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Friday, July 24, 2015

Love of music inspires a cross-country bicycle trip of the U.S. and visit to Memphis

Love of music inspires a cross-country bicycle trip of the U.S. and visit to Memphis
By:  Michael Lander

Because of his love for American music, Memphis and New
Orleans were two of Shinsuke Onzuka's primary destinations
on his cross-country bicycle trip to the U.S.
It was the love of music that brought Shinsuke “Shin”
Onzuka (隠塚信介) to America; it is a bicycle that is helping him to travel across it.

On June 2, 2015, Onzuka left on his
Surly bicycle from the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. for a three month cross-country trip of the U.S. that will ultimately take him to New York City.

Onzuka, who
is from Tokyo, owns and has played a bass guitar, and he absolutely loves rock & roll, jazz, and a mix of the two known as fusion music. 

Because of his love for this distinctively American style music, he wanted to go to the places where it all originated and he decided that the best way to do that was on a bicycle.

Onzuka enjoyed four days in Memphis and spent much of his
time taking in all that he could in downtown Memphis
listening to music on Beale Street.

“I just wanted to try traveling the U.S. by my own energy and biking across it seemed like it would be very challenging, but a good way to do it,” Onzuka said.

For the majority of his 3,000+ mile bicycle trip, Onzuka traveled on the iconic and historic
Route 66 and he visited Monument Valley Park and the Grand Canyon.  Even though he really enjoyed the natural beauty and scenery of these and other places he passed through, he was most impressed by the friendly people that he has met along the way.

“I have met some very kind and friendly people who wanted to meet, talk, and even help me.  I had a tire with a puncture in it and I had several people who stopped and asked me if I needed help.  I also had some people who accepted me as a guest into their home.  There was also a man who I met by chance at a rest area near Oklahoma City who invited me to stay at his home.  He even suggested that I stay an additional night, which I did, when possible bad weather was in the forecast for the next day,” he said.

Memphis lived up to Onzuka's expectations and he thoroughly
loved the music, the food, and the scenery of the downtown
After almost six weeks of riding, Onzuka was eager to get to
Memphis so he could see and experience the music on Beale Street.  He arrived in the city on July 16.

“I especially wanted to come to Memphis and I enjoyed walking around downtown and Beale Street and listening to the live street music, which I have never experienced before in Tokyo.  I also visited and enjoyed seeing the
Gibson Guitar Factory and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.  It was all a very special experience for me,” Onzuka said.

“In Memphis, and in other places I visit, I like to also take in the atmosphere, breathe the same air as those who live there, and eat the same food and drink the same beer as the local people do,” he added.

Even though Onzuka came to Memphis to hear the live
music, he also wanted to take in everything that Memphis
is for those who live in the river city.

After spending four fun and music-filled days in Memphis, Onzuka left on an Amtrak train on July 20 for New Orleans, which he considers to be “the mecca” for jazz music lovers like him.

“When I got to Bourbon Street, I was surprised at first by how dirty the street was and how it smelled.  I had imagined an old, historic, and elegant place like Beale Street and it was different from that.  I saw a lot of places with live music and entertainment, restaurants, bars, and peep shows.  I found that it was filled with many ways to satisfy a person’s desires.  In seeing that, I realized that all of my favorite music has roots in all of this,” Onzuka said.

“When I went to Beale Street in Memphis, I was really surprised at the wide variety of live music, which talented musicians played, but the music in New Orleans greatly exceeded my expectations.  Bourbon Street was filled with not only jazz and blues, but also with fusion, funk, R & B, and hip-hop, which stems from jazz and blues.  Incredibly, there was no cover charge.  The variety, the musician’s skills, and number of live music places were great and it must be the only city in the world for music-lovers like me,” Onzuka said.

Onzuka spent much of his time in downtown Memphis and
especially on Beale Street.  In between it and Bourbon
Street, it has been the highlights of his trip thus far.

“Along with the music, I also enjoyed the local cuisine like Jambalaya and the Louisiana Creole food was very rich and tasty.  I did get homesick for some Japanese food so I had a meal there, which was good, but it was not quite like I have had in Japan,” he added.

Onzuka returned to Memphis on July 23 and set out on his bike headed for Nashville the next day.  He plans to spend a couple of days there in order to take in the sounds of a place that is known as “The Music City.”

As difficult as a cross-country trek might be even for the most experienced and avid cyclist, it was not for Onzuka, who readily admits to being little more than a novice at it.

Before this trip, Onzuka has not had much experience riding
a bike for long distances, but that wasn't enough to deter
him from attempting a cross-country trip of the U.S. on a
bicycle, which he preferred to do instead of other means
of travel.

“I bought my Surly bike just before this trip and researched and read blogs about cycling for beginners.  I had not done much training before coming here and I had only ridden a bike as a way of transportation when I was in school decades before,” Onzuka said.

In spite of not having physically conditioned himself for this long-distance ride, he was fully prepared with all of the gear that he needed and he has not had any difficulty traveling, on average, 60 to 70 miles per day so far.

Onzuka is chronicling his cycling adventure on his “A Fool on the Bike” blog (
アメリカ大陸、ユーラシア大陸を自転車で横断する男の記録) in Japanese at

Onzuka has long-dreamed of making a trip to the U.S. and was
extremely happy with having had the chance to go to the
places where the music that he loves originated and is still
being played today.

At about the half-way point of his cross-country adventure, Onzuka says that he has really enjoyed his experiences thus far, especially with the music and with those who he has encountered.  It is, for him, a trip of a lifetime.

He hopes to get to New York City before the end of August.  After that, he is considering riding his bike across Europe, but he wants to see how he feels after his trip across the U.S. before he commits himself to something as ambitious as that.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Michael,

    This is Shin from Japan. It’s been a long time, 2 years since we met.

    I have read your blog, and googled how to cross Mississippi River from West Memphis to Central Memphis, and found the project to build the bride for a bicycle has completed.

    Congratulations! If the bridge had had not been there, we would have never got to know each other. But I somehow want to cross the river by my bicycle in future!


    1. Shin, It truly was an honor and a privilege for me to have met you and, as it turns out, I am extremely glad that we didn't have the Harahan Bridge crossing back then back then because I would never have met you. I do hope that you will come back to the United States, (and to Memphis), again someday so that we can see each other, talk, and have a meal or two together. Until then, I wish you the very best in all your endeavors. With best regards, Michael