Circle Taiwan With a Bike – A New Trend for Japanese

By Nojima Tsuyoshi |  Translated by Sharon Tseng

Among the 60 % of foreigners who participated in this round-island cycling event, a Japanese journalist talks about him getting deeply moved by the beauty of the east coast, the cheers of the passer-bys, and the potential he sees in Taiwan tourism.

“It’s a now or never.”

10 years ago, the idea of cycle-circling the island has taken Taiwanese cyclists by storm. Now, the trend has expanded overseas, drawing streams of Japanese tourists over to explore the beauty of Taiwan through a bike tour.

A 7-day round-island bike tour has grown popular among foreign tourists. Tourists have been granted with more flexibility and choices since the completion of the Cycling Route No.1 and the growing number of travel agencies that offer bike tour itineraries with “long stay” options. And it’s even more exciting to learn that there seems to be more to come in the future.

In the end of October, I had my first “island bike tour” in Taiwan.

Starting off from Taichung, I cycled about 100 km each day. I woke up at 6, set off at 7, and arrived at my next destination around evening. After dinner, I did my laundry, and went to bed. It was like reliving my training days back in high school.

During the journey, I thought about nothing but cycling. I told the media companies where I worked as a permanent columnist that I wouldn’t be able to provide anything for the time being. It was a bold decision for a critical time when journalists were fighting to give latest reports on China’s 19th National Congress and Japan’s General Election. For a media worker like me, it meant giving up two “peak seasons.” Nevertheless, I chose to focus on my journey.

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Image:Nojima Tsuyoshi

Why? Because “Some things are now or never.” I recalled the most classic quote from A-Ming, the protagonist of Island Etude, a Taiwanese movie about cycle-circling the island. To me, reports of China’s 19th Congress and Japan’s General Election could wait, but my 49-year-old body couldn’t. If I miss this chance, I will never be able to accomplish this bike tour dream before I get into my 50s. And you never know. Maybe I’ll get sick the very next year. Maybe I won’t be able to ride a bike anymore. So when I’m about to leave this world, what will I wish to recall? My reports about Xi Jinping and Abeshinzo? Or the day I finished the whole bike tour on my own? I believe the answer is pretty obvious.

Last year in November, I joined “Formosa 900,” a round-island tour event organized by the Cycling Life Style Foundation. Unfortunately, I could only do half-circle from Taipei to Pingtung because I had to return to Japan for an award ceremony. So this time, it was finally a dream come true.

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Image: Nojima Tsuyoshi. Cycling Route No.1, launched in 2015. It takes about 9 days to finish a round-tour of the island, estimated by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication of Taiwan.

Discovering the Beauty of Taiwan With A Bike

This time, I joined the “Wind Chasers,” a cyclist group set up by Tony Lo, former CEO of Giant Bicycles, to celebrate his 10th round-island trip. Members included Taiwan/Japan mixed writer Hitoto Tae, First lady of Onomichi City Junko Hirani, and former Premier of Taiwan Chiang Yi-hua. Unfortunately, before the event kicked off, Lo was injured in another tour. Luckily, his wife Wu Chun-lan, who is also an expert cyclist with a 6-time experience of circling the island, stood up and shouldered the responsibililty of leading the group, while Lo could take the sag wagon and cheer for us along the way.

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Image:Nojima Tsuyoshi

There was a group from China that shared the same route and itinerary with us, and another group of Japanese local governmental employees that also started and finished off at the same time and in same city as we did, in Taichung. No matter the Chinese or the Japanese, we all agreed on one thing after the tour: “It was tough and challenging every day, but we fought until the end, and now we’re strong and confident.”Exactly. I finished the journey, with a mind loaded with wonderful memories, and with a proud record of conquering the most difficult 500-meter-high hill, The Shouka Pingtung, at the third-highest speed.

What moved us the most was the cheers of the passer-bys during the two tough days we cycled from Dawu Taitung, to Hualian City. Their cheers greatly encouraged us, as we struggled against the strong northeast seasonal winds along the east coast. In Japan, it’s hard to imagine people cheering for stranger cyclists on the streets on a regular day. I was deeply touched by the island’s hidden charm – the friendliness of the people.

If they can have a full taste of Taiwan through one single round-island trip, no matter how much time or money they will have to spend, it will be worth it. Most importantly, they will get what they can’t get from most other common trips–sense of achievement.

Perhaps the Taiwanese themselves will be surprised that foreign tourists would find a round-island trip very charming and attractive. We Japanese visit Taiwan so many times a year, being so familiar with Taipei. Many Japanese have even gone to cities such as Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Hualian, Taitung, and Yilan, but the idea of linking these cities together never occured to them.

But at the same time, I have been deeply aware of the growing attention the world is paying to“round-island touring.” On November 4th 2017, Taiwan Cycling Festival kick-started with 60 % of its participants from other countries. It was the first time for a whole group of Japanese to join a cycling event in Taiwan. The quota of 25 participants was reached in a blink of an eye. In November, Hitoto Tae had her new book about round-island cycling in Taiwan published in Japan, the first time this mix-blooded writer released a book in Japan.

I can feel that Japan is now catching this round-island cycling fever. I’m getting asked with the same questions over and over again by friends all around me:“How can I start a cycling journey in Taiwan?”

A round-island bike tour is a common dream for the Taiwanese. Perhaps this trend has something to do with the resurgence of local consciousness in Taiwan. As the people in Taiwan are getting more and more attached to their homeland, the idea of “learning more about our home”has become a hot topic. They often say, “A Taiwanese must at least circle the island for once in a lifetime.”Just a couple of years ago, the “Grandriders” have just accomplished their last wild dream: Circling the island with a motorbike.

I believe chances are that Taiwanese may share their dream with the Japanese. People in Japan have been grateful for the generous hand Taiwan offered to Japan when they suffered from The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. From then on, Japanese have become growingly interested in Taiwan culture. The number of “Taiwanophiles”has rocketed in Japan.

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Image:Nojima Tsuyoshi

A New Brand for Taiwan Tourism?

I see great potential in the idea of giving foreign tourists a deep insight into Taiwan by allowing them to fulfill the common Taiwanese dream. A typical round-island bike tour takes at least 9 days, which might be difficult for many Japanese who can’t do long vacations. But there are other options such as having their tour half-bike-half-train, which in that case will only take one week, or splitting their tour into two halves, 4 days for the east coast and 4 for the west.

Round-island touring can become the new brand of Taiwan Tourism. It is full of possibilities, and rare among other tourist attractions around the world. The Taiwanese government should consider promoting it as a brand.

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Image: Nojima Tsuyoshi

King Liu, founder of Giant Bicycles, once mentioned the word 上癮 (addicted) in an interview, and asked me how to explain it in Japanese. I taught him a very popular term in Japan at that time: はまる (be nuts about). It was a new phrase for Liu, even though he had been receiving Japanese education from a very young age. Since then, every time Liu met someone from Japan, he would say in Japanese that “he is nuts about cycling 自転車にはまる” and make that Japanese laugh.

Taiwanese are nuts about cycle-circling the island. Next, it will be the Japanese.

(This article is reproduced under the permission of CommonWealth Magazine English Website. It does not represent the standpoint of Taiwan Scene.)