The Daily News

by Jurgen Lett

On a cold spring afternoon, the French merchant liner steamed into Kobe harbour. On board were my new friends Franz Gruber and Pierre Piroche. We wanted to ride all the major islands of Japan, but we had no bicycles. Franz had a bold plan to get sponsorship for our cycling adventure from a Japanese newspaper. The three of us tried our luck at the offices of the local newspaper, the Kobe Shimbun, where we were fortunate to meet Mrs Morioka.

The newspaper Kobe Shinbun is still operating, but has gone online

Mrs Morioka introduced us to the manager of the Kawamura Cycle Company, who hosted us with lunch of sushi, our first experience of raw fish. The manager then took us to his office and, after a few words of welcome, took out a tailor’s tape measure, and took measurements of my inside leg and height. Three days later we picked up our custom-made touring bikes. These bikes were robust, with brown steel frames and had three gears. They proved to be very reliable on the mostly gravel roads we traversed. Seventy per cent of Japanese roads were unsealed at the time.

Our bikes were custom-made by the Kawamura Cycle Company

Kawamura Cycle Company had shops all over Japan where we could get our bikes fixed for free. The only price we paid was to advertise the company with a small flag on our bikes sporting the Kawamura name and logo.

Back at the Kobe Shimbun office Mrs Morioka took a photo of us with our new bikes and we appeared in the very first edition of the Daily Look newspaper.

Photo from Daily Look sports paper
Article and photo in the first edition of the Daily Look. L to R Franz, Pierre and Jurgen

Then the manager of Kobe Shimbun invited us into his office and made an offer. The company was starting a national daily sports paper, The Daily Look, and they needed stories. The offer was that we write an article about our travels and take photos, and they would be published each day in the new paper. We would be paid a modest amount, enough to cover food and lodgings. The first edition was to be published on 1st May 1961, giving us one month to get organised.

Franz wrote most of the articles, although Pierre and I also contributed. As we wrote every day, we quickly ran out of interesting material, so we created stunts to make good copy. On one occasion we rode non-stop for 27 hours, covering 372 kilometres. Another time we ate noodles from the handlebars of our bikes using chopsticks . We were being challenged not just by the rough mountainous roads but by the need to develop novel stories every day.

How to find a long lost friend- Google it

by Ian Lett

It is December 2018 and my dad Jurgen has come to visit. He is 80 and lives in rural Victoria, Australia. He made the 1,300 kilometre trip by car and plane on his own. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease resulting in shaking, but this has been managed with medication. He has early stages of dementia with some memory loss. So it was important for me to ask lots of questions about his life and particularly his travels around the world.

I asked Jurgen about his travels in Japan. In 1961 he rode his bike across all of Japan’s major islands, with a French man, Pierre, and another German, Franz. Over 6 months they traveled 10,000 kilometres, meeting many welcoming people. Friendships were formed that persist to this day and Jurgen kept in touch with many of his Japanese friends. As a child I remember the many Japanese students that stayed in our house, hosted through the Japan Australia Friendship Association (JAFA). Twenty five years later I visited one of these students, Satoru, at his home near Osaka, and was welcomed like family.

Jurgen with loaded bike

While visiting me in Adelaide Jurgen said to me, with a tear in his eye, I would love to get in touch with Franz and Pierre. “Okay” I said, “I’ll Google it”. A few moments later I asked Jurgen how to spell their names, and any other information which might identify them. Armed with this information, I started searching. I started with Pierre, as his surname, Piroche, was less common. There were few results, but one was a nursery in Canada, Piroche Plants. I also found a flyer for an art exhibition of work by Setsuko Piroche in British Columbia. I knew I was onto something. Pierre had married Setsuko after they had met on the cycling trip. (Jurgen was keen on her sister, but left after many sad farewells).

When I told Jurgen that I had found Pierre, he was stunned. He couldn’t believe that Pierre was still alive, as both Pierre and Franz had worked for a year in the blue asbestos mine at Wittenoom, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Many of the workers and their families succumbed to respiratory failure due to asbestosis, and Jurgen thought his friends may have been fatally affected. So he was thrilled to be presented with not only details of Pierre’s whereabouts, but with contact details. He rang the number for the nursery and was connected to the receptionist. She asked Jurgen to hold the line. Then a voice came down the line, breathless and deliberate. It was Pierre, excited to be talking to his cycling mate. Pierre said he couldn’t talk for long as it was hard to talk. The asbestos had affected him.

Pierre Piroche

When Jurgen said he would like to visit, Pierre invited him to come and stay. So Jurgen is planning a trip to Canada in May 2019. He will travel on his own, and will stay with Pierre and Setsuko in their house just out of Vancouver.

And that is why my next series of posts will be about Japan in 1961. I want Jurgen to take printed copies of these posts to give to Pierre. The rest of the story can wait. Like Jurgen, Pierre does not use a computer and does not have a smart phone. They grew up with print, and that is how they prefer to read. So the Japan posts will be printed and collated. And together, they can read about their adventures, half a century ago.