and killed, or forced to kill themselves or each other. The testimonials of the survivors of the Battle of Okinawa are the most haunting of the exhibits and were incredibly difficult to read.

There were an estimated 240,000 casualties during the Battle of Okinawa. Of that, over half were Okinawans.

Himeyuri Monument and Peace Museum

Himeyuri Peace Musuem memorial okinawa

A few miles down the road, just southwest of the Peace Memorial Park, sits a cave. During the war, this cave, and the circuit of connecting smaller caves, were used as field hospitals. Here you’ll find a memorial and Peace museum dedicated to the 200+ teachers and students who were killed during the Battle of Okinawa. Himeyuri is the nickname for the 2 Okinawan schools for women.

These students, aged 15-19, and several teachers, were recruited as nurses to work in the caves, assisting the injured. The conditions were harsh and they were often sent outside the caves, into dangerous situations, to pass on messages, bring in food and water and bury the dead. Schoolboys were also used during the war effort, aged 14-19, for labour and, later, as soldiers and suicide bombers.

himeyuri monument okinawa

Three months after they were first deployed as field nurses and soldiers, a deactivation order was issued. They were forced out of the caves and other bunkers and left to fend for themselves. It was during this time that the majority of the casualities occurred. The monument and museum serves as a tribute to those young girls and boys who lost their lives. In one section, black and white pictures of the young students-turned-nurses line the walls. Their faces a stark reminder of just how great a toll war takes.

We are sure we’ll visit more war memorials as we travel through Japan but this memorial was a complete surprise to us. The struggles of the Okinawan people through the war was a new lesson, one we had not heard about before, and we are happy to have been able to honour their memory by visiting the memorials and sharing this post.

Have you ever heard about the troubles Okinawans faced during World War II? Comment below and let us know where! If not, why do you think this is something that is not so frequently mentioned when discussing casualties of World War II? 


You Can Do It Too:

If you are in Okinawa, we highly recommend making the trip to visit these war memorials. It will likely be a full day excursion if you’re starting in Naha – we left around noon and returned after 6pm – but there are places to purchase food and drink along the route. Here’s how to get there and what it will cost:

Getting to the Peace Memorial Park

From Naha Bus Terminal, take bus 89. It runs fairly regularly, several times an hour. Get off at the last stop, Itoman Bus Terminal. The total price is about 580 Yen per person and the trip takes about 45min-1 hour.

From Itoman Bus Terminal, take the 82 bus. This bus runs less frequently – once an hour to once every 2 hours. There is a CoCo convenience store down the road should you need to kill some time and grab a snack. (head away from the water, or turn left, if you are walking out of the terminal, and follow the road until you see the CoCo (pink sign) on your left.

It takes approximately 20 minutes from Itoman Bus Terminal to Heiwa-kinendo-iriguchi stop, the Peace Memorial Park. The cost is approximately 470 Yen per person.

The Okinawa Peace Hall

Admission to the Peace Hall costs 450 Yen each, children are free.

The Peace Memorial Museum

Admission to the Museum costs 300 yen ($3usd) for adults and 150 Yen for children. The museum is well planned and organized quite impressively. It was built to thoroughly explain the true hell that the people witnessed. While all of the exhibits are in Japanese, with a couple of paragraphs of English, there is a free audio guide with your purchase of admission. Simply ask when you purchase your ticket and get a English guided tour with 39 audio sections. They have also translated the testimonials of the survivors into English.

If travelling with children, some of the photos and displays may be a bit disturbing. There is a children’s section downstairs meant to educate the future generations and may be a bit easier to handle, depending on age.

Himeyuri Monument and Peace Museum

If you’d like to head to the Himeyuri Memorial after the Peace Memorial Park, get back on the 82 and head towards the Itoman Bus Terminal. Get off at Himeyuri-no-to stop. It takes about 10 minutes to get there from the Park and costs about 290 Yen each.

The Himeyuri Peace Museum costs 310 Yen each. 


 

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The Number One Thing to Know About Taiwan

Okay, so it may not be the number one thing you need to know, but we feel it’s a pretty good thing to find out about before you get there!

When we first got to Taipei, we endeavoured to meet new people and really get a sense of Taiwan – the food, the culture, the hidden local secrets – and we did meet quite a few people in the first week who showed us around, pointed us in the direction of restaurants with amazing food and told us about some local hot-spots. But no one ever mentioned a lottery. The second week in Taipei we met up with a couple from the US who had been teaching English in Taiwan but had decided they would head back home after travelling a bit. We were fortunate enough to catch them on their last day in Taiwan and they invited us along on a hike. What we didn’t know is that they would provide us with the one piece of information that we (or at least Carolann) think should have been the first thing anyone told us upon arrival in Taiwan:

There’s a lottery in Taiwan… and it’s free!

BUT you have to save your receipts!! We discovered that each receipt issued contains a set of numbers at the top which are part of a country-wide lottery. The number is valid for the months also listed on the receipt and the draws occur for every two-month time frame. So, for us, the receipts we collected while there in January and February are all part of the same lottery with the numbers to be chosen on the 25th of the following month – March.

Known as the Uniform Invoice Award this bi-monthly lottery was put into place to encourage establishments to register with the government and make legal tax claims. It is an incentive for the customers to shop and dine at places that provide these receipts and thus an incentive for these establishments to register. After all, those 8-digits on the top of each receipt can win you up to 10 million NT (approximately $400,000CDN ) so it’s definitely motivation to frequent establishments that issue these “legal” receipts. Fortunate for us, foreigners are able to participate as well!

This might explain why most tellers are persistent, and consistent, in giving you your receipt.

We would estimate that around 85% of the places we ate or shopped at issued the receipts. In total, excluding the first week we were in Taipei (we threw away receipts because we didn’t know) we collected 167 of them.

That’s 167 lottery tickets for buying things we needed anyway! And that doesn’t include our receipts for our time spent in March.

How The Uniform Invoice Lottery Works

Taiwan lottery receipt

In total, 5 numbers are drawn. One 8-digit special prize draw for 10 million NT, one 8-digit grand prize draw for 2 million NT (about $80,000CDN), and three 8-digit numbers for the remainder of the prizes. For the three remaining 8-digit numbers you need to match the last 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 digits to claim a prize from 200NT (about $8CDN) to 200,000 NT (about $8000 CDN).

There are also three 3-digit bonus numbers and if you match these to the last three digits of any of your receipts, you win 200NT. It’s a bit confusing but once you have your receipts and see the outline of the prizes, it becomes much clearer.

The only downside for us was having to collect and carry all of the receipts wherever we went. We even had to bring them to Japan as the draw was not held until recently and we will now be carrying our March receipts until May 25 when the next draw is held.

So, you may be asking, did we win? We did win 200NT but it would need to have been a hefty sum for us to go back to Taiwan to claim the prize! It was still fun to hope for more, and hey, there’s still the lottery tickets – er receipts – from March!!

 

You Can Do It Too!

It may seem a bit daunting to have to go through so many numbers to check if you’ve won but it really isn’t so bad. You just have to start by checking the last three digits of your receipts and work backwards from there. 

 For example, the three main 8-digit numbers for Jan and Feb were 63856949, 39459262, and 61944942. Matching the last three digits – 949, 262 or 942 – would win you 200NT; matching the last four digits – 6949, 9262 and 4942 – will win you 1000NT and so on. 

If you’re looking to collect receipts, you’ll want to be aware of which places issue these “legal receipts” and collect them as you go.

Winning numbers will be posted on the Ministry of Finance, ROC, website on the 25th day of every odd numbered month. The draw is for the previous two months receipts and each receipt contains the lottery number as well as the months for which the number is valid (e.g. 01-02) for your reference.

Tip: We created an Excel spreadsheet with all the receipt numbers we got as we went along and kept the receipts bundled together. We were then able to simply search for each of the prize numbers (last three digits first) to see if they matched any of ours. We’ve set one up for our March receipts as well. It may take away from the fun of checking each receipt, but we really don’t have the time to do so and, as long as we typed the numbers in correctly, we’ve created a quick check for any winning receipts.

 

What do you think of the lottery? Comment below and let us know! Is this something more countries should implement to increase legal taxing and accurate tax claims?

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