A Father and Son Bike Across Japan

Book Cover
Destination: Japan

Book: Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure Across Japan by Charles R. Scott (New, February 2013)

Japanese Temple
Sho throwing a ball in front of Japanese Shrine

Beware the conclusions you draw when visiting another culture.  For one thing, your experience of a place can change drastically depending on your mode of transportation.

For instance, go by train and you see the unattractive backside of a city but the unspoiled landscape of the countryside, as the train whisks you over hills and along rivers where highways fear to go.  Communities build up around roads, so travel by car will take you through more smaller towns than will the train, but cities are the destination for rail hubs.

But if you really want a close-up view of both the landscape and the people, do as Charles Scott and his 8-year-old son did. They bicycled from the north to the south of Japan, a distance of 2900 miles in 67 days.  They not only could see the mountains and seaside at a slow pace that allowed them to catch things not seen by speeding cars. They also traded the sealed-in comfort of an automobile for exposure to all the raw uncertainties of weather.

In answer to the most-asked question, “Isn’t this too hard for an eight-year-old?” the book answers definitely” NO.”  Of course, Sho is not just any 8-year -old and Charles R. Scott is not exploring a totally new culture.  Scott lived in Japan for a time and speaks Japanese. He married a Japanese woman, so Sho is half Japanese and has also visited Japan, and since his mother works at the United Nations and Sho attends the United Nations school, he has a built-in assumption about differences.

Father and Son Bike Japan
Father and Son at Cape Soya Monument of the northern-most point of Japan

The bike they took is not exactly a tandem (bicycle built for two) because those are not legal in Japan. Instead, Sho pedals along behind his father on a third wheel attached to his father’s bike’s frame by a long stem. While Sho’s pedaling helps the effort climbing over mountain ranges, he is relieved of having to carry heavy loads. Besides pedaling over mountain ranges, the father and son spend some long wet and windy days on the road, and frequently camp by the side of the road.  Japanese traditional inns with bathhouses are a treat where they can warm up and relax aching muscles.

While Scott had a mission of drawing people’s attention to global warming and has been rewarded by the United Nations for his efforts, I was more interested in the cultural discoveries they made along the way. Sho, on the other hand, was in search of the best game room in Japan, and happy with fireworks displays, feeding deer, playing ball and running on the beach–all kinds of 8-year-old favorite activities.  Because of his background in Japan, Scott understood the culture and did not make major faux pas (unless you count the bad decision to get in the ring with a Sumo wrestler), and he sprinkles explanations throughout the book that would be very helpful to any traveler.

Japanese dancers
Dancers in Tokushima at an all-night dance festival, Awa-Odori

Personally, I have never yearned to visit Japan because I generally picture it as overcrowded cities (and shhh! I don’t like sushi).  The bike route, particularly in the north, goes through a lot of pristine wilderness and beside beautiful seaside vistas which sound a lot more appealing. And the people the two met were so incredibly friendly and helpful that you could not help coming away with a great respect for the Japanese.

Three maps in the front help the reader keep track of where they are on the north to south trip. I would have liked an index, to help me navigate through the book, but that is minor in the face of things. Particularly since this is a very well-produced self-published book. I have been refusing, generally, to review self-published books, but decided to take a chance on this one since the subject was so unusual. Rising Sun did not disappoint the way many self-published books have. I only wish that all authors who want to self- publish wrote as well, and were as professional in their presentation.

Japanese Thatched Roof House
Japanese Thatched Roof House at World Heritage Site, Shirakawa Go

The book has only b & w pictures, but my favorite illustrations are Sho’s line drawings of their activities. Scott took pictures and videos and kept a blog in 2009, and although it is a bit difficult to find on Google (I hope his publicists will start promoting it as an adjunct to the book) it is worth a look for the color pictures.  You can find their 2009 Japan bike adventure day by day here.

Confusingly,you can easily find information about a ride across Iceland in 2011 which includes Scott’s wife and daughter. Plus there is this from the Huffington Post, where Scott writes columns:

Scott’s endurance adventures with his young children across Japan, Iceland and Europe have been featured in television and radio programs, magazines and newspapers around the world. In the summer of 2013, he and his children will follow the Lewis & Clark Trail by bike, collecting data for a project with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. National Geographic Traveler will publish his essays from the trip.

If you would like to receive updates on his latest writings and adventures, send an e-mail to icelandbikeadventure[at]gmail.com.

Certainly sounds like there are more family biking adventure books to come. And that is a good thing.


Boy Biker in Japan

Sho Scott with the fully-loaded bike in JapanPHOTO CREDIT: These photos are from the Japan blog of Charles R. Scott which is linked above.  You can find a video on YouTube by Scott as well.

The book was provided by the publicist for the book so that I could review it, but my opinions are my own.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “A Father and Son Bike Across Japan

  1. I’m a writer and I belong to a large writer’s guild in my part of the country. Amazon, for one, is changing the face of “self-publishing.” More and more well-crafted books are being published without the blessings of the beleaguered publishing industry. I say “beleaguered” because the industry is being beaten down by electronic publishing. We’re in the midst of a historical shift in the way information and entertainment is being delivered, and books are included in that change.

    I often find poorly written and edited books published by large publishing houses. I just as often find excellent electronic books that can be downloaded to reading devices or printed on demand. The prices have come way down, and that’s what’s hurting the publishing houses the most.

    Several established best selling authors (Stephen King, for one) are doing all their work electronically. There are many advantages for the author in publishing this way (control); the main disadvantage is that the author (or his/her team, if one exists)has to do all the marketing.

    I agree that the freedom to publish without careful editing and design, etc., creates the opportunity for less-than-stellar works to find their way to your desk (or inbox). However, good careful authors know they must present an excellent product if they are to gain repeat readers for their next effort, and to help them build the all-important “platform” that publishers look for.

    So, Katrina, I’d say don’t completely shy away from independently produced books. Look at them, if you have time. You may find a gem. And your review might even help the author get picked up by a large publisher, or at the very least, gather some readers who will be grateful to you for revealing it to them.

    1. Hi Bemused:
      Yes, there are sometimes errors in publisher-produced books, but I have not found them in the same proportion as in the self-published books I’ve received. Maybe I’m just unlucky.

      VERA (Who’s Katrina?)

  2. I’m the author of Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure across Japan. I told Sho, who just turned 12, about this review. When I mentioned that Vera liked his drawings, he blushed and said that his pictures are better now that he’s older.

    I found this review quite helpful, as I am in the process of writing a second book about cycling the circumference of Iceland with my 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. Among other things, I’ve made a note to include an index. I appreciated Vera’s willingness to review my book and recognize the conundrum self-published books present to reviewers. I knew that choosing not to use a traditional publisher would reduce my chances of getting reviewed, but I preferred to own the rights and wanted to see if I could produce a high-quality book on my own. I joined a writing class and submitted every chapter to the group. It was very helpful to have other writers critique my work, and I made many changes based on their suggestions. Once I completed the manuscript, I paid a development editor to review the narrative and also sent it to six friends to provide feedback. I also re-read the book start to finish five times looking for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and opportunities to tighten the text.

    It is gratifying to receive such a positive review. After a while, you get so close to the narrative that it’s difficult to know whether it will work for a reader. Thank you for taking the time to review the book and for the helpful feedback.

    1. Charles: So glad to hear from you and to hear that Sho is continuing to make his pictures better. But it is the way that he looks at things rather than the skill of execution that make them so important for your first book.

      I also appreciate your laying out the process you followed to produce your book. Glad it worked!

  3. I would like to comment on the bias against self-published books. This movement began in earnest about 30 years ago. The reasons for it is a lack of resources for books that may have a smaller audience than a than a traditional publisher may want to deal with, the inability to obtain agents and get a viewing by a publisher. There are many self-published books that are fabulous. Take a look at the Indie Book awards and Writer’s Digest awards for self-published books. There are also books in that don’t make the cut but someone had enough money to publish. But if your name isn’t Danielle Steele etc. It may be a great way to get a small niche book published. This would apply especially to books in the travel narrative genre.

    1. Dorothy: I don’t argue with anything you say. However, as a reviewer who receives a dozen or so books a week, I know that gradually I have had to turn away from the books that have not had the good fortune to be screened by an established publisher. I have wasted too much time on too many books that were written poorly, edited poorly if at all, and looked just plain shabby. I could not recommend them to my readers. So, unfair as it is to those few good ones that come along, I have pretty much given up on being the person who separates the wheat from the chaff. I just can’t afford the time, when there are so many wonderful books out there that have been produced with more care.

  4. This book sounds enchanting. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable way to enjoy such a wonderful island.

    It’s also interesting that it is self-published. I have read a few self-published books that are well-designed and edited. And, unfortunately, I’ve read many books from large publishers that can’t say the same. 🙂

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